"They're the two clubs that don't try to pick up the pace, They're two of the best teams in baseball. Why are they playing the slowest? It's pathetic and embarrassing. They take too long to play." — Joe West
With those idiotic and asinine words, Joe West demonstrated how outdated and out of touch some umpires are with the modern game. And in the process, he provided an outstanding piece of supporting evidence for the argument that an electronic strike zone would better serve the game than the men currently arbitrarily calling balls and strikes in personal floating strike zones.
West's comments should be "pathetic and embarrassing" to himself and baseball on multiple levels. On the surface they show the umpire's total lack of understanding of the game of baseball.
Joe was right about one thing. The Yankees and Red Sox are the two best teams in baseball. What he doesn't seem to comprehend is that the reasons those clubs carry such stature is because players on both teams don't swing at bad pitches, they work deep into counts, and quickly run up the pitch totals of superior starters to eventually beat on inferior bullpens. Adopting this overall philosophy of patience at the plate is one of the biggest differences between the powerful, plodding, and ultimately unsuccessful Red Sox and Yankees teams of the 80s and early 90s and the Theo Epstein/Brian Cashman teams of today. (That and seven combined World Series championships in the last 15 seasons.)
On another level, the humorous irony in West's comments cannot be ignored. One of the main reasons games are longer today than they were in the past — beyond intelligent plate discipline — is the smaller strike zone that umpires like West call (the former much a product of the latter). In the "old days" a hitter was ingrained with the cliché axiom of "swinging at anything close" with two strikes. In the modern game, hitters have been encouraged by the shrinking of the strike zone to take more pitches because they can. If the umpires called more strikes, hitters would take fewer pitches and the game would inevitably move faster, plain and simple.
But West blames the players for getting themselves set before an at bat or stepping out of the box between pitches or even for taking close pitches for balls. He blames them to the point that his crew began to refuse to call time for multiple hitters on both sides in the Sox/Yanks series. As Mariano Rivera mused, "What does he want us to do, swing at balls?"
The real issue here is an old, overweight umpire who apparently doesn't want to work for his money anymore. His one job, the single thing he is paid to do, is to stand on a baseball field and make calls. He literally watches baseball for a living. And yet this man wants it to go faster because apparently Joe West has something more important to do than his job.
Expanding the strike zone is one way to speed up the game. But the real fix will come when baseball inevitably gets rid of lazy complainers like West behind the plate and replaces them with a consistent, fixed strike zone called by a computer.
I know this idea will put the purists up in arms, arguing for their love of the floating strike zone and the randomness of balls and strikes contingent on who happens to be squatting behind the catcher. But the time for allowing games to be decided by people like West — who apparently don't even want to be there in the first place — should be over. Computers can project a consistent strike zone that every pitcher and hitter will understand, no matter the stadium, opponent, or league. The flow of the game would take care of itself. And more importantly, "embarrassing and pathetic" umpires like West would no longer decide the outcomes of crucial, season-changing games.