CHICAGO — Joe West broke the record for most games umpired in the history of Major League Baseball as soon as the Chicago White Sox vs. St. Louis Cardinals game was official after five innings on Tuesday night.
West, 68, umpired his 5,376th regular-season game, one more than Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem, who had held the record since 1941.
“I know what Lou Gehrig said about being the luckiest guy in the world, but that’s me,” West said Monday, when he tied the mark.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa called West “the perfect guy to set the record because he represents what a lot of umpires should be.”
“Very consistent. He kept control of the game, and that’s what an umpire is supposed to do,” La Russa said.
The famed San Diego chicken presented West with fake flowers before the top of the sixth inning got underway. He was mostly cheered by the crowd when the video board at Guaranteed Rate Field announced the record.
Before the game, the Oak Ridge Boys, wearing White Sox jerseys, sang the national anthem, per West’s request. At that point, there was a smattering of boos for West. A montage of mostly current and former umpires congratulating him aired before the game, as well. It included a message from Garth Brooks.
“It was tough to hold back a tear or two, but Tom Hanks said there is no crying in baseball, so you can’t do it,” West said after Tuesday’s game, referring to Hanks’ iconic line in the movie “A League of Their Own.”
“It was a very nice thing,” he said.
La Russa began his long managerial career three years after West umpired his first game, in 1976.
“You couldn’t disrespect the game,” La Russa said. “Joe was going to make sure the game was played correctly.”
Though respected inside the game, fans haven’t always taken to West. He has had a tendency to find the spotlight throughout his career. He once kicked out Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo while Rizzo was watching the game from the upper deck.
“He umpired with a flare,” La Russa said. “If you had an outburst, he would let you have a bit of it, but you couldn’t go too far.”
West umpired at first base on Monday when he tied the record but had home plate for the record-breaking game, which the White Sox won 8-3. MLB officials were in attendance along with friends and family. West bought 116 tickets for the affair.
“It’ll be the most expensive game I’ve ever umpired,” he quipped.