Umpire Joe West has had his share—some would say more than his share—of failures. You would be well within your rights to describe him as unreliable, ornery, confrontational, or an occasional obnoxious textualist. He’s been all of those things! But one thing West will not hesitate to sue your ass over is any suggestion that he’s ever been on the take, a lesson currently being learned by former MLB catcher and new Barstool Sports podcaster Paul Lo Duca.
Lo Duca made the accusations on something called The Favorites Podcast, hosted on The Action Network, back in April. Lo Duca told host Chad Millman and fellow replacement-grade bro and Barstool podcaster Blackjack Fletcher that former Mets teammate Billy Wagner would transact a wider strike zone with West by allowing West to borrow his vintage 1957 Chevy. It was part of a segment devoted to West, where Lo Duca claimed to have had a contentious relationship with the umpire, and offered several spicy stories that are now under dispute:
“So, it was 06 or 07, and we’re playing like a really tight game against the Phillies. Billy Wagner comes in from the bullpen, and I used to go to the mound every time and, like, ‘What’s going on?’ He’s like, ‘Hey, Joe’s behind the plate, set a couple more inches inside.’ I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Joe hates me.’ He’s like, ‘No no no no no no, Joe loves me.’ I go, ‘He hasn’t given us the corner all day.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He literally throws 10 pitches and strikes out three guys; Joe rings up all three guys; eight out of the nine pitches were at least three to four inches inside, not even close. Guys were throwing bats and everything, Joe walks off the field. We get back into the clubhouse, and I’m like, ‘What the fuck just happened just right now?’ And Wagner just winks at me, I’m like, ‘What’s the secret?’ He’s like, ‘Eh, Joe loves antique cars, so every time he comes in town I lend him my ‘57 Chevy so he can drive it around, so then he opens up the strike zone for me.’
Accusing an active MLB umpire of essentially taking bribes to expand the strike zone is serious business. West filed a lawsuit in New York on Tuesday, accusing Lo Duca of fabricating the entire Wagner story. According to a report from USA Today, West’s lawsuit includes receipts, and insists that West never borrowed a car from Wagner:
The complaint, filed Tuesday in New York, denies that Wagner ever lent West a car and points out that no such game ever occurred.
“In reality, during 2006 and 2007, the two years that Lo Duca played for the New York Mets with Billy Wagner, Joe West was the home plate umpire for a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Mets only once, Billy Wagner did not pitch at all, and the game ended on a home run, not on called strikes.”
West also points out that another of Lo Duca’s claims—that West was responsible for “eight or nine” of Lo Duca’s 15 career ejections—is a significant exaggeration. West points out in his lawsuit that Lo Duca was only ejected from eight games in his 11-year career, and only once by West. The lawsuit says West has “suffered unspecified damages” from statements that “impugn [his] integrity, honesty and professional fitness.”