West works 4,000th game as umpire
Veteran has memories of great players, moments in career
MILWAUKEE -- Joe West has already preformed at the Grand Ole Opry.
On Thursday, he joined an even more exclusive club.
West, 56 and in his 30th year umpiring games for Major League Baseball, worked his 4,000th career game Thursday afternoon at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
"I've really been blessed because I've worked with great people," West said before the Brewers hosted the Nationals. "I was lucky to come up at a time when National League umpires were outstanding and they helped you and kept trying to help you."
West becomes the 19th umpire in Major League history to ump in 4,000 games.
West celebrated the milestone in the top of the third inning, ejecting Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman with one out in the inning and the score tied at 0. Riggleman was arguing a check-swing strike three on Anderson Hernandez.
West began his umpiring career in the Western Carolina League in 1974, and worked various Winter League games before umpiring his first National League game on Sept. 14, 1976.
He officially joined the Major League staff in 1978, and has since umpired in three Division Series and seven League Championship Series.
"You always remember your first one," West said of his fondest memory. "I was 23 years old and I remember Bob Watson, who's now in the Commissioner's office, hit a ball down the left-field line. It was very close and I called it foul and I got ready, thinking, 'Here they are, going to come argue,' and no one said a word.
"In the Major Leagues, it's completely different [than the Minors]. They let you umpire up here until they really think you missed it."
West missed two seasons after joining other umpires in a mass resignation plan by their union that ultimately wasn't successful. He was rehired prior to the 2002 season, and in April of this year was elected as the president of the World Umpires Association.
Aside from his years on the diamond, West also has made himself visible to fans with his outside pursuits.
He has performed with country singers such as Merle Haggard, also releasing a country music album called "Blue Cowboy." His most recent album, "Diamond Dreams," is a compilation of stories from his 4,000 games in Major League Baseball.
West also had a role in the 1988 film, "The Naked Gun" -- "You know, I just got a residual check [Wednesday]," West laughed when asked about the experience. "It was for $11.57."
For all of West's other pursuits, he said the games he's worked on the field and the historical moments he's seen first-hand have provided lasting memories that he'll cherish forever.
"To look back on the whole career, I watched Nolan Ryan's fifth no-hitter from first base," West said. "I was behind the plate when Pete Rose broke the [National League] record with most consecutive games with a hit. I saw Willie McCovey's 500th home run -- some of the players today don't know who Willie McCovey is. So, you look back on things like that and it's been a hard and a fun road."
Cash Kruth is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.