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MLBUA releases statement regarding Joe West’s COVID-19 comments

MLBUA Joe West

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 06: Home plate umpire Joe West in action during the game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park on August 6, 2019 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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The Major League Baseball Umpires Association (MLBUA) released a statement on Thursday, addressing recent comments made about COVID-19 by umpire Joe West. The statement reads:

Recent public comments about the current Coronavirus pandemic do not in any way reflect the position of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association.

Our nation, and the world, has suffered greatly from this deadly virus. 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 MLBUA fully supports the health and safety protocols agreed to by MLB and the MLBPA, and we have agreed to make dramatic changes to our usual working conditions in an effort to navigate this unprecedented season.

The health of everyone involved in making this season happen is of utmost importance to the MLBUA -- ourselves and our families, team personnel and their families, MLB office personnel and their families, as well as countless other “behind the scenes” people that truly make the game what it is. It is an awesome responsibility and one we do not take lightly.

Regardless of any umpire’s personal views, when we report for a resumed spring training and 2020 season, we will conduct ourselves as professionals and in accordance with the health and safety protocols.

We look forward to being back on the field soon to play our small role in providing the healing power of baseball to the fans of this wonderful game.

West, 67, said on Tuesday that while he is someone considered “high risk” during the pandemic, he plans to go to work. He also expressed skepticism about the coronavirus data, saying, “I don’t believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus.”

West doubled down on Thursday, telling Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY, “Those statistics aren’t accurate, I don’t care who’s counting them.” West also espoused a conspiracy theory, saying, “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.”

It’s good that the MLBUA disavowed West, even if it didn’t mention him by name. That being said, is that enough? If you’re a player, how comfortable will you be playing in a game in which West is working? Do you trust him to call out a player who licked his fingers or coughed into his hand before touching the baseball? Do you trust him not to get in your face when he feels you disrespected him by questioning a call?

In order for this whole thing to work, the players, coaches, umpires, and all other personnel need to have a certain level of trust in each other. Players who are high-risk, or who have high-risk family members, are relying on everyone else to make smart decisions. They’re trusting their teammates, et. al. to wear masks and socially distance, to not to go out to bars and restaurants, to faithfully wash their hands. All it takes is one slip-up for things to go sideways for a player and, thus, the game. This is not a simple difference of opinion; lives and livelihoods are on the line. West, with his dismissive comments, is not engendering any trust.

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