Major League Baseball umpire Joe West, 66, has been awarded $500,000 plus interest in damages in a defamation suit against former MLB catcher Paul Lo Duca that was filed in October 2019. The suit came from a podcast where Lo Duca accused reliever Billy Wagner of bribing West to get a bigger strike zone. He accused that Wagner let West use his 1957 vintage Chevrolet to make the strike zone change when he was up at bat.
On Monday, New York Supreme Court Justice John J. Kelley issued his decision.
West said Lo Duca had discussed on his podcast that the player had been ejected 15 times, eight or nine being by West. The umpire's suit said Lo Duca was actually ejected eight times in his MLB career, with once by West, and no favoritism was present.
In the ruling Kelley wrote:
"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 continued, saying, "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."
The sum chosen was in part due to the stress caused by the matter. It was split with $250,000 coming from "past mental anguish and emotional distress" and another $250,000 for compensation for fixing his reputation.
Kelley wrote, "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."
The last half "is a reasonable sum to compensate the plaintiff for expenses he will need to incur in retaining a public relations firm to formulate and operationalize a sufficient reputation remediation plan," it was determined.
Kelley added that West plans to retire after this season. West made his MLB debut in 1976 and has umpired 5,345 games, and is on track to break Bill Klem's career record of 5,370.