Major League Baseball reportedly has admonished umpire Joe West for his comments about the slow play of last week’s game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. West, an outspoken rebel known as Cowboy Joe, caused quite an uproar when he said the pace of the game was “pathetic and embarrassing and a disgrace to baseball.”

Whoa there, Cowboy. Aren’t you supposed to be impartial when it comes to judging baseball teams? Wouldn’t those comments indicate a certain amount of impatience, thus coloring your view of the Red Sox and Yankees?

Those who govern the game apparently thought so. A high-ranking baseball official told the New York Daily News that West was “admonished firmly” because of his comments.

I’m sure West never expected the ruckus that followed his comments, or that his complaining would unify the combatants in baseball’s fiercest rivalry.

“That’s just ridiculous,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia told reporters over the weekend. “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.”

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera told the New York Daily News: “If he has places to go, let him do something else. What does he want us to do, swing at balls?”

The righteous indignation was spot on. Umpires can’t be critical of how players perform. They are supposed to be impartial arbiters, not critics.

That said, West was right about the game slowing down. The three-game series between the Sox and Yanks averaged more than 3 hours, 30 minutes, some 40 minutes longer than the average major league game last season.

Both teams excel at working the pitch count by not swinging at pitches outside the zone, which leads to long plate appearances and long games. Too long.

The umpires, of course, could do more to speed up the games. And we’re not talking about Angel Hernandez’s transparent attempt to look like he was doing his part at Fenway.

Hernandez twice — twice — refused to grant a timeout when a batter had stepped out of the box. Each time, the opposing pitcher took matters into his own hands, waiting for the batter to return to the box.

What would really speed up games is if umpires called a few more strikes. In this age of virtual replay evaluation of pitch calls, umps have become paralyzed by fear of being proven wrong. So the strike zone has shriveled to the size of a postage stamp.

Last Wednesday, home plate ump Paul Schrieber continually refused to call a strike when batters took pitches on the outside half of the plate. NESN’s “pitch zone,” while certainly not 100 percent accurate, showed one strike after another being called for balls.

You know what happens when an umpire has no strike zone? A batter has no reason to swing. And pitch counts go up, innings stretch on and people complain.

Joe West was the crew chief at Fenway last week. Perhaps he should’ve called Schrieber’s strike zone “pathetic and embarrassing.” No, that wouldn’t have kicked up enough dust to satisfy Cowboy Joe.

The rules are in place to make baseball games move more quickly. It’s up to the umpires to use those rules. A consistent strike zone that forces hitters to swing the bat once in a while is a good place to start.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.