In 1976, Joe West lived the dream every college football player wishes for: playing quarterback for the University of Alabama. He was the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback for four years, making him the first player in college football history to be named an All-American a record four times.
With a career spanning over 30 years, umpire Joe West is one of the most experienced umpires in major league baseball. West’s playing career was short-lived: after spending two seasons at the University of Texas, he went undrafted and never played a down in the NFL. That changed, though, when West showed up at a tryout for the Amsterdam Admirals, a minor league for the Amsterdam Raiders.
It’s rare for a Major League Baseball umpire to become as famous as some players, but Joe West certainly belongs in that category. Over the past four decades, West has become the most famous (and most hated, depending on who you ask) umpire in MLB history. Tuesday night, he becomes the league’s all-time leader in winning percentage when he takes the field for a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago White Sox. Before calling games all his life, West was a gambler himself. But we’re not just talking about baseball here, as the North Carolina native was a star in three sports in high school: Football, basketball and baseball. And while the last sport on this list is the one he later became famous for, it was the first one he excelled at in his younger years.
Joe West led Elon College to three consecutive league titles and anational championship
West was born in Asheville, North Carolina, but spent most of his childhood in Greenville, about 65 miles to the south, at the J.H. Rose School, which has produced a number of professional athletes over the years, mostly NFL players, but also a few MLB players who probably upset West at one point or another. But I’m distracted. While little is known about his basketball skills, it is known that he was a good catcher in baseball and was part of a VFW Teen League team that finished second in the national rankings. West was also a good football player at Rose and transferred to East Carolina University, where he played fullback on the freshman team, but left the program after ECU head coach Mike McGee resigned to take the same job at Duke. In 1971, West transferred to Elon College (now Elon University), a private institution that was then an NAIA Division I school. He had planned to play both baseball and football, but spring training for football made it difficult. So he turned to football and was an umpire at baseball games. West became the starting quarterback for the Fighting Christians (now Phoenix) and led the team to three consecutive titles in the Conference Carolinas, setting several school records that endured for two more decades. As a senior in 1973, West was named the team’s MVP in a season in which he ran for 1,836 yards and 18 touchdowns and led Elon to a 12-1 record – the first time a college or the University of North Carolina had a dozen wins. That only loss came in the national title game against Abilene Christian, making Elon the No. 2 seed in the country. West was inducted into the Elon Sports Hall of Fame in 1986.
West officiated his first MLB game in 1976
. While an officer at Elon University, West met Malcolm Sykes, the head of the officers’ department of the famed Carolina League, who suggested he attend officer training. West certainly did, and the rest, as they say, is history. After a few years on junior teams, West made his MLB debut in 1976 and became a permanent member of the National League staff in 1978. In that first full season, he was on the field when Willie McCovey made his 500th save. A home run was hit and Pete Rose was behind the plate to set the record for the longest home run streak in the National League. A few years later, in 1981, he provided the fifth no-hitter of Nolan Ryan’s career and shortly thereafter, at the age of 28, he became the youngest announcer to account for a National League championship. Over the next four decades, West certainly made his share of controversial decisions and was involved in many controversial incidents. We could sit here and go through them one by one, but we don’t think you want to sit here for two days straight, do you? While not all referees are equally loved, there is no denying that West has dedicated his life to the game. He is now 68 years old, entering his 43rd year. and has been in charge of six World Series, ten League Championship Series, eight Division Series, three Wild Card games, three All-Star games and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Cowboy Joe is the most played player in MLB history
Joe West during the White Sox vs Royals game in May 2012 | Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images Tuesday night’s game between the Cardinals and White Sox was West’s 5,376th game. Playing like an MLB umpire. In doing so, he broke the record of Bill Clem who umpired National League games from 1905 to 1941, and set a record of 18 World Series games. Clem was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1953, and Cowboy Joe West, a nickname given to him because he also wrote and recorded country songs, will likely join him in Cooperstown soon. RELATED: 10 MLB records that will never be broken
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