Monday, October 21, 2013

Umpire Gary Darling Sues Lou Piniella for Defamation of Character

Darling v. Piniella, 1991 WL 193524 (E.D.Pa., 1991)

What happened?

The San Francisco Giants visited the Cincinnati Reds for a game at Riverfront Stadium on August 3, 1991.  During the eighth inning and with the Reds trailing 7-3, Reds second baseman Bill Doran hit a ball down the right field line that was initially called a home run by first base umpire Dutch Rennert.  Rennert then asked for help with the call and after conferring with the other umpires, home plate umpire Gary Darling changed the ruling to a foul ball. 

Lou Piniella disagrees with a call

Incensed, Reds manager Lou Piniella charged from the dugout to confront Darling, threw down his hat and kicked dirt over home plate.  Outfielder Paul O’Neill also threw a Gatorade bucket on the field in protest.  Darling tossed Piniella and O’Neill as a result of their tantrums.  The Reds ended up losing 7-3. 
  
In a post-game interview following the loss, Piniella was alleged to have stated:

(1)   “I feel Darling has a bias against this ball club.”

(2)   “All year, we've never gotten a call from him and don't think we'll get a call from him the rest of the year.”

(3)   “He should be professional enough—if he doesn't like us for whatever reason—to at least call a good game.”

(4)   “It's time he got his act together. As far as I'm concerned he's not a good umpire. He's biased.”

(5)   “When it comes to the Cincinnati Reds, he doesn't call a game the way it’s supposed to get called. We're tired of it.”

(6)   Darling “deliberately makes bad calls against the Cincinnati Reds.”

Gary Darling did not take kindly to these comments and, along with the Major League Umpires Association, filed a defamation action against Lou Piniella just four days later on August 7, 1991

Who won?

Lou Piniella was successful in having the case brought by the Major League Umpires Association dismissed because the law requires that in a case of defamation “the matter must clearly refer to a specific person.”

The case brought by Gary Darling survived, however, and Piniella eventually settled out of court with Darling for an undisclosed amount. 

Additionally, Lou Piniella also issued the following conciliatory statement,  
"The major league umpires are, in my opinion, the finest officials in any sport today. Under difficult circumstances, they acquit themselves with the very highest degree of professionalism and this has earned the respect and esteem of everyone in the game. I have high regard for Gary Darling's integrity and deeply regret comments that may have maligned his character in any way. Like his fellow umpires, he does his utmost day in and day out to fairly and dispassionately get the right call. I may not agree with each and every call, but that does not alter the fact that the major league umpires are essentially simply the best."

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