Record-Setting MLB Umpire “Cowboy” Joe West Is Riding Off Into the Sunset

He wasn't always nice, but 69-year-old West did umpire an MLB-record 5,460 regular-season games

Retiring MLB umpire Joe West works a game between the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants
Retiring MLB umpire Joe West works a game between the San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants.
Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty

After umpiring an MLB-record 5,460 regular-season games, “Cowboy” Joe West is out of pro baseball and officially retired on Friday.

West worked his first big-league game on September 14, 1976, at third base when the Braves hosted the Houston Astros in Atlanta, and the 69-year-old’s finale was on October 6 behind home plate at Dodger Stadium in LA for the National League wild-card game between the Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. This past season in the majors was West’s 45th and final one.

A larger-than-life personality on the diamond who would often attempt to upstage players and was no stranger to making a spectacle of himself, West was also an aspiring singer-songwriter who recorded two country music albums, 1987’s Blue Cowboy, which featured a mix of covers and originals, and 2008’s Diamond Dreams, a spoken-word album featuring the longtime ump talking about his love of baseball over country tunes.

“Breaking the record was the goal,” West told ESPN in October. “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.”

Over the course of his career, West believes he’s thrown out almost 200 players, managers or coaches.

“It took me a long time to figure out there are some grey areas you have to navigate,” he said. “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.’”

Now that he’s retired, West won’t have to worry about that. His potential Hall-of-Fame bid on the other hand …

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