Don’t worry, he still got booed
Joe West has, somehow, broken the record for most major league games umpired. Despite being MLB fans’ least favorite ump, West’s turn behind the plate at Tuesday’s White Sox–Cardinals game was his 5,376th game in the bigs, moving him past Bill Klem (who worked from 1905–41).
Wisecracks about West’s reputation aside, this an incredible accomplishment, and West had a few special guests in attendance to help him celebrate the occasion. His old friends in the country quartet The Oak Ridge Boys sang the national anthem.
The semiretired San Diego Chicken mascot was also there, which baffled the Cardinals’ announcers.
It turns out, the Chicken was there at West’s request. He went on the field between innings to hand the ump some flowers.
Having the beloved mascot in attendance was a genius request by West. The crowd booed West when his achievement was announced on the video board before the game and another announcement was made in the middle of the fifth inning (when the game became official), at which point, according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, the fans “booed even louder.” Enter the Chicken, whose antics got the crowd to give West some cheers.
West and Ted Giannoulas, the man inside the chicken suit, have had their share of fun over the years, too. They did the same flower gag during a Padres game in 2019.
Giannoulas’s SABR biography recounts another bit that West and another ump came up with and pitched to the Chicken.
One night in San Diego before a game, umpires Joe West and Frank Pulli suggested to Ted a gag in which they would turn their backs standing in tandem outside the infield. Ted would then beeline his three-wheeler at them from across the diamond. Within feet of them he would yell a signal and they would split apart at the last second. As he buzzed right through them, the crowd shrieked with laughter. “Little did they know that the whole sketch was designed by the umpires themselves,” smirked Ted.
The Oak Ridge Boys and the San Diego Chicken aren’t your typical ballpark entertainment in 2021, but getting a sense of West’s interests humanizes him. And it’s cool that the White Sox let him bring those guys in to celebrate his big day, but I’m also glad he heard plenty of boos. It would have been weird if he didn’t.
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