Controversial MLB umpire Joe West announces retirement with record in hand

·3 min read

Joe West is retiring.

The longtime MLB umpire informed MLB of his decision to call it quits after the playoffs. He's 68 years old. 

West made the decision to step down after breaking the MLB record for most games umpired earlier this season. He spoke with ESPN about the decision on Monday. 

"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."

West passed Bill Klem for most games umpired on May 10 with his 5,376th regular-season appearance. He worked his first MLB game in 1976 and has been an umpire during the tenure of six different MLB commissioners

He resigned amid a labor dispute in 1999. He returned to MLB in 2002 and was later elected president of the The Major League Baseball Umpires Association, where he helped secure labor peace with a long-term contract with MLB in 2009. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 01: Umpire Joe West looks on during a MLB game between the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants on October 1, 2021 at Oracle Park in San Francisco, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
"Country Joe" won't be universally missed in baseball circles. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Will West be missed?

West's career is not without controversy as he's frequently derided by fans and players over his strike zone, calls and propensity to eject players from games. In a 2010 ESPN survey, players voted West as the second-worst umpire in baseball behind CB Bucknor and the quickest to order an ejection.

Known as "Country Joe," West has recorded multiple country music albums, which have been a source of both celebration and derision. Dodgers players used his songs as walk-up music during a 2016 home game that he umpired.

Then-Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle wasn't such a fan in 2010 after West ejected him for arguing a balk call. 

“He’s too worried about promoting his CD,” Buehrle said after the game. “And he likes seeing his name in the papers a little bit too much instead of worrying about the rules.”

Former Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood was more succinct in his criticism of West in 2016.

Those are just a few examples of a long list of player grievances against West, who won $500,000 in a defamation lawsuit against former MLB All-Star Paul Lo Duca, who accused West on a podcast appearance of rigging the strike zone in exchange for off-field favors. 

White Sox manager Tony La Russa, meanwhile, heaped praise on West in May when he broke the record, calling him "the perfect guy to set the record because he represents a lot of what an umpire should be.”

West is scheduled to work Wednesday's wild-card game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.