Major League Baseball umpire Joe West is in the news again.
According to ESPN, West was awarded $500,000 in damages, plus interest, on Tuesday in a defamation suit against former All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca.
The lawsuit, filed in October 2019, stems from Lo Duca’s April 18, 2019 podcast appearance on The Action Network. During the interview, Lo Duca said that when he was behind the plate for pitcher Billy Wagner during a New York Mets game against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 or 2007, West called three consecutive batters out on strikes. Lo Duca claimed Wagner told him the reason he got the calls was because the pitcher had let West drive his 1957 Chevy. West denied the allegation and said Wagner did not pitch in the Mets-Phillies game as Lo Duca claimed.
On the podcast, Lo Duca also said that he had been ejected 15 times in his major league career, and that eight or nine of these instances had been by West. The suit says Lo Duca was ejected eight times in his career and only once by West.
New York Supreme Court Justice John J. Kelley issued his decision Monday.
The court credits the plaintiff’s testimony that one’s integrity and character are primary measures that are applied to the assessment of an umpire’s or player’s quality and, thus, the consideration that he will be given for election to, and induction into, the Hall of Fame. The plaintiff expressed a legitimate concern that, if Hall of Fame voters credited Lo Duca’s false assertion regarding his integrity and character, he might not be elected for induction into the Hall of Fame for the same reasons as otherwise excellent players ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, and Barry Bonds had or have not been elected.
He also expressed concern that it would be difficult to completely repair his reputation, particularly because a special committee of baseball executives and former players chosen by the directors of the Hall of Fame is responsible for selecting umpires for induction into the Hall of Fame.
Given the widespread dissemination of the defamatory statement at issue here, the nature of the statement, and the legitimate anxiety that the plaintiff suffered in connection with the possibility that he will not be elected to the Hall of Fame because of the statement, the court concludes that the plaintiff is entitled to an award of $250,000 for past mental anguish and emotional distress
West has been a Major League Baseball umpire since 1976. He is on track to break MLB’s record for games called (5,370 in total) before his retirement at the end of the season.
West’s career hasn’t been without controversy. In 2017, he was suspended three games for calling Adrian Beltre the biggest complainer in baseball. He’s had multiple run-ins with players and is known for his fiery personality.
Lo Duca was a four-time All-Star in his 11 seasons in Major League Baseball.
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