It is not often you buy an album where a sticker underneath the price tag has a snarky comment about the artist, but that is the beauty of record stores and Major League Baseball umpire Joe West’s country music.
Longtime baseball fans are more than aware of Joe West, an umpire who has been a part of ejections, controversies, and fan wrath for decades. They might not know of his side gig as a country singer. Few would expect to run across his album in a record shop.
Regardless of his efforts as a musician, the owner of Philadelphia’s Main Street Music (a Pirates fan) wrote “Bad Umpire!” under the $3.00 price tag.
It is the album in my collection that I least enjoy listening to, but sadistically enjoy owning as much as any Tom Petty or Beatles record.
West, 66, has been an MLB umpire since 1976. He may go down as one of the worst umpires ever. Despite his reputation, the man in blue may not be as terrible as it seems. In 2007, his strike zone was rated as the most consistent in baseball.
While his reputation as an umpire is up for debate, his acumen as a country singer is not.
Joe West formally debuted these skills in 1987. He cut the album Blue Cowboy for Colonial Records in Houston, Texas. The ten-song LP is exactly what you think it is: a mediocre honky tonk novelty. Not much about “Take This Bike To Tommy” or “You Can’t Run With The Big Dogs” is memorable. Instrumentals of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “Dixie” mercifully bloat the track list.
West comes off as an extremely poor man’s Glen Campbell. He is kind of capable, but none of the songs are memorable. With the benefit of hindsight, Gordon Verrell’s review on the back of the record is misleading.
“Joe’s peers in baseball regard him as one of the finest umpires in the league. With his singing and songwriting style, it won’t be long before Joe builds himself a great reputation in the field of country music. Out or safe, one thing is certain about Joe West: He’s a hit.”
West did not release another record until 2008. His LP Diamond Dreams bookended gigs with The Grand Ole Opry, Merle Haggard, and thousands of baseball games.
The umpire’s side hustle has not escaped his baseball brethren. In 2016 Chase Utley and the Dodgers used Joe West’s country songs as walkup music.