Everyone’s favorite umpire, Joe West, is suing former big league catcher Paul Lo Duca for defamation. The beef comes in the wake of Lo Duca appearing on a podcast in May in which he claimed that his Mets teammate, Billy Wagner, used to bribe West with the use of vintage car in order to get a larger strike zone.
Lo Duca told a story about a game during his time with the Mets in 2006 or 2007, when after an easy ninth inning, closer Billy Wagner told Lo Duca that he would lend West his 1957 Chevrolet to get a more favorable strike zone.
Lo Duca recalled Wagner saying: “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.”
West’s complaint, quite convincingly, notes that no such game in 2006 or 2007 ever occurred, that West only home plate umped one Mets game while Wagner was with the team and that Wagner didn’t even pitch in that game.
- The audience of the podcast — I’m told it’s a gambling podcast not a baseball podcast — and the full context of the conversation from the podcast might make a difference here. West could theoretically be considered a public figure in the limited world of baseball or sports but may not be considered a public figure at large. That matters, because if he is a public figure, legally speaking, for purposes of this lawsuit, he’d have to show that Lo Duca acted with malice/utter disregard for truth or falsity of the story. If he’s not, there is no need to show malice and a casual reporting of a knowingly false story that harms West’s reputation is enough;
- I feel like, if Lo Duca is totally lying here, maybe Billy Wagner has a cause of action as well for making it sound like he bribed umps for favorable treatment. Of course, Wagner could have also told Lo Duca this himself, jokingly or otherwise. Either way, based on the kind of pitcher he was, I feel like Wagner probably lives in some intense, fortified compound these days and cares not for the trivial day-to-day doings of mere men; and
- The first joke that popped into my head was “how can you harm Joe West’s reputation any more than he has already done himself?” which makes it kind of hard to show legal damages. That’s just being flip, though. Any court would likely seriously entertain the argument that a former player insinuating that an umpire is crooked can cause reputational damage.
Upshot: West seems to have a decent case here, at least at first blush!
- I’m gonna guess the audience for a podcast featuring Paul Lo Duca is pretty dang low and, given that it’s now five months later and this is the first anyone is hearing about it, we have some serious Streisand Effect going on in that no one would possibly have ever known that West was accused of being crooked by a former player if he had not filed this lawsuit. Then again, Joe West has never been particularly thick-skinned about anything; and
- There’s always a lawyer to take a case, but I’m not sure I’d want a client who ever did anything as dumb as pay his drug dealer with a rubber personal check and then write the same drug dealer a personal note on team letterhead about it saying, man, sorry that the check I wrote you was returned! Just saying that cross examination of Lo Duca might be rough here.
Anyway, have fun boys. Let us know how it all turns out.