Joe West is playing the waiting game. On Dec. 3, at MLB’s winter meetings in Nashville, West will learn if he’s heading for baseball immortality. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Contemporary Baseball Era Committee will be voting on former managers, umpires and executives.
West, along with fellow umpire alum Ed Montague, is on the shortlist for committee voters. There are currently 10 umpires enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The last umpire to get the nod to Cooperstown was Doug Harvey in 2010.
From just looking at the numbers West racked up during his 43 seasons as an MLB umpire, the most in the history of the game, he should be a first-ballot slam dunk. His working 5,460 games is a display of endurance few could comprehend.
From 1976 to 2021 (West became a National League full-timer in 1978), he was on the field for some of the game’s biggest milestones. West worked the game Nolan Ryan collected his fifth career no-hitter, Willie McCovey’s 500th home run and Felix Hernandez’s perfect game hurled in 2012.
On May 25, 2012, after umpiring his 5,376 games, West broke Bill Klem’s all-time MLB record.
During a recent appearance on The Gibby Show podcast presented by Miller Lite, in speaking with former Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons about his umpiring past, West said the biggest compliment from a player that an umpire could receive is when a losing pitcher says, “Thanks - you did a good job.”
West also laughed at remembering run-ins with some of the game’s more vocal managers. He recalled ejecting former Orioles’ manager Earl Weaver from two spring training games. Some of West’s more challenging bench bosses were Chuck Tanner, Don Zimmer and Lou Piniella.
Back in the late 1970s, when West began his MLB career, there was a time when his work schedule was seven weeks on, and then one week off. With such a demanding travel schedule as this, West lamented it as the hardest part of his job.
West also said to Gibbons and his co-host John Arezzi that umpires aren’t the enemy of the players but see themselves as part of the (MLB) family.
“Everyone has a little piece of what to do for the game. It’s our (umpires) job to make sure the game is played fairly.”
For West to make his way into the Class of 2024, he will need to garner 75% of the vote. There are eight candidates on the ballot. The results will be announced live at 7:30 p.m. ET on MLB Network’s MLB Tonight.
A committee of 16 people will vote on candidates. West, along with others on the ballot, will need to gain at least 12 votes to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
For now, all West could do is play golf near his Central Florida home and not look at a calendar. The next two weeks will probably be among the longest the former umpire will need to get through. During a recent phone conversation, West informed me of well-wishers reminding at a steady clip, of when the vote is. Clearly, West is attempting to not be consumed by a process that he has no control over.
The numbers speak for West. They won’t be changing. Now, it’s up to those who observed West at work to decide how his career will be remembered.