Umpire Joe West has officially informed Major League Baseball he will retire after the postseason.
West, 68, broke the record for most games umpired, held by Bill Klem, when he was behind the plate for No. 5,376 in May.
“Breaking the record was the goal,” West told ESPN on Monday. “I thought I would do it last year but the season got a little messed up and I don’t think it was right to work until the point of the record then just quit.”
Known as a colorful figure, West has been a lightning rod for controversy at times over his storied career, but has always been considered one of the best at his profession by those in the game.
When he set the mark for most games umpired, Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa called him “the perfect guy to set the record because he represents what a lot of umpires should be.”
West said one of his early lessons was understanding that despite the many rules in baseball, there’s plenty to learn between the lines.
“It took me a long time to figure out there are some grey areas you have to navigate,” West explained. “One day, [former player] Dave Kingman walked and he said something smart going to first base and I blew a gasket and chased him all the way to first. Between innings, [umpire] Doug Harvey walked down and said to me, ‘Don’t let them ruin your day.’
“It was like a light came on.”
West will umpire at least one more game; he’ll be at Dodger Stadium for the National League Wild Card contest between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday.
Asked if he’ll be behind the plate, West answered in his true maverick style: “We’re not supposed to say, but I am.”
West estimates he’s thrown out about 190 players, managers or coaches over his career.
“That’s not a lot over 44 years,” he joked.
West learned a philosophy early on which he’s imparted to younger umpires:
“Your first responsibility is to the game of baseball. That might not mean the commissioner’s office. It’s the game itself. Your second responsibility is to your profession. That might not mean the [umpire’s] union. The third responsibility is to do in your heart what is morally honest and correct. If you do that, you won’t be wrong.
“Over the years I’ve modified that to say, ‘you’ll never be wrong but you might get killed,'” West said with a laugh.
West credited some of the older umpires like Harvey, Tom Gorman and John McSherry for paving the way for him. In fact, he said the entire list was too long to mention. After breaking the record, the league presented him with a plaque.
“We appreciate the skill, dedication and passion that Joe has brought to the umpiring profession and our National Pastime,” commissioner Rob Manfred said.
Outside of baseball, West is a country music singer/fan. He plans on pursuing that hobby more in retirement though he’ll miss the game he loves so much.
“Baseball is typically American,” West stated. “There are a lot more failures in it than successes. That’s part of life in everything you do.”
Before the Cowboy rides off into the sunset, he has at least one more contest to oversee in a profession he said “they expect you to be perfect at.”
“These one games to determine who moves on are going to be the toughest games you’ll ever going to have,” West stated.