"Cowboy Joe" West got his man -- again.
That was the least startling development during Labor Day weekend, as baseball produced few surprises while going through the last of the three traditional checkpoints leading up to postseason play.
It may have gone relatively unnoticed, and therefore surprising, that some MLB teams were mimicking their NFL counterparts, which issue "cheat sheets" in the form of wrist bands. But for those paying attention at any point during the last four-plus decades, it hardly came as a surprise that West -- the longest tenured umpire in baseball history -- would suspect foul play when he detected Philadelphia Phillies reliever Austin Davis pulling something unusual out of his back pocket.
Citing rule 6.02(c) (7), which states the pitcher shall not have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance, West confiscated the piece of evidence, which in fact was a "scouting report" on the hitter (Chicago Cubs infielder Addison Russell) Davis was about to face. Now, if you are wondering why Davis would need to see a written reminder of what he should or shouldn't throw to Russell ... well, feel free to wonder. Perhaps that’s a story for another day.
The scouting report might've helped Davis trick Russell, but he was going to need a lot more than that to pull a fast one on West, who had a perfect view from third base, normally the least active station for an umpire. West is in his 41st year as a major league umpire and undoubtedly is headed to the Hall of Fame (how else could he have lasted this long?), but he is also noted for dotting the t's and crossing the i's [sic] while upholding the rules of the game, real or imagined.
Among his more famous "calls" in this regard is challenging the position of photographers in the camera well at Camden Yards -- on multiple occasions, though he was apparently the only one to notice the perceived infraction. It should be noted, however, that the camera wells are covered in the official Camden Yards ground rules -- so heaven help the photographer whose camera lens stretched over the playing field.
By the letter of the law, assuming an index card might be considered a "foreign substance," West could prove a point, so he challenged the rule. He did, however, at least refrain from throwing Davis out of the game, which he undoubtedly would've done if he had found some sticky substance instead of an index card.
Instead "Cowboy Joe" (yep, he's a country western singer too) got out of a sticky situation by settling for the index card, which, if it isn't already, is probably headed to Cooperstown, N.Y.'s artifact collection -- as it should be.
It took less than a business day (because it was a holiday weekend) for MLB to declare the "scouting card" legal -- but not until Joe West proved a point, as he is prone to do, to the surprise of no one.
As for baseball's third "checkpoint," unlike recent years, there was very little suspense in the American League and not much in the National League. The only surprise in the American League was that the team with the worst record among division leaders (Cleveland) had the biggest lead (14 games).
As usual, the wild-card scenario is presenting much intrigue. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks were within one game of each other in the NL race. But the wild card did not seem a reasonable possibility for any of the three, as the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals had staked strong claims on both spots for the NL Central.
Meanwhile, the New York Yankees were on track for 100 wins and possibility of needing a wild-card win to get to the divisional round -- and if that should happen, the push for a three-game wild-card playoff will intensify.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox