In this space last week, I wrote a post on the lack of openly gay players in baseball. The post stirred some discussion, among it a debate that lasted for a couple of days in an email group for the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. One of the people who spoke up, Cecilia Tan, runs blog a called Why I Like Baseball, has some experience going in clubhouses as a writer, and said it’s well-known to media that gay players are already in the sport. This caught my attention, and I wanted to explore the idea more, so I sought Tan out for an interview.
The following are excerpts of our near hour-long conversation via Skype on Tuesday evening:
To your knowledge, without naming any names, are there currently any gay players in Major League Baseball?
I’m trying to think now, kind of going through in my head of the people who are talked about and whatnot. Most of them are retired now, because the time when I was spending the most time in major league clubhouses was seven-eight years ago. But I have no doubt that there are gay players in the major leagues right now. There’s just no way that there are not. There’s no clubhouse that doesn’t have one or more guys at the very least. It’s just not possible that there aren’t any right now.
Did you ever have a player tell you off the record that they were gay?
No one ever really told me. No one ever came out to me or whatever. But there were always guys who were known… When a manager and the press corps are hanging around, kind of joking or whatever, sometimes there’ll be little offhand comments. Sometimes it’s not a deep secret, it’s just a secret to the public. I remember when Terry Francona was with the Phillies, him joking with the press corps. He was kind of tight with the writers down there and would sort of joke around and there’d be little offhand comments about, ‘So-and-so showed up to a thing with a quote-unquote girlfriend,’ you know, that kind of stuff and him playing sort of clueless about it.
The writers a lot of the time have nothing to do but talk to each other, so there’s a lot of gossip, speculation, and chit-chat that goes on. A Major League Baseball team is like the circus. They pick up and move, they travel around, the beat writers travel with them, not on the same airplanes or whatever, but everyone’s pretty much going to the same places. Everyone’s in it together. You find out stuff, you hear things, you are staying in the same hotels a lot of the times.
I’d say it’s an unspoken rule maybe of the current media. Nobody wants to lose their job because they’re the one that decided to make a stink by outing a gay player. Nobody wants to be the one who does that because you’d lose your clubhouse access. Even if you kept it technically, no player would ever talk to you again. If you broke confidence like that, that would be, I dunno– I’m trying to think. You look at the whole steroids thing, performance enhancing drugs. Look at how long the culture of silence stayed around that, and that’s something that actually had to do with the integrity of the game. Players had to speak out about it first before the little guys in the media could say anything.
How good is MLB or the player’s union or any other entity within baseball about taking an active role in social issues from your vantage point?
It’s interesting. Bud Selig, in particular, I think we’re not really going to be able to write the book on whether he was progressive or conservative until he gets out of office. It’s just like presidents of the United States. You can’t really define them until they’re out of office. Selig has been very interesting in that when he first came along, people were like, ‘Oh, he’s just a puppet of the owners. He was an owner himself. He’s not really a commissioner in that he doesn’t dictate anything to the owners.’ That’s the thing. He’s a consensus builder, and he is CEO of Baseball, Inc. basically. I think he always approached the job more like a CEO would as opposed to a commissioner who is supposed to hand down rules would.
You saw that perfectly when one of the things that came out of the Mitchell Report and the congressional hearings was they said, ‘Well, we think there should be a commission appointed to enforce the moral rules of baseball.’ That’s what the commissioner’s job is. That’s why he’s called commissioner. No one’s been that type of commissioner in quite awhile. Really, Selig is the first one who really typified, ‘No, I’m just CEO of Baseball, Inc.’ He’s been very, very successful at that, there’s no question about it. Attendance is up, money is up. The various owners who had their snits and wanted to be contracted, he kind of steered everybody through that.
