“We’re playing like a really tight game against the Phillies, and Billy Wagner comes in from the bullpen,’’ Lo Duca said (according to USA Today) in April 2019 on the Action Network, which was dismissed from the lawsuit last summer. “I used to go to the mound every time and [be] 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 [expletive] just happened 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.’ ”
An infuriated West, who is on pace to pass Hall of Famer Bill Klem next month for the most games umpired, filed a lawsuit, saying the story was made up and alleging the comments could damage his chances of being voted into the Hall of Fame. According to the decision, a Hall of Fame election can mean at least $250,000 per year in appearances.
The 68-year-old worked home plate only once when Wagner and Lo Duca were teammates in 2006 and 2007, and Wagner did not pitch in the Phillies-Mets game, according to multiple reports. Lo Duca, a four-time all-star, played in the majors from 1998 to 2008 and, despite West’s denials, his tale gained traction as it was shared by a number of media outlets.
“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,” New York Supreme Court Justice John J. Kelley wrote in the decision, per the Associated Press. “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.”
Kelley added that “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” led it to award West “$250,000 for past mental anguish and emotional distress” and another $250,000 as compensation “for expenses he will need to incur in retaining a public relations firm to formulate and operationalize a sufficient reputation remediation plan.”
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