If Joe West plays the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday night, it will be 5,376. Appearance. After starting his Major League career in 1976, he will stand alone as referee for most games in Major League history, breaking an 80-year record.
West, who has often been equally entertaining and frustrated, will have a record to match his larger-than-life personality. And he’ll take it from Bill Klem, a man whose time in the game dates back so far that he claimed to have invented the hand signals that referees use to this day. When he made the claim, there weren’t many people who could disprove him.
Klem was reportedly the first referee to wear a chest protector under his shirt, and West actually owns a patent on a modern day equivalent. And with these two umpires plus two more, you can cover almost the entire modern era of the game.
In Klem’s first major league game, the Hall of Famer started Honus Wagner for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miller Huggins, who would later head the Murderers’ Row Yankees, for the Cincinnati Reds. Klem stayed in the game for so long that towards the end of the 1941 season, when he was already old, he called up a game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals in which Pee Wee Reese started for Brooklyn. Known as the Old Umpire, he became the form of the modern umpire and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1953.
Barlick was hired to take Klem’s place in a game in 1940 and effectively replaced the old umpire when Klem retired in 1941. The distance between Barlick’s first game (September 8, 1940) and his last (September 26, 1971) was so long that MLB was seven seasons away from integration at the beginning, but Ernie Banks, the legendary shortstop of the Chicago Cubs, played the last game of his 19-season career in Barlick’s final. Barlick, who missed a total of four seasons due to military service and heart problems, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Froemming’s first season came as a member of Barlick’s crew in 1971, and in 2007 he was still calling Games, breaking Klem’s record for the fullest seasons. He was a fixture in the game of ups (22 World Series games), downs (a much-discussed walk that cost Milt Pappas a perfect game in 1972) and events that will live in shame (Alex Rodriguez slapped Jason Varitek’s glove). Froemming re-pirated a record of 11 no-hitters and after finishing his career in the field, he moved to MLB as a special assistant.
Known as Country Joe or Cowboy Joe, depending on who you ask, West has found his name in player polls over the years as one of the best and one of the worst baseball players. West was part of a group of umpires who resigned in protest over a labor dispute in 1999 – he was reinstated in 2002 – and, as president of the umpires’ union, negotiated a long contract to keep his colleagues on the field. A man with such diverse interests that he has released country albums and appeared in a small role on The Naked Gun. He once won a libel suit against a player for getting kicked so many times. He has already announced that 2021 will be his last season.