Joe West is anything you feel like hating about umpires, so go ahead and indulge yourself. It doesn’t matter why you think he ruins your viewing experience, just so long as you don’t make up a reason that can be proven to be a lie.
Former Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca did that, and got himself hooked for half a mill by a Manhattan judge who essentially said, “You will not mock baseball-reference.com.” And that is a legal principle we can all agree is both sacrosanct and ironclad.
Lo Duca was a guest on an Action Network podcast two Aprils ago, in which he spun a yarn which would feed into every malignant thought you’ve ever had about West because you like him as a caricature. Only Lo Duca spat up a whopper claiming that West had once agreed to give Mets closer Billy Wagner a bigger strike zone in exchange for use of the pitcher’s vintage car.
“We’re playing like a really tight game against the Phillies and Billy Wagner comes in from the bullpen,” Lo Duca said on the podcast. “I used to go to the mound every time and like, ‘What’s going on?’ and he’s like, ‘Hey, Joe’s behind the plate. Set up 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 …
“I 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 into town I lend him my ’57 Chevy so he can drive it around so then he opens up the strike zone for me.’”
Now there’s a heartwarming tale of cooperation in action that only baseball’s geek army would not tolerate. It seems that Lo Duca only played with Wagner in 2006 and ’07, only caught one Phillies-Mets game in which West was the home plate umpire, and Wagner didn’t pitch in said game. In short, either Lo Duca made it all up because baseball stories always allow for 30 percent shrinkage, or he made it all up because he had an axe to grind with West, or he made it all up because he got the pitcher, the game, the year, and the story all tangled in his skull.
Whatever the reason, West sued for mental anguish and emotional distress, got $250,000 for that and another $250,000 to cover the cost of his “reputation remediation plan.” West has plans to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the 11th umpire ever, and while the veterans committee is notoriously tight-fisted on induction matters and probably found West as much of an irritant as you did, they must surely acknowledge his 40-plus year career and his cameo in Naked Gun as the third base umpire to home plate umpire and crew chief Frank Drebin. He intends to enter Cooperstown with a clear reputation.
But if he drives up to the Otesaga Hotel and the HOF ceremony in a ’57 Chevy with Billy Wagner riding shotgun, you can hate him all over again.