Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
2003-04-30 12:38
by Alex Belth


The subject of homosexuality in baseball is a touchy one indeed. After all, who really wants to talk about it? We're not Gay. Well, Christian Ruzich, The Cub Reporter, and I do, and we've exchanged e-mails on the topic, and I thought I would share them with you. First, here is what New York Times reporter Buster Olney had to say about it when we spoke several weeks ago:

BB: Do you think baseball is ready for a gay player to come out?

Buster: No. It's interesting cause when I covered the Padres Billy Bean was on the that team [that's Billy Bean, the gay ballplayer, who came out publicly a few years ago, not Billy Beane the Oakland GM]. I really believe that if any team would have been able to handle that situation, it would have been that team. Because the best player, Tony Gwynn, is a very tolerant person, he's very broad-minded. It was a very young team, that had stripped it down and they had all these young players, and Billy was very well liked. Some of the other leaders on the team like [Brad] Ausmus, were very bright guys. Trevor Hoffman, very accepting personality. If it was going to work, it would've worked on that team. But there is no doubt veteran teams like the Yankees I covered, or the Mets now: no chance. There is no chance.

BB: Because of the hoopla that would surround it?

Buster: Well, not only that, but the anticipation of it would prevent the front office from even making the move. Saying that, if the greatest pitcher in the game came out and said he was gay, they'd probably bend the rules. But it would have to be a great player. If you think about how they did it with Jackie Robinson, part of the reason why it worked was because he was a great player.

BB: And they chose him for his personality as much as his ability as a ballplayer.

Buster: Exactly. Billy Bean said that it's basically unworkable, and I agree with him. It would have to be a player who is established. A player who won three Cy Young awards and then came out. Right. And even at that point, he would never be accepted by half of the players. No matter what he did or what he said.

Here is the first letter I received from Christian:

I'm interested to know what you think about what he has to say about a gay player coming out. Do you think it's as impossible as he does? I go back and forth -- on the one hand it seems like a baseball clubhouse is probably one of the most homophobic places on Earth, but on the other hand I imagine if a player came out while playing in a more liberal city (San Francisco jumps to mind, but Chicago or Minneapolis are other possibilities) he might be accepted, or even embraced, by the city. Of course it would matter quite a bit who the player was, if he was already beloved, etc. I mean, if Kirby Puckett had come out, I don't think it would have been a big deal, but Carl Everett might have run into some problems.

Whaddya think? Also, was Buster's reference to a "three-time Cy Young award winner" purely hypothetical?

To which I responded:

I'm sorry to say that I do think it would be pretty tough for a player to come out of the closet in the pro game today. It's not that he wouldn't be excepted, or even lauded by some fans in certain cities, but I'm not sure if his supporters would out-number his detractors.
Think about the constant taunting the player would receive. Not only would some unruly fans call him a faggot when he's batting, but the ump could be thinking the same thing, and so could the catcher, and even the guy on deck.
I think his problem would lie in the locker room. It's like Olney was saying about women in the locker rooms: there is a sizable percentage of the players that would never accept them.
Yes, I think Olney was being hypothetical when he said that player would have to win 3 Cy Young awards to get away with it, but his point is well-taken. It would probably take a player who is an established star to get away with something so bold as coming out of the closet.
I think that for a queer player to come out publicly, he would have to be a man of tremendous character, strength and confidence. The Jackie Robinson analogy applies here, especially in that the player in question would have to be a stronger man than he is a player.
Of course there are gay ballplayers out there. Perhaps they are comfortable being private about their sexual orientation. I don't know. What I mean is that even if there was a triumphent example of a gay ballplayer coming out, I don't know that it would lead to others following suit. I could be wrong.
The question is: What does a gay ballplayer have to gain by coming out? We certainly know he'd have a lot to lose. Do I think this is a sad commentary on our culture as well as our favorite game? You bet. But what are you going to do?

Here is Christian's reply:

I think it's a damn shame that there isn't an out major league player. I love sports, but I hate the macho bullshit that often comes along with it. For so many people, sports is wrapped up in some weird belief system where success in sports equates with success as a man, and too often an adjunct of that is homophobia. Athletes talk about how trust is one of the most important factors in making a team, and how they could "never trust" someone who was gay, and it just makes me mad. And then I read Todd Jones go off on this very subject, and it just makes me madder:
I suppose it's just a reflection of the beliefs of the majority of America, and living in San Francisco and Oakland for the last six years has skewed my concept of what "everyone" thinks, but basically I can't wait for someone to be brave/stupid enough to come out while still active. It'll be a shitstorm to rival what Jackie Robinson went through, but I think (most) people will get over it relatively quickly and ultimately it will be good for baseball and America as a whole. We'll see, I guess.

Todd Jones is quoted in an article by Denver Post theater critic, John Moore, on Richard Greenberg's play "Take Me Out." The piece is an indepth and insightful examination of the deep-rooted homophobia that exists in pro sports. Greeenberg told Moore:

The only incentive for doing it anyway, he said, "is if the player just can't stand it anymore. When living the lie becomes impossible."

Colorado pitcher Todd Jones probably speaks for the majority of ballplayers when he said:

"I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me," Jones said. "It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights. Yeah, he's got rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud. It's like he's rubbing it in our face. 'See me, hear me roar.' We're not trying to be close-minded, but then again, why be confrontational when you don't really have to be?"

That kind of attitude "speaks volumes about America," said actor Daniel Sunjata, a Jeter lookalike who plays Lemming in "Take Me Out." "Sports are the last bastion of sanctioned homophobia in this country. The fact that something like sexual preference can so adversely affect your career and your income is depressing. If I were a pro baseball player, and I was gay, I might not come out, either, for those exact reasons."

All-around good guy, Mark Grace had a more enlightened take:

"I've played for 16 years, and I'm sure I've had homosexual teammates that I didn't know about," he said. "If one out of six or seven men are homosexual - do the math."

"I think the perception in the clubhouse would be one of, for lack of a better word - fear," Grace said. "Fear that they'd be stared at or (that a gay player might fall) in love with them. But I think if you're intelligent at all, you'd understand that homosexuals are just like us. They don't think everybody's attractive. Just because this guy's homosexual doesn't mean he's attracted to me."

I'd like to think that there are more guys like Mark Grace than Todd Jones out there, but I'd also like for money to grow on trees. Still, I think this is a fascinating subject and I'll continue to write about it as long as there is something to add to the discussion. Anyone with thoughts or comments, please send them in. I'm curious to know what the readers are thinking. Are you saying, "Enough already with the Fruits, let's get back to boxscores and pitch-count?" Let me know.

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