Even when he’s not on the diamond, Cowboy Joe West just can’t stop making bad calls.
Baseball players, some of whom are considered to be at higher risk for significant COVID-19 complications, have recently been expressing displeasure with MLB’s testing protocols. They made the decision to play because they anticipated that the league would exhaust all of its resources to ensure safety. Just one week into the start of summer camp, MLB has already proven otherwise.
Just this past weekend, 15% of players failed to get tested or receive results because no one anticipated the difficulty in getting testers and shipping samples due to the holiday. Then came more unwanted publicity as MLB’s most infamous umpire broadcast his gross negligence by insinuating that COVID-19 isn’t a dire public health threat and that hospitals and governments were conspiring to boost profits.
“I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus,” the 67-year-old West explained. “I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths. I said, ‘I’m not going to opt out. I’m going to work. And I’m going to work until you take me off the field or I get hurt, whatever. I’m working.
“I’m playing golf every day in the heat. I’m fine. I’m not going to back down now [from COVID-19].”
The MLB Umpires Association (MLBUA) distanced itself to an extent, describing West’s comments as “personal viewpoints” and not actions. But viewpoints precede actions and MLB has no room for error at this point. West, who doubled and tripled down on his opinion to multiple outlets in keeping with his insatiable thirst for attention, represents that possible error.
Imagine Cubs players, all of whom have agreed to limit public interaction by not going out to bars or other social settings, having their efforts nullified by an umpire under the impression that such caution is unnecessary. The same goes for his fellow umpires, many of whom are older and more susceptible to potential COVID complications. That’s unacceptable. It can’t happen. I’d be extremely concerned and downright furious if West maintains this viewpoint and is allowed to umpire this season.
Even though he’ll be forced to follow protocols during the game, it seems clear from his comments that he’s not as concerned with doing so publicly. Is that someone you’d want breathing down your neck to call balls and strikes? West’s comments are not just words, they are indicative of past and future actions.
Allowing West to continue in his role is premeditated inaction on MLB’s part and can’t happen unless he changes his tune and shows that he’s serious about it.
Update: For those on Facebook who decried this column as being a non-story or for paying improper respect to West’s ability to have his own (bad) opinions because he has to follow protocols like everyone else, well…
Joe West is working the plate for #Rays again today. Wore a surgical type mask under ump mask for top of 1st inning but that seemed to be it, has been without since.
— Marc Topkin (@TBTimes_Rays) July 16, 2020
It’s unconscionable to have a home plate umpire, particularly one who has publicly doubted the seriousness of the COVID pandemic, to be breathing down catchers’ backs all game long. Opinions may not hurt people, but the actions of people with certain opinions very much can. It’s not a coincidence that public figures from Chuck Woolery to Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt are facing reality after repeated denials and refusal to protect themselves and others.
Several of West’s colleagues have opted out of the season already, so perhaps it’d be in everyone’s best interest for him to sit this one out as well.