MLB has had its fair share of difficulties getting baseball up and running. Testing has been spotty at best, players have had to conduct their own tests when testers failed to show up, and test results have taken much longer than advertised, leaving players and staff concerned, and rightfully so. But as unacceptable as these issues are, being disorganized is not the same thing as being deliberately careless. Or in the case of umpire Joe West, willfully ignorant and a danger to the game.
On Tuesday, West acknowledged that although he is “high risk,” he plans to work this season. At 67 years old, West’s age should make him more cautious for his safety and the safety of those around him. Combine his age with the fact that he’s overweight and has a history of high blood pressure, and West might as well be smack-dab in the middle of the proverbial strike zone.
To make things worse, West maintains that coronavirus is a bit of a hoax. Earlier this week, he told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, “I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus.” He doubled down on his opinion today when speaking to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, saying “Those statistics aren’t accurate, I don’t care who’s counting them.” West also cited multiple conspiracy theories about coronavirus, including stating that country singer Joe Diffie, who passed away from COVID-19 complications in late March, had actually died of lung cancer but that hospitals were publishing false cases. Diffie’s own wife took to social media to correct these claims, stating that her husband did not even have lung cancer; it had been his father, also named Joe, who’d died from lung cancer years before. These are things that West could’ve researched, but chose not to investigate because he preferred the version he saw. In this current climate, someone who is not only choosing to remain ignorant, but also engaging in harmful conspiracy theories, cannot be trusted to abide by the rules.
In response, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association released a statement, not naming West, but alluding to his inflammatory remarks. While they promised to support and comply with MLB’s new health and safety protocols, saying that West’s comments “do not in any way reflect the position” of the MLBUA doesn’t change the fact that he is an umpire in the union and that he believes what he believes.
Now, to those who want to protect West’s right to have an opinion, I say this: Yes, you have the right to your opinion, until your opinion leads to behavior that risks the lives of those around you. If West wants to go around Florida golfing and beaching it up with reckless abandon, that’s his choice. It’s a selfish choice, but this country affords these freedoms to even its most foolish citizens. But West should not be allowed to come to work and endanger players and staff who have been promised a safe environment. His presence in MLB this year would be antithetical to the safety protocols put in place by MLB itself.
Because of his high-risk status, West could opt out of the season with full pay. Instead, he is choosing to work. But given his stance on such an crucial issue, the choice should not be up to him. He has proven that he cannot be trusted. That he made these comments from Florida, one of the global hotspots of the pandemic, which misrepresented their coronavirus numbers for months and are now running out of ICU beds due to a rapid rise in cases, only makes West seem more foolish.
According to Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports, West is motivated in part by the fact that he’s close to setting a new record for games worked. He’s only 65 games away from overtaking Bill Klem, and doesn’t want to lose this partial season that would put him closer to that goal. While this objective would be understandable under normal circumstances, it is an extremely selfish motivation during a global pandemic, especially considering the fact that West does not seem to be concerned about the pandemic. He also claims to have lost 25 pounds over the winter, though that doesn’t change the fact that like all living beings, he gets older every day. He doesn’t seem to be getting wiser, though. He even joked to Rosenthal that if the game hadn’t killed him by now, the virus would not be able to.
Major League Baseball expected him to opt out, and was apparently “shocked” when West told them he had no plans to do so. The fact that he is not even good at his job or well-respected by many in the game should be the cherry on top of this sundae. There are an overwhelming number of reasons to keep him out, and no legitimate reasons he deserves to stay. He’s like Dana Carvey’s famous SNL character, ‘Massive Head-wound Harry’ staying at the party and bleeding all over the sofa while other partygoers look on in horror.
Anyone whose beliefs align with West’s should not be involved in baseball this year. Players, coaches, managers, stadium staff, everyone doing their part to make baseball happen are already under enough pressure without people like West giving them something else to worry about. Throughout the last few weeks, as baseball prepared to return, many players have echoed the sentiment that the teams who will be the most successful are the ones who will stick together, follow protocol, and do what needs to be done out of respect for one another.
The success of this baseball season, and more importantly, the lives of all involved hinges on trust. Older managers like Dusty Baker, Joe Maddon, and Terry Francona are trusting that their staff and players will social distance and wear masks. High-risk players like Cookie Carrasco, Carlos Martinez, and Jake Diekman are relying on their teammates to keep them safe so they can win together. Joe West cannot be trusted to do what needs to be done to protect himself, let alone those around him, and for that reason, he should not be employed by MLB this season. Employing West is like keeping the fox in the henhouse.
MLB has made mistakes. Joe West is making bad choices. There needs to be a clear and important distinction between the two. Bring on the robot umps.