Thursday, July 9, 2020

MLBUA Downplays West as Joe Adds New COVID Claims

With Joe West adding fuel to the fire with new claims about COVID-19, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association (@MLBUA) issued a statement downplaying West's comments, as fellow senior umpire Gerry Davis explained his reason for opting out of the 2020 season.

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

So what happened?

Speaking with USA Today's Bob Nightengale on Wednesday, West added to Tuesday's comments to The Athletic with the following claims about the novel coronavirus: "statistics aren't accurate, I don't care who's counting them...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."
Related PostJoe West Opts In, Several Crew Chiefs Out for 2020 (7/7/20).

COVID-19 payments were to cover costs.
Sidebar: We often receive similar criticism regarding the accuracy of statistics when pointing out that umpires are 97.5%+ accurate behind home plate and 99.5%+ overall.

The New England Journal of Medicine wrote in June that hospitals have been kept largely empty and cancelled elective procedures in anticipation of and to make room for COVID-19 patients and admission surges.

As for payments to hospitals—a 20% add-on for Medicare COVID-19 patients as authorized by the federal CARES Act—a USA Today fact check, first published in April, indicated the following: "We rate the claim that hospitals get paid more if patients are listed as COVID-19 and on ventilators as TRUE," but also found, "there have been no public reports that hospitals are exaggerating COVID-19 numbers to receive higher Medicare payments" and that the Medicare add-on was meant to "cover the cost of care and loss of business resulting from a shift in focus to treat [more expensive] COVID-19 cases."

With recent hospitalization spikes in Arizona, Florida, and other states, many medical facilities have recently reported a shortage of beds: on Wednesday, 56 hospitals in Florida reported their ICUs were at capacity.

Tara has asked for a stop to the fake news.
Nonetheless, West, speaking from his home in Florida referenced a famous death to support his claim that coronavirus deaths were overblown, "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."

After Diffie passed away in April, his widow Tara spoke out about rumors he had cancer: "My husband Joe Diffie did NOT HAVE LUNG CANCER. his father passed, same name, November 2018 to stage IV lung cancer. STOP STARTING FAKE NEWS. I’ve seen multiple posts and it’s upsetting to all of us."

West, for the record, did previously have cancer, which led to a most unusual friendship with Hawk Harrelson dating back to 2013. The Moffitt Cancer Center writes, "While cancer survivors may not be at higher risk for COVID-19, emerging research does show if they develop the disease they are more likely to have complications and have to be hospitalized than those who have never had cancer."
Related PostHarrelson's Ballad of Cowboy Joe West and The Hawk (1/7/17).

By Thursday, the umpires' union, MLBUA, released a statement seeking to put some distance from West's comments (West is a former president of MLBUA): "Recent public comments about the Coronavirus pandemic do not in any way reflect the position of the Major League Baseball Umpires Association...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."

Gerry Davis opted out: "I couldn't risk [it]."
Meanwhile, MLB's other senior-most umpire Gerry Davis, who like West is 67 years old, took a decidedly different approach than West and explained his decision to opt-out: "It was really not that tough of a decision for me...I can’t beat on my chest and say nothing is going to happen to me. My doctors told me I don’t have a higher risk of catching it, but higher implications from catching it. Eight of 10 people who have died from it have been over 65 or had pre-existing conditions."

Davis, who disclosed he has high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, brought the conversation back to his personal life and the deciding factor that made his opting out an easy call: "We have three young grandchildren. I couldn’t risk taking anything back to my family."

Video as follows:

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Joe West Opts In, Several Crew Chiefs Out for 2020

MLB's senior-most umpire Joe West has opted in for the 2020 season while at least 10 other umpires have taken MLB's opt-out package, West explaining he feels that COVID-19 is not a threat to his health, despite the League's assessment that West is "high-risk." West also noted he plans to return in 2021 to surpass Bill Klem for the most regular season games officiated in MLB history.

Meanwhile, a source informs Close Call Sports that at least eight crew chiefs and two additional umpires on the full-time staff—including those deemed "high-risk"—have opted out. MLB offered to pay these umpires their full wages (as agreed to for the 2020 season), along with credit for a year of service time.

For instance, MLB's senior-most Crew Chief (as opposed to senior-most umpire-overall West) is Gerry Davis, another umpire who may be deemed at risk, and who is just 43 games shy of achieving his own milestone of 5,000 games worked. Unlike West, however, Davis may well decide to opt out.

Other longtime crew chiefs, in order of seniority, include, Jerry Layne, Brian Gorman, Tom Hallion, Mike Winters, and Fieldin Culbreth. A handful of non-crew chiefs also are in the older age category. Long-time backup crew chief Phil Cuzzi, for instance, will turn 65 in August, while rookie crew chief Kerwin Danley will not actually step on the field to work as a regular season crew chief until he is 59 years old.

Another umpire, Greg Gibson, is sidelined in 2020 with a quadriceps injury.
Related PostInjury Scout - Greg Gibson Out for 2020 Season (6/11/20).

In an interview with The Athletic, West explained that MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem was "taken aback" by West's decision to work the 2020 season, while revealing that umpires will likely fly mostly on team charters during the season, with little-to-no commercial air travel.

With West unable, in 2020, to surpass Bill Klem's record for most regular season games officiated in Major League history, the difference between opting in and out, relative to Klem, would be setting a new all-time games worked record in early April 2021 vs June or July 2021.

In deeming an umpire "high-risk," MLB considered several criteria, including age and medical history, including body mass index (BMI).

As for West, he described his heart as "healthy as a horse's" while stating his belief that coronavirus doesn't personally pose a significant health risk: "Most of these people that they're reporting are dying are not healthy to begin with," adding, "I don't believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus. I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths." West also said he lost 25 pounds over the offseason.

Will umpires like West wear a mask?
According to the Center for Disease Control, however, the greater risk for misclassification is COVID-19 deaths being misclassified as pneumonia or influenza in the absence of positive test results, as opposed to non-COVID deaths being misclassified as COVID-caused.

West's home state of Florida, for instance, which is presently experiencing a statistically significant spike in reported COVID-19 deaths, does not include in its report "probable" cases: in Florida, only "confirmed" cases are included in its death report.

The CDC and John Hopkins University reported 130,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States at the time of this report.

Video as follows: