ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Umpire Joe West will be working the Red Sox-Royals series that begins Thursday night in Fenway Park, the first time the veteran umpire will be working a Sox game since he called out the Sox and Yankees last month for slow play he termed “pathetic” and “embarrassing.’’
“I don’t second-guess what I said,’’ West said by telephone from Cleveland, where he worked Wednesday afternoon’s White Sox-Indians game (and ejected Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen and pitcher Mark Buehrle). “And I don’t believe I’m wrong. A lot of people don’t believe I’m wrong.
“I kind of expected the firestorm I created. But the interview was taken out of context. The first thing I said was that these were two of our best teams, but the pace that they play the game was pathetic and embarrassing. But everybody, especially the New York media, blew it out of proportion and said I was calling the teams pathetic.
“Some people said I had no right to single them out. I didn’t single them out. I said they were both bad.’’
The announcement that West and his crew will be working the Red Sox-Royals series did not come from Major League Baseball, but from a Tennessee-based publicist who lists West as one of his clients and said that West is “available for media interviews and guest appearances.’’ West is believed to be the only big-league umpire with his own publicist.
Typically, Major League Baseball does not publicly announce umpiring crew assignments in advance. Usually, the identity of a crew is not made known until starting lineups are distributed in press boxes before games. The assignments are kept private “for security reasons,” according to Cathy Davis, MLB specialist in umpire administration.
West refuted the suggestion that he was attempting to capitalize on the notoriety he accrued last month.
“No, I don’t need that kind of publicity,’’ West said. “I get in enough trouble on my own.’’
West’s publicist, Marty Martell, described West as “one of the most unique individuals in the professional sports world’’ and extolled his talents not only as an umpire but as a “country singer, songwriter and entertainer.’’ Martell is president of a firm that also said that West was available to speak about his comments about the Yankees and Sox and expected that there would be a good deal of media interest. West said Martell “probably shouldn’t have” made it public that the crew was coming to town in advance.
West said that his primary motivation in announcing his media availability this weekend was to promote the video musical tribute he recorded to longtime Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who died last month (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl3QMdohm5Q).
West also is publicizing the CD he recorded in 2008, “Diamond Dreams,” which includes monologues and songs about baseball written and performed by West. The CD is available at umpirejoewest.com.
Red Sox manager Terry Francona, when told that West would be working the Sox series, said he had no comment. Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino also deflected comment, saying, “In 30-plus years I’ve never commented on an umpiring assignment. That’s my response.’’
But last month, after West’s comments were published by the Bergen Record, Francona said he was “troubled” by the remarks.
“Obviously I think I need to be somewhat careful is the right word, selective,'' Francona said. “I mean, I think it kind of surprised all of us. When you have somebody in charge of running the game without bias, and then you hear those comments coming out pretty strong, it probably worries you a little bit.''
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia was less restrained, and several Yankees, most notably closer Mariano Rivera, criticized the umpire.
"To call the Yankees and Red Sox, two of the best teams in baseball, 'pathetic' and 'embarrassing,' that's just ridiculous,'' Pedroia said at the time.
"If he doesn't want to do Red Sox and Yankee games, he should tell the umpires' union. Then when we're in the World Series, he'll be out of that assignment too.''
West was asked if, given his role, he was the wrong person to be critical of the teams.
“The people who say I am not impartial, I am impartial,’’ he said. “I just tell the truth. Who do you want to deliver the message?
“The truth of the matter is, the Red Sox and Yankees are two of the best teams we have. The Dodgers are one of the best teams we have in the National League, and they’re pretty slow.
“A few players were upset because they thought I was picking on them. I wasn’t picking on them, I want the best product. This isn’t theater, it’s a baseball game, so let’s play it like a baseball game.’’
The players aren’t the only ones responsible for the slow pace, he said. “You have to blame us too,’’ said West, who is the new head of the umpires’ union, the World Umpires Association. “We don’t tell hitters to get in the box, we don’t tell pitchers to throw the ball.’’
West said he doesn’t expect his remarks to have any impact on this series. “Everyone knew what I said by the third game of the Red Sox-Yankees series, and it didn’t make a difference,’’ he said. “A couple of guys took it personally. I didn’t.’’