When Will Gay Players Come Out In Major League Baseball

Everyone has a passion. Mine is baseball. It’s a long dry spell from the end of the World Series to MLB opening day and thankfully today the dry spell is over with the first regular season game tonight.

With that in mind and as I have on the previous versions of FOTR since 2009 including at Hearst Newspapers, today is dedicated to the baseball player, high school, college, minor league and pro who feel because of the sport itself, the fans, educational institutions and MLB executives, they need to stay in the closet.

So far as we know there has been only one baseball player who was “out” while still playing and that was Glenn Burke. Burke who played for both the LA Dodgers and Oakland Athletics was out to both teammates and management during his run as a pro player from 1976 to 1979.

During three of those years I was a radio sportscaster and while he may have been “out” to the aforementioned it wasn’t, as least as I can remember from those days, public knowledge as that certainly would have stuck with me both at the time and through today.

In his autobiography Burke wrote that prejudice drove him out, prejudice of not being black but gay. He left baseball at the young age of 27. Burke who died of AIDS in 1995 said in an interview with People magazine in 1994 “My mission as a gay baseball player was to break a stereotype … I think it worked.” In 2010 a documentary (trailer below) about Burke was made titled Out: The Glenn Burke Story and was aired on the Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area channel.

While Burke may have broken the stereotype unfortunately his out and proud status did little both then and through today for baseball players to be out and proud while active.

In 2001 on ESPN.com’s Page 2 Jim Caple wrote a response to a Letter To The Editor at OUT magazine by Brendan Lemon who claimed he was having an affair with a MLB player which reads in part, Playing in the majors is difficult enough, it will be grueling for a player who endures the constant ugly jeers from fans, the hate mail, the physical threats, the animosity from teammates and the resentment of management.

There is a reason, after all, that Billy Bean waited until after his career to acknowledge his homosexuality. Bean told the New York Daily News it would be “professional suicide” for a gay player to come out during his career.

Billy Bean (pictured) who was an outfielder and played ball from 1987 to 1995 came out in 1999 and wrote his well received book Going The Other Way in 2003 which the website Outsports.com raved over.

In an interview on Page 2 sometime back, former player and author of the book Ball Four:The Final Pitch, Jim Bouton was asked among other questions “Do you think baseball players are ready to accept gay players ? ” and he answered, I think they are ready, as ready as players were for Jackie Robinson. Enough players will accept him at first, and those that don’t accept him, if he’s good enough, will eventually have to. You can’t wait for every single player to accept a gay player.

The first gay player is going to have to be a pretty good ballplayer. I think it will be healthy for the country for a good player to come out. Then, instead of the question being who is gay or not, the focus will be on the person who asks the question.

In 2010 MLB conducted an anonymous poll which included players reaction to having a gay teammate. With 1 being “none” and 10 being “apocalyptic” the average ranking was 5.1 . 100 players were asked to participate in the poll but 18 didn’t answer the question regarding gay teammates.

Last year Major League Baseball in its new Collective Bargaining Agreement added a clause which will protect players based on sexual orientation.

While that clause has been added gay activist Sean Chapin is calling on MLB commissioner Bud Selig to do more for gay and bisexual players to be able to come out of the closet.

I am calling on the commissioner, Bud Selig, to step up to the plate and help put an end to [homophobia in baseball] once and for all – to let our baseball players know that they will be fully supported and protected by Major League Baseball if they’re gay and want to come out of the closet. And one day, a player will finally come out as openly gay, and be able to play the game with the freedom and honesty that other players takes for granted.

Last season some teams participated in the “It Gets Better” video campaign and some organizations are doing their best to halt anti-gay sentiments coming from fans during game play and hopefully also from team coaches and staff, at this time for a player to be out and open while active is still a hope and a prayer.

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About Lyndon Evans
Associated Press Award Winner

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