As baseball season draws to a close, a brief discussion is in order regarding the intersection of law and our national pastime.
Early in the season, a defamation suit brought by veteran umpire Joe West against former major leaguer Paul LoDuca, a catcher with the New York Mets, concluded with a $500,000 award in favor of West and against LoDuca in the New York Supreme Court. Here’s what happened.
On a 2019 podcast, LoDuca said that West gave a larger strike zone to Mets’ pitcher Billy Wagner, in exchange for West using Wagner’s 1957 Chevy, when West was in town. According to LoDuca, when Wagner was on the mound and West and LoDuca were behind the plate, numerous pitches, well outside of the strike zone we called strikes.
West learned of this statement and sued. West met the elements of a successful defamation claim. The statement was untrue, the statement was “published”, i.e., made on a podcast and therefore broadcast along the internet, and harm occurred. West established that he was behind the plate on only 2 occasions in 2006 and 2007, the only seasons where LoDuca and Wager were Mets teammates and Wagner did not pitch on either occasion.
West claimed that the defamatory statement would hurt his changes of enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame. West has been an MLB Umpire since 1976. The Court agreed, awarding West $250,000 for past mental anguish and $250,000 to “compensate for expenses he will need to incur in retaining a public relations firm to formulate and operationalize a sufficient reputation remediation plan.”
One should watch one’s words on a podcast.
PS – Another defamation note. Eric Coomer, an executive with Dominion Voting Systems, a major supplier of voting systems throughout the US, sued the Newsmax company for defamation. Newsmax claimed that Coomer took part in an “Antifa conference call” to fix last year’s presidential election. Coomer and Newsmax settled this case.
Newsmax issued a retraction and apology on its website, confirming that there was no evidence to its claim regarding Coomer. The full terms of the settlement between Coomer and Newsmax were not revealed, common in such cases.