Joe West made MLB history on Tuesday, umpiring his 5,376th game to break the record he shared with Hall of Famer Bill Klem.
Naturally, the 68-year-old was booed by the majority Chicago crowd as the White Sox placed a graphic on their scoreboard honoring the occasion.
The Oak Ridge Boys sang the national anthem and it was wrapped up with a hearty “congratulations, Joe West!”
Then this graphic went up on the scoreboard, and people booed. pic.twitter.com/I6HDYpiMIG
— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) May 25, 2021
West got his photo taken with his crew before the game started, then posed with managers Tony La Russa and Mike Shildt of the White Sox and Cardinals, respectively. Sometimes called “Cowboy Joe” and “Country Joe” for his affinity for country singing and songwriting, West was honored when country music star Garth Brooks offered congratulations for the achievement.
There was also a strange moment in between innings in which West, reportedly by request, was offered a bouquet by the mascot San Diego Chicken in honor of the occasion. This too, was reportedly met with boos:
The San Diego chicken gives bouquet of flowers to Joe West as he breaks the record for most games umpired as the fans boo pic.twitter.com/qMrlEVs755
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) May 26, 2021
Arguably MLB’s most famous umpire, West already owned the league record with 43 years calling games in the big leagues. He began his career at the age of 23 toward the end of the 1976 season. His first plate job featured Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro throwing to Dale Murphy.
West’s tenure has not been without controversy. In fact, you could argue his career is notable not only for its length, but also for the many run-ins he has had with players and managers. He has 193 ejections in his career and has frequently received criticism from MLB players.
West received $500,000 in a defamation suit filed against Paul Lo Duca after the latter claimed the umpire took bribes. West claimed the story, shared by Lo Duca online, hurt his chances of making the Baseball Hall of Fame, in which there are only 10 umpires.
Other notable moments in West’s career include a 1990 bench-clearing brawl in which he body-slammed Phillies pitcher Dennis Cook, an incident that invited suspension from National League President Bill White but was later overturned by commissioner Fay Vincent. West was suspended three games without pay in 2017 after saying Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre was MLB’s biggest complainer. He also participated in a staredown with pitcher Madison Bumgarner, then with the Giants, in 2015.