On Saturday, June 15, 2019, the SABR Larry Dierker Chapter held a special meeting at the Spaghetti Western restaurant in Houston.
Bob Dorrill welcomed two new members, Daniel Hebert and Brooks Franciotti. He also announced that our next meeting will be on Monday, August 19, prior to the Astros game against Detroit, where we will tour the brand-new Houston Astros Hall of Fame with Mike Acosta.
Bob also announced that four members of our chapter have been chosen to be on the Astros Hall of Fame selection committee: Larry Dierker, Bill Brown, Mike Vance and Bob Dorrill.
Our special speaker was 42-year veteran major-league umpire Joe West, who has officiated six World Series, three All-Star Games, 10 League Championship Series, and eight Division Series. As of Saturday, West has umpired 5,243 games and is only 133 games away from passing the all-time leader, Bill Klem. Joe spent more than two hours with our group and we thank Fred Rodgers for making the arrangements to have him speak.
Greg Lucas acted as emcee for the session with Joe West and told us some interesting things about our arbitrator. Joe invented the “West Vest” umpire gear that is currently worn by umpires today. He is an avid golfer and country singer nicknamed “Cowboy Joe.” In fact, Greg told a story about going to see West sing across the river from Cincinnati. When the cab dropped them at the nightclub he said they might not be able to get a cab back to town. Greg found out later that the place had a seedy past and was thought to be haunted, But not to worry, Joe and his umpire friends took Greg and his group back to the Astros hotel when the evening was over.
West took over and told us about the technology that grades umpires every game on balls and strikes. Over a period of six games last year, the machine said the average home plate umpire misses about six pitches per game. However, when reviewing the new machine that will be used by the Atlantic League later this year, Joe said it totally missed six pitches, calling neither a ball or strike. And, as Joe said, there are no do-overs in baseball.
Joe went on to tell us some of his favorite memories while watching history being made. First was watching Willie McCovey’s 500th home run while at first base and then being on the field when Pete Rose tied, then broke, the all-time hit record.
Joe gave us a little history on himself. He wanted to be a professional baseball player and was a catcher in high school. He wanted to play baseball in college but when his mom found out he could eat for free playing football, football is what he played. He did set several passing records as a quarterback at Elon College several of which lasted 20 years.
Joe went on to tell us what is involved in becoming a major league umpire. There is a six week course followed by 5-10 years of umpiring through the minor leagues. He was fortunate enough to make it to “The Show” in four years.
He told us a fun story about how he used to stand in front of a mirror and practice taking off his mask without losing his hat. To this day he has never lost his hat taking off his mask.
A member asked Joe how he remembers all the rules. He responded, “The best way to learn a rule is to mess it up. You never forget it.” He also explained that major-league umpires that need “more practice” are sent to umpire in the fall leagues.
Another member asked Joe who he thought was the best pitcher. He said Tom Seaver was the best pitcher but J.R. Richards had the best stuff. Asked how to speed up the game, he said “quit messing with the batting gloves.”
Joe shared a story about David Ortiz. He was umpiring at third base when Ortiz came into his first game as a defensive replacement in left field. Joe told Ortiz that he hoped he played in the majors for a long time so that he (Joe) wouldn’t be the ugliest guy on the field. The year Ortiz retired he came to the plate where Joe was the umpire. Ortiz paused in the batter’s box and kept trying to talk to West. Joe kept telling him to get back in the box. Finally Joe said ok. Ortiz stepped out of the box and told Joe he was retiring at the end of the year so next year Joe would again be the ugliest guy on the field.
Lots of fun stories. Mr. West is also a man of faith, a patriot, and an individual with a good sense of humor.
Fred Rodgers then discussed the upcoming SABR 49 Convention in San Diego.
The meeting ended with longtime Skeeters broadcaster and SABR member Ira Liebman saying goodbye. He is moving to Atlanta to be the Communications Manager and announcer for the minor-league hockey team in town.
— Karen Wallace