‘Cowboy’ Joe West makes MLB history at Target Field with 5,164th game

MINNEAPOLIS — After serving as the third base umpire for the Twins’ matinee against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018, Joe West had worked 5,164 major league games, passing former colleague Bruce Froemming for second all time.

If West, 65, keeps working, he could pass Bill Klem, a National League umpire from 1905-41, for the MLB record sometime around June 2020. And right now he has no plans to stop.

“Oh, yeah,” he said Wednesday. “I mean, I was lucky to be healthy enough to get here. We have a lot of guys that had knee problems, back problems. I don’t think the general public realizes that we don’t sit down for half the game like (players) do.

“I tried to get a shoe contract one year with FootJoy. I said, ‘Only the golfers and the umpires have to stand the whole time.'”

West’s accomplishment was noted after Wednesday’s game became official in the fifth inning and he received a warm reception from the Target Field crowd.

At that, West unleashes a hardy laugh that one might not expect from the iconic umpire known as “Cowboy” and calls himself “maybe grumpy.”

With 174 career ejections, according to baseball data base Retrosheet, West ranks fourth all time in career ejections. But he says he gets along with players better than one might suspect.

“But our job,” he quickly adds, “is a no-nonsense job. There are certain times you have to say no. Certain times you have to say, ‘Enough.'”

The man West is chasing was known as “The Old Arbitrator” and, sometimes, “Catfish,” a moniker Klem didn’t like. If a player was caught using it, he was often ejected. His 251 career ejections remain the major league record.

“He was one of those umpires that you didn’t say a lot to,” West said. “He’d draw a line in the dirt and say, ‘If you cross that line, you’re gone.’ I got a note from an old-time attorney out of Philadelphia. He says, ‘Now you’re chasing Klem. I think you can get him in games, but you’re over a hundred ejections behind him.

“He said ‘Pick it up!'”

Candid to a fault, West was suspended for three games last season after he was quoted by USA Today calling Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre the biggest whiner in baseball.

Asked Wednesday how much baseball has changed since his first major league game in September 1976, West said two things: Players pay too much attention to individual statistics — he blames agents — and that while players now train year-round, they haven’t noticeably improved.

“The athlete today is bigger, faster, but I don’t think they’re any better,” he said. “I don’t see any Willie Mayses out there. There were a few; there was Ken Griffey Jr., and there was Alex Rodriguez — and Caesar Cendeno was as good a ballplayer as I ever saw. But, (they’re) bigger and faster. Look at the pitchers; they’re all throwing in the 90s.”

And in case you’re wondering, only four of those 174 career ejections were of former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire.