GREENVILLE, Pitt County — Major League Baseball umpire and former East Carolina University student-athlete Joe West was awarded $500,000 in damages plus interest in a defamation suit against former All-Star catcher Paul Lo Duca.
West filed the lawsuit in October 2019 against Lo Duca and The Action Network, contending that in an April 2019 podcast on the network Lo Duca he had been ejected 15 times during his major league career and eight or nine had been by West.
The suit also alleged that Lo Duca said during the podcast that when he was catching Billy Wagner during a New York Mets game against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 or 2007, West called three straight batters out on strikes and Wagner told him the reason he got the calls was the pitcher had allowed West to drive his 1957 Chevy.
Lo Duca was ejected eight times in his career, according to court documents, 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 in 2006 and 2007.
The network was dismissed from the suit last July.
The judge 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 court concludes that the plaintiff is entitled to an award of $250,000 for past mental anguish and emotional distress."
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."
West grew up in Greenville and played football at East Carolina University in his freshman year before transferring to Elon College. He entered the National League as an umpire in 1976; he joined the NL staff full-time in 1978. He is currently president of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association.
His involvement in country music has earned him the nicknames "Cowboy Joe" and "Country Joe." He has appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and performed with Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee and Merle Haggard.