Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-05-01 07:59
by Alex Belth


Here is some feedback I received yesterday on the subject of queers in baseball. First up, is Steve Keane from The Eddie Kranepool Society:

I find the whole gay ballplayer discussion fascinating. I feel the lack of tolerance on the part of some people is on their upbringing. I am a born raised and New Yorker. I saw things growing up that most people could live to be 100 and never see. I also work for the City of New York in an office more diverse than the UN. Straight, gay, Black, White Hispanic, Jew, Gentile, Muslim you name it I know someone of any persuasion.

I looked up where Todd Jones was from and I found he was born in Marietta Ga. I'm guessing that Marietta is not as diverse as Boro Park Brooklyn where I was born and raised so I guessing he did not have much interaction with people of diferent backgrounds.

I never understood where many straight males get so angry and defensive about gays. What is ther fear? I just don't get it.

In a way I feel bad for Jones for he is so ignorant he did not even think before he spoke. He said some very hateful things. It will be interesting to see if the Used Car Salesman takes action against him and if the MLBPA will back Jones if he is disciplined.

Jones has not been disciplined yet (and I don't think he should be either), but he did issue an apology yesterday.

Here is what my cousin Gabe Fried had to say:

I forgot to tell you, I think, that I saw Take Me Out. It's not wonderful, but it is striking on a number of levels, among them the implicit suggestion that Jeter and A-Rod are lovers.

It's dreamy to imagine some big star with $20 million in endorsement contracts coming out with a smirk and a strut. Maybe Jeter (and maybe only Jeter) COULD come out and survive, standing in tact, perhaps even in weird ways enhanced. But I suspect that one aberrant superstar doesn't change the mores of baseball as much as you'd think. So Jeter comes out, which, in New York, would probably fly okay, at least as well as it would anywhere. But that doesn't suddenly give Geoff Blum permission to come out, or Denny Hocking, or Michael Tucker. It will take a long time before certain segments of the population stop equating being gay with being weak.

There is a portion of the population who become enraged at the suggestion that there are gay players. (Many of these people are the players themselves.) And there is another portion that thinks that ALL professional athletes are gay. Honestly--and I don't say this glibly or thoughtlessly--I suspect that if you removed social conditioning, the need for parental approval, and a potent, deeply embedded fear of exclusion, there would be a higher rate of homosexuality among professional athletes than there is among a broader cross-section of the population. Would it be ALL athletes? No. Would it be half? Maybe not. But if you're a gay man raised to believe that it's somehow corrupt to be a gay man, there are two vocations you can enter where you can a) prove your manliness and honor, and b) surround yourself with men: sports and the military.

I really do think that if you took all professional baseball players and bared each one's unconscious in a vacuum, free from outside influence, the portion of them who were gay would be somewhere around 30-40%.

I had the opportunity to speak with ESPN's Rob Neyer---who wrote a column on the Jones situation yesterday, and we got around to talking about homosexuality in baseball. Actually, it came up as we were discussing Curt Flood:

Rob Neyer: I'm not perfectly clear on why Flood did what he did. He wasn't doing it for the money from what I understand. And whether or not one agrees with the principle, what was admirable about him is that he was willing to chuck his career for the principle. To me, that's worthwhile. I just wrote a column today that was posted an hour or two ago, in response to what Todd Jones said about having a gay player on his team. What I concluded was that if a gay player came out today he should be considered a hero, because he would be doing it basically to make a point about a principle, which very few baseball players, or anybody really is willing to do. Very few of us are willing to take a big risk in our professional life or our personal life for a cause. To me, anybody who is willing to do that, whatever the cause may be, is in substance a hero. Whether we agree with the cause or not. And I think that is why Flood is relevant. It isn't because he brought about free agency; I think that has been miscast over the years. I don't think anybody really knows how much Flood had to do with it. Did he play a small part; did it help speed the movement along? Maybe a little bit. But the fact is, he lost his case. But I think Flood is bigger than baseball in the sense that he was willing to stand up for something he knew was going to cost him an immense amount of money and his career. There are very few people who are willing to do that. To me, that's what makes Flood interesting, that he was a rare individual. Most professional athletes are trained from an early age, and in fact are admired for not going against the grain. You're trained from Day One, the day you arrive in a major league clubhouse, to go along, to do what the veterans say, to pay attention to the manager. All of which are probably good if you are trying to get along with the team, but it's not exactly heroic to do what everybody tells you to do. And Flood went the other way, and that's what to me, makes him an appealing figure.

BB: I've been talking about what kind of player it will take to come out of the closet, and I've think, like Jackie Robinson, it will have to be a man of great character as well as great skill.

