Last week, South Florida and Miami hosted Major League Baseball’s All Star Game, the annual affair that celebrates the best of the best.
It’s a game that features younger athletes growing up in the modern era, but it is enough of an event to bring back stars of the past. This year the game celebrated former stars of the Latin community. For a lot of these players, America represented a chance at opportunity and fortune. Today, more and more of major league baseball’s athletes are Hispanic players.
It has been many years since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, and became the first African American to play pro ball.
MLB also has had historic breakthroughs with Japanese, Asian, and Korean stars. Earlier this year, Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Gift Ngoepe made history when he became the first African-born player in the MLB.
So when is a gay major league player going to make his debut?
Major League Baseball has the LGBT community stamped all over its name. Billy Bean, a former South Florida resident, and former professional baseball player, is an openly gay man who is an MLB Vice President for Inclusion, Social Responsibility and Diversity.
Billy participates in diversity seminars that educate players in both the minor and major leaguers, teaching respect for homosexuality, and running anti-bullying seminars. His book, ‘Going the Other Way,’ was gut wrenching, revealing the brutally anti gay world of pro baseball years ago. His life today is testimony to a new era at the highest levels.
Baseball has had its chances to change its ways. Kevin McClatchy, the owner and CEO of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1996 to 2007, came out in 2012, saying frequent homophobic slurs he heard in baseball circles had convinced him to keep his sexual orientation a secret.
McClatchy, an heir to the Herald newspaper chain said at the time “You're not going to solve any problem until you start a dialogue, and there's no dialogue right now."
MLB is trying. They launched a Diversity Business Summit last year in Phoenix during Spring Training, and there is another one this year in Orlando after the season ends. It is a two-day event, which allows job seekers and entrepreneurs the unique opportunity of meeting with MLB's Clubs and sponsorship partners.
Last year, the Chicago Cubs won a world championship. One of its four owners is Laura M. Ricketts, a 50-year-old lesbian who is also a board member of Lambda Legal and the Housing Opportunities for Women organization. Ricketts' ownership stake is uniquely noteworthy because it makes her the first openly gay owner of a major league franchise.
There have been umpires that have come out of the closet contemporaneously with their tenure, and team executives at the highest level. No one does a better job of covering these issues than my colleague Cyd Zeigler, whose features you can and should regularly read on his website, Outsports.com. You can see that for young athletes and professionals at all levels, in multiple sports, coming out is still no easy task. It is still an individual decision, but major league baseball can help push the envelope.
All season long, MLB embraces diverse communities and social causes. There are celebrations for Mother’s Day, cancer victims, and salutes to holidays, veterans, and soldiers. MLB has inaugurated commendable initiatives that recognize its responsibility to, and opportunities in, inner cities, along with ethnic heritages.
Over a dozen teams, including the Miami Marlins, have held individual LGBT nights, donating funds to HIV organizations. This year the Marlins even contracted with SFGN to actively promote the night, purchasing full page ads in our paper and using AHF’s popular Impulse Group to populate the program with a night out at the stadium.
To get to the next level, and really make a powerful statement, MLB should have the courage and make the commitment of endorsing a singular national night that integrates its support of LGBT diversity and anti bullying efforts. Teams wearing a red ribbon supportive of HIV causes would add a nice touch. It’s time for MLB to pave the way, and break down one more barrier.
At the All Star Game last week, I ran into Jack McKeon, the former manager of the Florida Marlins. The octogenarian is now 86, and he was tanned, fit, and sporting his customary stogie. He remembered me as the WFTL announcer who used to interview him after the games.
He could not remember my name, but reached down and eyed my media pass, reading South Florida Gay News, and smiled, “Well, that’s okay, the world’s a bigger place today.”
He had no problem with that at all. So I quickly asked him, in the brief moment we had together, “If you could find a 350 hitting shortstop that could lead your team to a pennant, would you really care who he slept with?”
And he said, “Hell, no.” It is that simple. I firmly believe that is the way the world is today. I believe that is the way most of the players would feel too, even if they teach Bible class in the offseason.
The only real religion a pro athlete has is on the playing field. They play and pray to win, whether they are young Latinos from the Dominican, or African Americans from Detroit. Or even if one happens to be a Bear from the Bronx.
The first out modern gay baseball player will be someone who is not only confident of his identity, it will be a guy who can take two strikes on the corner and then line a pitch to right field for a hit. Maybe it will be one you don’t make fun of because he can throw a fastball 100 miles per hour.
Whoever it is, I look forward to being able to interview him in the locker room not because of whom he sleeps with, but which team he leads to a pennant.