Paul Lo Duca: ’57 Chevy helped Billy Wagner get umpire Joe West to expand strike zone

Kill a Major League Baseball umpire with kindness and you just might get a few extra nice calls from behind the plate.

It doesn’t seem too unreasonable to think it could happen, right?

Well, wait until you get a load of this story from former major league catcher Paul Lo Duca, who in addition to becoming an accomplished thoroughbred analyst, offering his take on prominent races through multiple media outlets, is making a new name for himself in retirement as one of baseball’s more colorful um, “storytellers.”

This one involves legendary umpire Joe West and it comes courtesy from one of Lo Duca’s recent rants on "The Favorites Podcast," available via Twitter @TheFavoritesPod.

“I’ve been thrown out of 15 games in my life and eight or nine of them were Joe,” says Lo Duca, the former Glendale Apollo High School and Arizona State product who played 11 seasons in the majors, mostly with the Dodgers, Marlins and Mets. “He used to tell me before every game, “Hey, Lo Duca. You gonna stay in this one?’ And I used to go, ‘(Expletive) you, Joe.’"

Oh the stories Paul Lo Duca can tell! (Photo: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE)

Anyway, it was 2006 or 2007, Lo Duca recalls, and he was catching for the Mets when the story picks up from there.

“We’re playing like a really tight game against the Phillies and Billy Wagner comes in from the bullpen,” Lo Duca said. “I used to go to the mound every time and like, ‘What’s going on?’ and he’s like, ‘Hey, Joe’s behind the plate. Set up a couple more inches inside. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Joe hates me.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no. Joe loves me.’

Former MLB player Paul Lo Duca tells a great yarn about umpire Joe West. (Photo: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

“I go, ‘He hasn’t given us the corner all day.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He literally throws 10 pitches and strikes out three guys. Joe rings up all three guys. Eight out of the nine pitches were at least three to four inches inside, not even close. Guys were throwing bats and everything. Joe walks off the field.”

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Lo Duca is absolutely stunned and, according to the rest of his story, he immediately confronts Wagner after the game to get some answers. Believe the rest at your own risk.

“I get back into the clubhouse and I’m like, ‘What the (expletive) just happened just right now?’ And Wagner just winks at me. I’m like, ‘What’s the secret?’ He’s like, ‘Eh, Joe loves antique cars so every time he comes into town I lend him my ’57 Chevy so he can drive it around so then he opens up the strike zone for me.’

“I’m like, ‘This guy’s been throwing me out for the last 10 years of my life and all I needed to do was rent him a ’57 Chevy?’ ”

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