Neyer: Yeah, I think that's right. And in fact, I think the comparison is apt. I got some flak from some people today in response to my column. I said the first gay player to come out would be a hero, to me at least, along the lines of Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood. People said, You can't compare being gay to being black. Okay, fine, so it's not exactly the same thing, although one could argue that people are born gay, or at least with the propensity toward being gay, just as you are born black. But my point was, though I didn't make it explicitly, is that the thing that Todd Jones is saying about a gay player is the exact same thing that was being said about a black player in 1947. What he's saying is, Oh no, I don't have anything against gays personally, I just don't want them around here because they'll be a disruption. It's the same kind of crap that members of the Dodgers were saying in 1947. It's a bunch of bullshit. He doesn't want to have to deal with it, that's what it comes down to. The point of my column was that Todd Jones should be able to say whatever he wants to, without fear of being fined or suspended.

BB: Or getting killed by the P.C. Police.

Neyer: Exactly. But I also made the point that I think he's full of shit. It'll be a great day when a gay player comes out. And eventually---I hope in my lifetime---there will be lots of gay players, and nobody will give a damn.

BB: Buster Olney told me that he thinks the first gay player will probably have to be an established star---although he made the point that Billy Bean was in as good a situation as he'd seen for someone to come out, with the Padres in the early бо90s. Do you feel it would take an established star to be able to get away with it?

Neyer: I do. I think you have to have the combination of being a great player and also having the personality to withstand all the hassle. If you weren't a good player it would become very awkward for a couple of reasons. One, the other players would not be as accepting if you are the 25 guy on the roster. Now if you are the best player on the team, or close to it, your teammates are going be a little more likely to say, Okay we can live with this guy the way the Dodgers did with Robinson. It would also make it much tougher on management if the player wasn't great. It's going to cause a disruption; there is no question about that. The media circus is going to be crazy when it happens. And the team will be put in this really awkward position. What if the guy is the 25th guy, and he really didn't deserve a spot on the club? But they wanted to send him out. People will say you are only sending him out because he's gay. And nobody wants to be put in that position, no team wants to be put in that position.

BB: Nobody wants to be the Pumpsie Green of the movement.

Neyer: That's right. For all parties considered I think it's going to work better if it's a great player, or at least a good player. I think having him be the back-up shortstop could be a problem.

BB: One of the questions I have is what would a player stand to gain by coming out? Is it simply a guy saying, "I don't want to live a lie anymore?"

Neyer: Or again it could be a guy who thinks this is important for other gays. That's talking about the principle. I don't know if it's really our job to distinguish between motivations. It's certainly more admirable if the player is doing it out of a sense of justice as opposed to a sense of "I just can't live a lie anymore." Either one is admirable I suppose, and we should be sympathetic to either position. But if there is something larger involved than just, "I can't do this anymore unless I tell people I'm gay," it would be meaningful. It's not a selfless act in that situation, it's more of a selfish act, which I can certainly sympathize with, and would cheer for him as well, but it wouldn't be the same as somebody who would do it because he felt that he had a responsibility to make things better.

BB: I assume that there are gay ballplayers just like there are gay accountants. Do you think that teams and the writers who cover those teams know or suspect that some guys are gay, but just don't want to deal with it publicly?

Neyer: I do think that's the case. From what I understand, and I don't know this to be a fact, because it's been a while since I read anything about it, but I do think that there were people who knew that Glenn Burke was gay when he played for the Dodgers. I think there are gay ballplayers. I have no doubt about that, whatsoever, and I suspect that some of those players are either known to be gay by their teammates or are suspected to be gay. I think that it's out there; I just don't think people want to have to deal with what happens when you make it public. Think about all of the players who really aren't going like you if you're gay. They are certainly out there. I honestly believe that if a player came out, for the most part he'd be accepted by his teammates. I really think that. Would it be tough? Sure. Would there be some teammates that wouldn't talk to the guy? Yeah. But you know what? Every clubhouse has guys that don't get along now. It would just be a different reason not to get along. But for the most part I think they would be accepted, just like we accept gays that we know in our profession. Just like people grew to accept Jackie Robinson. Some of them didn't like him, and didn't go out to dinner with him, but they accepted him as a teammate. I think it would work exactly the same way in baseball with a gay player if someone gave it a chance.

BB: Someone's going to be the Pee Wee Reese and go out and put his arm around the guy.

Neyer: That's right. It sort of has a different connotation I suppose.

BB: Maybe he'll squeeze his ass instead.

The complete interview with Rob will be posted early next week. Stay tuned...

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