White Sox broadcaster Ken "Hawk" Harrelson was furious with umpire Joe West, as many have been these past 44 years. On this day in 2010, West had called a second balk of the game on Mark Buehrle, and Hawk was so outraged he said on the air, "Joe West should retire!"
Two years later, after West had beaten larynx cancer, which had forced him to miss 18 games, West said, "Hawk comes barging into the umpires' room after a game, screaming, 'Where is that son of a b----?' Then he comes into the shower. I've got soap all over me. He says to me, 'Look, we can fight each other and we can hate each other, but don't you f---ing die on me, damn it!'
"We've been best friends ever since."
Joe West told that story in February over an unsweetened iced tea at his gated country club outside of Orlando, Florida. He had just gotten his 67-year-old knees injected with StemEx. His knees are bone-on-bone, and that biannual treatment allows him to work, to crouch behind the plate, without pain. He told many stories that day; he laughed relentlessly, mostly at himself, and most of his stories, such as that exchange with Hawk Harrelson, included elements of love and hate.
"If murder was legal," one former player said, "some days I would kill Joe. I mean it. One day he's arrogant, vindictive, a jerk, a guy who really believes that 50,000 people came to the park to see him. But he's a different person every time you see him. The next day he is joking with you on the field, he is charming ... you want to go have a beer with him."
Joe West has had beers with lots of people. He is, in every way, "Cowboy Joe" West. He is a former football player. He plays golf. He is a singer-songwriter of country music and the husband of Rita, a former racquetball national champion. That day in February, she met him at the country club on her motorcycle. Joe West doesn't ride a motorcycle. When asked if he could ride a horse, given his Cowboy Joe nickname, he offered this:
"I once rode a horse all afternoon. A professional photographer took a picture of me on the horse. He said, 'Look at the p---k on that horse.' I said, 'It's a mare.' He said, 'I know. Look at the p---k on that horse.'"
Joe West laughed his hardest at that one.