He’s done some things that are interesting, like he tried to increase the number of women and minority-owned businesses that Major League Baseball purchases from, for example. They have to have a t-shirt company who makes the t-shirts that say, ‘American League Champion Boston Red Sox’ on them, and then when they lose, they wind up on whatever children in some starving country somewhere. Somebody’s gotta manufacture that, somebody’s gotta design it, this, that, and the other, and he put in an initiative, in the ’90s, basically an affirmative action– he didn’t use those words– effort to say, we need to be partnering with more women-owned and minority-owned businesses. That wasn’t something that really got him any PR cred with the fans, the owners didn’t care who prints the darn t-shirts. I think that really came from him and a sort of commitment to, ‘Well, what are the things that I can do to [make] baby steps toward social justice with this giant behemoth of a corporation, money-making juggernaut that is Major League Baseball?’ So that was sort of interesting, He totally didn’t have to have that in mind at all. It wasn’t like he did that to shut somebody else up because of criticism of something. I mean, I don’t know whose idea that was, but you know.
So I think there is a little bit of that going on. I don’t think you’re going to see him coming out– haha, no pun intended– for or against gay marriage initiatives, for example. But I do think we’re at a stage in the United States, where gay rights is, where coverage in the media of equality is, that if you get too many more of these kinds of homophobic slurs being shouted out of the bullpens or whatever, that he will have to make some sort of statement or he’ll have to impose a rule like no racists, no sexists, this, that, or the other.
In your time going in locker rooms, can you think of any specific instances of homophobia, or anything that would’ve made a gay player uncomfortable to be open about his sexuality with his teammates and the media?
I never saw anything. Chatting with other members of the media about it, it really is something that is just invisible. There are guys who, their teammates know, but the reason that it’s okay is because they never, ever, ever bring it up, and it’s never an issue. I dunno. It’s not like there would be guys talking about how, ‘After the game tonight, we’re going to go down to the gay bars and beat people up.’ It’s not like that. It’s much more insidious… A lot of guys fear being considered gay by association. Their masculinity is questioned, as if getting your masculinity questioned is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a person.
I know for black players, they had Jackie Robinson. Gays ostensibly had Glenn Burke who, while he wasn’t publicly gay while he was a player, the word is that he was out to his teammates and the management. And obviously, Glenn Burke, he struggled a lot in the majors between drug abuse and homophobia from some of his teams, most notably Billy Martin. Do you think Burke’s struggles at all might have set gay players back?
I don’t know. I don’t know enough about it. Every clubhouse is different. That’s sort of like saying, was the stress of homophobia part of what led to his drug problems. We can ask the same questions of Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, did racism contribute to their persistent problems? I don’t know. You can say there is minority stress in which people who are not a member of the dominant group are constantly under scrutiny that other people don’t have. If you don’t live with the privilege of being part of the dominant group, you have minority stress and
having to justify yourself constantly, so forth and so on.
If you’re gay, if you’re out, you have minority stress, and if you’re not out, you have what’s called ‘invisible minority stress,’ where you’re constantly trying to pretend to be something you’re not. This is what leads to the high rates of suicide and so forth. It’s just not good for one’s mental health. It’s like playing in the major leagues is already so tough on people mentally. The pressure to succeed, the mental piece is such a huge part of it.
Probably there are guys who think about it and say, ‘Well, look what happened to him, I don’t want to go down that road.’ But honestly, I think most young players probably don’t even know who Glenn Burke was. A lot of young players– and by which I mean all players, because they’re all young to me now. Only Jamie Moyer is older than I am in the major leagues right now– they’re not so much thinking about the guys who came before. Every single one of them thinks that he’s special and different and that’s why he’s made it to the bigs….
Are we going to see a gay player in the major leagues in our lifetimes? I don’t know. Because this is the question, will somebody get outed accidentally, and then have to stand up and be like, ‘Okay, well now I will be the poster child.’ That is how I can see it accelerating and happening sooner rather than later, is that, somebody basically just gets caught in some totally compromising position or gets outed by an ex-lover who happens to be somebody who’s in a position to not just get shut up by hush money. You know what I mean? It would have to be a confluence of different things.
It’s funny, I’m under contract right now to a romance book publisher called Ravenous Romance to write them a gay baseball-themed romance.
