As a kid growing up in the 70’s, I probably could have named every player in the majors anytime between 1973 and 1986. There are a lot of guys who have faded from memory at this point, but give me a team and a year, and I’ll bet I could name their starting line-up and first 3 pitchers. Credit my love of baseball cards and Strat-o-Matic for learning all the names, positions, and teams, and a habit of memorizing trivial information.
One of the players I remember from that time was Glen Burke, former outfielder for the Dodgers and A’s. One of the reasons I remember him was for his World Series appearances with the Dodgers against the Yankees, and later for his time with the A’s, both archenemies from my boyhood as a Royals fan. Burke was a fairly non-descript player, posting a career line of .237/.270/.291, and leaving a legacy of having created/invented/established? the high-5.
Burke has become somewhat famous in later years, not for his playing career, but for the fact that he was the first former ballplayer to come out as openly gay. As the story goes, it was actually pretty well known in baseball that Burke was gay, but it wasn’t talked about. Sometime after that, Billy Bean, no, not that Billy Beane, also came out, but both did so after their careers were over. Sorry, but that’s a mandatory reference and I don’t have the option not to write it. Ask anyone in the mainstream media if you don’t believe me. Anyhow, since then, there has never been a known, active gay player in the majors, although there are always rumors that some are.
A lot of people think that the reason there isn’t an openly gay player today is because of the culture attitudes against homosexuality, and the belief that a player would be abused because of his lifestyle (is it really a life ‘style’, or just life --- I don’t know, someone help out). Some of that is true, no doubt; there are a lot of people in the country who still don’t accept it. I don’t that’s actually the problem, however. I think the reason there isn’t a gay player in the game isn’t because of the people against, but because of the people who are for it.
There are 3 types of fans when it comes to this issue:
1) The homophobe --- or, as they are commonly referred to, the dumbasses who don’t have a clue. These are the guys who are going to use the slurs, make dumb gestures, and even carry signs. They are also the ones who will be ridiculed for their behavior. You’re going to get some right wing and religious types who pretend it’s the end of the world, but it will be a crusade for publicity more than an actual crusade against the player. Sure, the player will hear some derogatory stuff, but having grown up in a locker room mentality, it won’t be anything new. It might even be something the player has participated in at some point in order to fit in. Some people will act stupid, and some stupid things will be said. But that’s all. Seriously, homophobia really isn’t going to keep an active player from coming out.
2) The fan of the game --- me, and most other fans. We really, really, really, really, don’t care. What I care about from a player is whether or not he’s going to make my team better. I don’t care about his lifestyle, his music collection, his car, his family or his activities off the field. I want my team to have good players who helps them win games.
The best possible scenario for this would be something like this:
Reporter: Now that the season is over, what are your plans?
Player: Probably going to go out west and go fishing with my partner.
Reporter: Cool. A lot of women don’t like to fish.
Player: Well (hesitating), he does.
Reporter: (perplexed) So, you’rrrrrre gay?
Reporter: (pausing) Yeah, whatever. So what do you guys need to do to compete next year?
And life goes how. How simple can it be?
3) The homophile --- “advocating or supportive of the interests, civil rights, and welfare of homosexuals; gay: a homophile activist organization.”
These are the people who feel that there HAS to be a gay player, that there NEEDS to be a gay player, that INSIST there be a gay player, that DEMAND that there be a gay player, that the world isn’t RIGHT without a gay player. People who feel that the lack of a gay player is somehow an anti-gay conspiracy and an attempt to keep homosexuals out of mainstream society. Which is actually kind of funny, because major league baseball is anything but mainstream society.
Okay, the last one was probably a little harsh, but there are a lot of electrons being killed over the issue, and most of it falls into the ‘why isn’t there’ camp vs the ‘why should there be’ camp. Homosexuality has become an open issue in American society, but male sports are lagging behind, and people want that to change. Homophiles feel there should be a gay player in the bigs, and I think that is actually the problem. Because the homophiles might be forcing something on a player that he just doesn’t want.
Maybe Joe the ballplayer just wants to be Joe the ballplayer? Maybe he doesn’t want to be Joe the gay ballplayer, or Joe the gay icon, or Joe the gay hero? Maybe Joe doesn’t want to lead the gay pride parade in every city on the schedule, maybe he doesn’t want to be interviewed on every television and radio station about an issue that has nothing to do with sports? Maybe Joe the ballplayer is a private person who chooses to live his life outside the media, regardless of sexual orientation.
Outside of a few guys like Schilling, Jeter, Rodriguez, Matt Kemp and very few others, how much do you really know about the lives of the players? How many are married? How many have children, and how many do they have? Where do the live? You probably couldn’t name more than a dozen players off the top of your head that you know personal information about, and most of them have put themselves into the spotlight.
Why shouldn’t a gay player have the same right to privacy that straight players have? Shouldn’t the partners have the right to their privacy? What about their families? Is this a private issue for them also? And lets not pretend that they will get to keep any of this private. We all know the media shitstorm that will happen when the first player comes out. It will make Judgment Day look like a slow news day. Players already live their lives, unfairly in my opinion, under a large microscope. What do you think will happen to the first gay player? It’s going to be insane.
Homosexuality has become mainstream in the Untied States, regardless of the insane ramblings of a few idiots. There are politicians, actors, musicians, and even religious figures that are openly gay. The homophobe isn’t keeping a gay player out of the game. Not in today’s world. Sure, there would some mild stupidity and some minor uproar, but no one is going to pay attention to those people.
Fred Phelps, for what it’s worth, has done more to advance the cause of gay people than anyone else in the country. The outrage against him, and his church, is mostly about the rights of soldiers and their families. The issue, oddly, isn’t his stance on homosexuality; it’s about respect for others. If that hasn’t made being gay mainstream, I don’t know what can. There might still be gay people in the closet, but homosexuality had come out.
The chances of there not being a gay ball player right now are very slim. In fact, non-existent. If you want to liken this to the military (which is an example, not the issue), there are definitely gay ballplayers. There were, and always have been, gays in the military. We knew who they were, they knew we knew, and yet they managed to survive, and even thrive.
Sure, there were some issues, but never any violence or open hostility. It might not have always been liked, but it was known and tolerated, with certain conditions. The gay ball players go through the same thing in the locker room, but in a more open environment. There’s a reason there are no openly gay players in the majors, but I don’t believe it’s the conventional wisdom that everyone wants it to be.
Seriously, the homophobe isn’t keeping a gay player out of the majors. Slurs, insults, and negative attitudes just aren’t allowed anymore.
The middle of the road fan isn’t keeping a gay player out of the game, because we really don’t care. We really don’t. Can he hit the breaking pitch, or throw one. You know, the important issues.
It’s the homophile that just might just be keeping a gay player out of the game. Because you want there to be a gay player, but you really don’t care about the player. And that’s the problem.
Because no matter how much you want it, this will never, never, never ever, be a Jackie Robinson moment.
But that’s what you’re wanting.
And that's why you’re not getting it.