LEADING OFF: Joe West to break record for most games as ump

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Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell, left, argues after being ejected by umpire Joe West, right, during the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 25, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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Joe West is set to break the record for most games as a major league umpire with No. 5,376 when he works the Cardinals-White Sox matchup in Chicago.

Now 68, West started out in 1976 -- the first time he worked the plate, knuckleballing Hall of Famer Phil Niekro was throwing to Braves catcher Dale Murphy.

West will break the mark set by Bill Klem, who worked from 1905-41 and was known for his complete control in making running games. “It ain’t nothin’ till I call it,” he supposedly said.

A college quarterback who led Elon to the NAIA championship game in 1973, West became the best-known ump in the bigs for all sorts of reasons. Never shy about speaking his mind -- or singing, earning the nicknames of “Cowboy Joe” and “Country Joe” for his music -- West has drawn plenty of praise and criticism over the decades.

At the 2017 All-Star Game, Seattle slugger Nelson Cruz came to the plate, pulled out his phone and had catcher Yadier Molina take a picture of himself with West. Asked why, Cruz said: “He’s a legend, you know?”

There are indications this is West’s final season. Maybe he’ll retire in midseason, maybe he’ll finish out the year.