DETROIT (AP) – Used to doing the ejecting, Joe West was tossed out himself.

He lost his job as a major league umpire, and now he’s an All-Star, picked to call balls and strikes during Tuesday night’s game at Comerica Park.

West was among the 22 umpires who lost their jobs in September 1999 when a mass resignation backfired, then was rehired in February 2002. He’s become so well regarded in his second tour that he was selected for the last two American League championship series and last month was chosen by baseball’s top officials for the All-Star assignment.

“I think it’s great. I guess I was humbled,” he said last week.

Nicknamed Cowboy Joe for his singing and song-writing, he worked his first major league game at age 23 in 1976 and joined the National League staff two years later. He gained a reputation for having a quick temper, especially after he lifted Philadelphia pitcher Dennis Cook during a brawl in 1990 and threw him to the ground.

“Joe has changed a lot from his early days,” former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said. “He was just tough to get along with. Then all of a sudden there was a big change in him. He’s a good umpire, good guy. I’ll always have a lot of respect for him.”

West, 52, says that umpires, especially early in their careers, are given a tough time by players and managers.

“I look at young umpires today and they call pitches and plays exactly right, and the players just don’t believe them because they’re new,” he said. “And then they turn around and they look and they see there’s a senior umpire, Bruce Froemming, back there or Jerry Crawford, and they accept it whether they disagreed or not because they respect the guy they know.”

He worked one division series, five league championship series, the 1993 and 1997 World Series and was at third base for the 1987 All-Star game at Oakland. He doesn’t want to discuss the time he spent away from the game or even what he did during that period.

Since then, baseball has reached agreements in which it will wind up rehiring half of the 22, and a federal appeals court ruled West should get back pay for the time he was out.

“The guys who have come back have integrated into the system and have been accepted by their peers and by management,” said Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer. “Everybody matures. As he has become a senior umpire, he’s been afforded the respect that goes with that seniority and he’s comported himself in a fashion that reflects his seniority and his experience in the game.”

But talk to managers and players about the old days, and they’ll quickly come up with stories.

“He’s a character,” Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella said. “I remember one time I went out to argue a play at second base when I was at Cincinnati and as I’m approaching him, he said: “What the hell are you doing out here? You’re having a bad day managing.’ He said: “You should have had your starter out of there last inning.’ I started to laugh a little bit. It eased the tension, and I went back to the dugout.”

Lasorda remembered when he came out to talk to West just after the umpire’s recording was released.

“I said if I buy up all your records, would you quit?” Lasorda recounted. “He said, “You better get your (butt) in the clubhouse because you’re out of the game.’ “

Seattle infielder Dave Hansen rejected the notion that West had changed.

“I’ve been up here 13 years, and he hasn’t mellowed a lick. He’s as feisty as ever, and I enjoy that,” Hansen said.

West disagreed.

“With age, my temperament is much better than it was when I was younger. I was a football player when I first started, everything was either black and white, there was no gray,” he said. “Sometimes, and it’s human nature, sometimes it’s hard for people to believe that there’s another opinion other than theirs. If a guy’s sitting 100 feet away in the dugout, he didn’t see the same thing you did from just four feet away. And those are all basic little things that everybody has to learn when they do this job.”

He sounded thankful for the second chance he’s been given and looked forward to seeing baseball’s best on the same field.

“I’ve been lucky enough to witness things like Willie McCovey’s 500th home run,” he said. “I was at first base for Nolan Ryan’s fifth no-hitter. I was behind the plate when Pete Rose broke the record for most consecutive games in the National League with a hit. You’re witnessing a piece of history every day that you’re out there. That’s really the uniqueness of this whole thing. And next Tuesday is going to be another piece of history, and I’m going to thoroughly enjoy it.”



AP Sports Writer Fred Goodall in Tampa, Fla., and AP freelance writer Joe Resnick in Anaheim, Calif., contributed to this report



On the Net:

http://www.umpirejoewest.com

http://www.cowboyjoewest.com

AP-ES-07-12-05 1517EDT


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