On Tuesday night, Joe West became the all-time leader in games umpired, surpassing Bill Klem with his 5,376th contest. The Chicago Cubs have seen their fair share of “Cowboy Joe” as he’s spent most of the games in his storied career in the Friendly Confines, creating many memories for players and fans along the way. Those weren’t always good memories, but there’s plenty to look back on regarding a tenure that began back in late 1976.
West is easily one of the most controversial umpires in the game, known for some utterly atrocious calls and a quick hook. Cubs fans will remember the infamous umpire for some notable ejections, including one where he held back a furious Joe Maddon during a game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He can be a terrifying presence behind the plate and often finds himself in the midst of confrontations with the Northsiders.
Like him or not, Joe West has a colorful history with the Chicago Cubs.
One of West’s most infamous moments at Wrigley Field came in 1991. Andre Dawson was none too pleased with West’s strike calling and earned himself an ejection. Dawson had an utter meltdown and tossed several baseball bats on the field in pure frustration after letting the cowboy know how much of a garbage call he thought it was. The outburst, along with the fact that he bumped the umpire during the confrontation, resulted in Dawson paying a $1,000 fine for “violent actions” and serving a one game suspension.
In another confrontation with Maddon in 2016, West tried to shut down a mound visit after Kyle Hendricks lost a no-hitter to the Cardinals in the ninth inning. Maddon, understandably frustrated, laid into Cowboy Joe for what he saw as showing up his pitcher and received an ejection for his transgressions. That moment even prompted Kerry Wood to vent his frustrations with West over Twitter.
Of course, not every memory was related to a bad call or ejection of a Cub. In that same 1991 match against the Reds, West was there to eject Rob Dibble when he threw at Doug Descenzo after he dropped a squeeze bunt late in the game. West was having none of Dibble’s nonsense after he seemingly tried to hurt someone that just pulled one over on him.
I’m not a fan of West personally (certainly not of his beliefs regarding COVID), but for all the dramatics, ejections and ludicrous calls, I find him far more entertaining than most umpires. For better or worse, he’s one of the game’s most colorful personalities and he’s had a long history in Chicago. I can’t imagine the game without him, even when I wish it was without him.