They say justice is blind, which means that’s one thing justice has in common with Joe West.
Sorry, that’s just a joke. Please don’t sue us for defamation, Joe.
West did win a defamation suit against former Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca, and was awarded $500,000 on Monday for a story that Lo Duca told on a podcast in 2019.
The tale Lo Duca told was that in a game against the Phillies, Mets closer Billy Wagner told Lo Duca to set up off the plate, inside. When Wagner struck out the side on pitches well off the plate, Lo Duca was stunned, and said that Wagner then told him West gave the lefty a favorable strike zone because Wagner let West drive his ’57 Chevy around town.
It’s a wild story, but West never worked a Mets-Phillies game where Lo Duca caught and Wagner pitched. That, however, shouldn’t be the focus. The specific opponent would be the easiest part of the story to forget after a decade. The question has to be whether Lo Duca’s story is at all plausible.
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West was the home plate umpire for three games that Wagner pitched between 2006 and 2007, the years Lo Duca was with the Mets.
We can certainly rule out May 25, 2007, a game that not only could not be mistaken for Mets-Phillies because it was in Miami, but because Wagner gave up a homer to Miguel Cabrera and labored through a 32-pitch inning in which he threw 22 strikes, issued a walk to Josh Willingham, and only three of the strikes were called.
On Sept. 28, 2006, Wagner came in with a four-run lead against Atlanta and gave up a home run to Andruw Jones on the first pitch he threw. After getting Brayan Peña to ground out back to the mound, Wagner struck out Jeff Francoeur swinging, gave up two singles, then struck out Willy Aybar looking to end the game. The last two pitches to Aybar were the only two called strikes of Wagner’s 18-pitch outing.
That leaves Aug. 23, 2006, when Wagner came on for the ninth inning against the Cardinals. His first pitch to Jose Vizcaino was a called strike, and Wagner got a called third strike, too. Pinch-hitter So Taguchi flied out to center on the first pitch he saw, and then there were two called strikes to Albert Pujols before the future Hall of Famer singled to center. Wagner then started Scott Rolen off with a ball, and got two more called strikes before the St. Louis third baseman grounded back to the mound to end the game.
That’s six called strikes out of 18 pitches, against a team wearing road grays with red accents, and it happened to be the first time Lo Duca caught Wagner with West behind the plate, which would explain why Lo Duca would then find out about a relationship between Wagner and West in the postgame clubhouse. The story obviously isn’t exactly as Lo Duca told it, as it wasn’t the Phillies and Wagner didn’t strike out the side, but it is true that 20 percent of the called strikes the Mets got that day all came in the one inning that Wagner pitched.
While that Mets-Cardinals game makes the gist of Lo Duca’s tale plausible, he’s not exactly Mr. Reliable, dating back to his extramarital affair in 2006 that led the New York Post to describe a previously anonymous 19-year-old in ludicrously sexualized terms, including “SEXY TRYST TEENAGER” in the headline, which was otherwise a genius piece, “CATCHER IN THE ‘LIE.’” Lo Duca was 34 at the time.
Also, the catcher known as “Captain Redass,” had to explain in 2007 that he wasn’t racist just because he urged reporters to seek out Latino players on the Mets for quotes instead of him, saying, “They speak English, believe me.”
So, we’re not dealing with a good dude who deserves the benefit of the doubt here.
But then, West isn’t exactly a figure beyond reproach himself, a COVID denier who last year ejected Nationals GM Mike Rizzo from a luxury box, and a guy who knows a thing or two about defamation from the time he got suspended by MLB for comments about Adrian Beltre.
Lo Duca and West deserve each other, but the funniest part might be West’s assertion that what Lo Duca said “could hurt his chances of making the Hall of Fame.”
There are 10 umpires in the Hall of Fame, and only three of them — Al Barlick, Nestor Chylak, and Doug Harvey — have worked during the last 50 years, and Barlick just barely, as his career ended in 1971. West has been an umpire since 1978, so he has the longevity, but he also sucks: in 2010, 40 percent of players named him the game’s worst umpire, second to CB Bucknor — and yes, Angel Hernandez was in the majors at the time, getting 20 percent of the vote. And no, West has not gotten any better in the past decade.
It’s too bad that West and Lo Duca hate each other so much, because, really, they’re perfect for one another.