In the aftermath of comments made by veteran umpire Joe West, the Major League Baseball Umpires Association on Thursday issued a statement saying that "recent public comments" do not reflect its stance regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our nation, and the world, has suffered greatly from this deadly virus," said the union's statement, which did not mention West by name. "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 67-year-old West said he doesn't believe the death total being attributed to the coronavirus -- which has surpassed 130,000 in the United States -- is an accurate figure.
"Those statistics aren't accurate, I don't care who's counting them,'' West told USA Today Sports. "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 MLBUA statement says the union "fully supports" the safety protocols agreed to by Major League Baseball and the MLBPA and that "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 protocol."
West was found to be at high risk for COVID-19 by MLB and was offered full pay and service time to opt out of this season, but he has told MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem that he will return to work during the shortened 60-game season.
A source told ESPN's Buster Olney that MLB umpires were tested Tuesday and will be tested again Friday. If they test negative, they will be on the field Sunday, the source said.
"I don't believe in my heart that all these deaths have been from the coronavirus," West told The Athletic. "I believe it may have contributed to some of the deaths. I said [to Halem], '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.'"
West needs to umpire 65 games to break the all-time record for most regular-season games worked by an umpire, which is held by Bill Klem (5,375). He told USA Today Sports that he's "being cautious, just like everyone else," but he's never thought about not working this season.
"I think I shocked [Halem] when I said, 'No, I'm working,'" West told The Athletic. "... If this game hasn't gotten me by now, no virus is going to get me. I've weathered a bunch of storms in my life. I'll weather another one.
"... You know I'm chasing the rainbow. I'm chasing the end of this record. I'd like to be young enough to enjoy it."