MLB Umpires Union Issues Statement After Joe West’s Comments on COVID-19

FILE- In this Sept. 27, 2019, file photo, umpire Joe West stands on the field during a baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Nationals in Washington. West has sued retired player Paul LoDuca for defamation after the former catcher alleged West gave pitcher Bill Wagner a bigger strike zone in exchange for letting the umpire borrow a vintage car. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Days after Joe West questioned the coronavirus’ mortality rate, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association issued a statement emphasizing the severity of the ongoing pandemic.

Our nation, and the world, has suffered greatly from this deadly virus,” the union said, per ESPN.com. “In the midst of continued suffering, umpires are attempting to do our part to bring the great game of baseball back onto the field and into the homes of fans everywhere.” The union’s statement did not mention West by name.

Ken Rosenthal @Ken_Rosenthal

Statement from the umpires’ union. Clearly in response to comments made by Joe West to The Athletic https://t.co/BSei2dnwpH West later made similar remarks to USA Today. https://t.co/dQ7zUqNVdQ

West confirmed to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal on Tuesday he intends to work during the shortened 2020 MLB season. He went on to say he thought the coronavirus death toll had been inflated, though he provided no evidence backed up by science.

I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus,” West said. “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.'”

The World Health Organization has confirmed 130,893 deaths in the United States due to the coronavirus, the most of any country.

In addition to his interview with Rosenthal, West made similar claims without evidence to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale:

“Those statistics aren’t accurate, I don’t care who’s counting them. When country music [singer] Joe Diffie died, they said he died of the coronavirus. He had Stage 4 lung cancer. The coronavirus may have accelerated his death, but let’s be realistic.

“Our system is so messed up they have emptied hospitals because there’s no elective surgery. The government has been giving these hospitals extra money if someone dies of the coronavirus. So everybody that dies is because of coronavirus. I don’t care if you get hit by a car, it’s coronavirus.”

The Denver Post researched a similar claim and found that while hospitals can be reimbursed more for treating coronavirus patients if they are on Medicare, “there is no financial benefit to having a death certificate state that a person’s cause of death was directly tied to COVID-19” and thus that hospitals have no reason to state anything other than an accurate cause of death. Recently, a Yale study relayed by Berkeley Lovelace of CNBC showed official COVID-19 death statistics in the U.S. have been severely undercounted, as many who die from it are never tested for an official diagnosis.

According to Rosenthal, West was initially flagged as a high-risk candidate as MLB prepares for the upcoming season. Players and umpires who are at an elevated health risk can opt out of the season while still collecting the prorated salary they otherwise would’ve gotten for participating.

West’s physical showed elevated blood pressure, but he took medication and started using a sleep-apnea device to get his blood pressure down and alleviate some of his health concerns, per Rosenthal. 

The 67-year-old also told Rosenthal he’s “chasing the rainbow,” alluding to Bill Klem’s record of 5,375 regular-season games as an umpire. West needs to work 65 games to tie the all-time mark, which played into his decision to resume his usual duties this year.