[laughter] I have not delivered them the manuscript. You may not know this if you’re not in the world of romance, but 95 percent of romance readers are women, and women like to read about men, so there’s this whole exploding category of gay romance written by straight women for straight women, but with gay characters, a male-male pairing, as they say. So they’ve contracted me to write this novel, and it’s funny because I can’t even figure out how to get started because I’m trying to think, okay, how realistic do I want this to be, and I do wanna try to dig into what would actually happen if the romance is discovered, or do I want to make it like some romances where just everything is hunky-dory, ignore the actual issues that could occur. I just can’t decide, because part of me really wants to write a book that would make a statement about how it could go in a world where they would have to fight for acceptance, but they gain that acceptance in the end. The whole point of a romance novel is a happy ending, and true love wins. Part of me is like, you can’t suspend your disbelief enough to do this, so I don’t know. I have to deliver it probably by the end of summer, so I need to decide.
Do you think it’s important that baseball have an openly gay player?
Do I think it’s important? I don’t know. This is the thing– I don’t think it’s that important for two reasons. One, baseball will not be drastically improved or changed by having an out gay player, because it’s not as if that will overnight change the culture of clubhouses in general or the way players are scouted or anything like that. Ultimately, it isn’t going to change that much, even though people are going to have a flip out about it. Still, it’s not going to change that much.
When it comes to role models, having gay role models, I don’t feel that a gay baseball player is necessarily going to have that much more impact than the many public figures we have who are out and proud right now, which is one of the reasons why I think it’s even more possible for it to happen. You’ve got singers, actors, dancers, politicians, I dunno, who are the other gay figures? There’s probably a gay astronaut, I just can’t name him. We’ve got gay military officers, et cetera, et cetera. At this point, it’s not as if we’re so starved for role models that us having a [gay] baseball player we can point to who’s in the current major leagues means that the suicide rate is going up because of that. The suicide rate is what it is, despite all the people who are out.
I would have liked to see more major league teams do ‘It Gets Better’ videos. I know a couple of them did. There’s this whole thing that you didn’t have to be gay to do an ‘It Gets Better’ video. Who was it, President Obama did an ‘It Gets Better’ video in which he said, ‘I don’t know what it’s like to be gay, but I know what it’s like to be picked on for being different.’ That kind of stuff I would’ve liked to see, but I think a lot of [teams] said, ‘This isn’t our issue. We’lll put more money and charity stuff into underprivileged kids in urban areas, and we’ll put more into these other things that are sort of more their– you know, children’s hospitals, whatever– more their traditional charities.’
It’s like, alright, fine. That’s why I don’t see myself pushing this issue. I think ultimately, that social capital could be better spent somewhere else. It’s not that I think we should keep the closet door closed in any way. I just don’t think it would make that big a difference in either the sport or in American life ultimately. It’d be a big firestorm, but it would be a big firestorm about nothing. And after that, would it be easier or harder for the next guy to come out would really depend on how that first guy handled it.
Is he going to be a Jackie Robinson type who can kind of conduct himself with dignity? Or is he going to be, you know, whatever? Like a left-handed reliever who is already considered weird? We don’t know. Or is he going to be like a utility infielder who is so marginal that after he comes out and then finds he can’t get a job the next year, people are like, ‘Well, he was a marginal player. He was always the 25th man anyway. It has nothing to do with him being gay. He played like crap.’ Unless, it’s a superstar, we’re always going to wonder, and that guy will always wonder and think to himself, ‘Oh, I should’ve kept my mouth shut.’ I dunno. There’s so many different variables in play as far as how it could go.
I do wonder if we’re not going to see, at some point, some other former major leaguers coming out of the closet. Like I look at George Takei, who was Mr. Sulu on the original “Star Trek” and who was in the closet for many years and is now this total outspoken advocate for marriage equality, but you know, he’s in his 70s or maybe just turned 70. He’s my father’s age. And he’s happily married, too, his male partner who is also sort of a marriage equality advocate. He goes around speaking at colleges, and this and that. He’s on “The Howard Stern Show” regularly now, and you’re like, ‘If the “Howard Stern Show” can have a recurring gay voice, well gee, then maybe Major League Baseball could take it.’ I mean, seriously.