Major league umpire Joe West was awarded $500,000 in damages plus interest dating to July 8 in a defamation suit against former All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca.
New York Supreme Court Justice John J. Kelley issued his decision Monday in a lawsuit West filed in October 2019 against Lo Duca and The Action Network. The network was dismissed from the suit last July, when Kelley granted a motion by West for a default judgment against Lo Duca.
West contended that Lo Duca said during an April 18, 2019, podcast on The Action Network that he had been ejected 15 times during his major league career and eight or nine had been by West.
West’s suit claimed Lo Duca said during the podcast that when the player was catching Billy Wagner during a New York Mets game against Philadelphia in 2006 or 2007, West called three straight batters out on strikes. The umpire adds that Lo Duca claimed Wagner told him the reason he got the calls was the pitcher had allowed West to drive his 1957 Chevy.
West’s suit said Lo Duca was ejected eight times in his career and only once by West. The umpire denied any favoritism and said Wagner did not pitch in the only Mets-Phillies game that West worked behind the plate during 2006 and 2007.
“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,” Kelley wrote. “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.”
The 66-year-old West is the major leagues’ senior umpire. He debuted in 1976, became a full-time staff member two years later and began the season with 5,345 games umpired, on track to break Bill Klem’s career record of 5,370 later this year. The judge said West intends to retire at the end of this season.
“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,” Kelley wrote.
Kelley added an additional $250,000, which he said based on expert testimony “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.”
Kelley said West did not establish he will lose appearance and endorsement income because of Lo Duca’s statements.
A four-time All-Star, Lo Duca played in the major leagues from 1998-2008.