Thu, May 09, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Out of the closet, onto the field

Sixty-six years after racial integration, baseball is facing a new challenge: homophobia

By Larry Fine  /  Reuters, NEW YORK

Magic Johnson, the former NBA star who is now a part owner of the Dodgers, showed the new attitude when he spoke out about accepting gay athletes in sports after his son, E.J., came out to the public.

FORCED OUT

Pallone, a major league umpire for 10 years, said he believed he lost his job as a direct result of his sexual preference.

“The reaction of the baseball world was simple. This article [in the New York Post] came out on Sept. 15, 1988, about my sexual orientation,” said Pallone, who wrote an autobiography titled Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball.

“On that same day, baseball told me to take the last two weeks of the baseball season off. At the end of that year I was fired from my job because of my orientation.”

Burke’s sexuality became known to his teammates, who generally had affection for his upbeat personality and appreciation of his talents.

Dodgers’ management took a different view.

“At that time period it was the kiss of death for a ballplayer,” his Dodgers’ teammate Reggie Smith said in the documentary Out. The Glenn Burke Story that was produced and directed by Doug Harris.

Burke’s sister, Joyce, recounted how he had turned down a Dodgers’ offer of US$75,000 for him to get married to convey a straight lifestyle. “He said he wasn’t going to live a lie.”

Further aggravating his relationship with the team was his friendship with manager Tommy Lasorda’s gay son, Tommy Lasorda Jr., who went by the nickname Spunky.

TRADED OUT

Seven months after starting in center field in the opening game of the 1977 World Series between the Dodgers and New York Yankees, Burke was traded to the Oakland A’s.

“The Dodgers knew,” said Dusty Baker, then a Dodgers outfielder and now manager of the Cincinnati Reds. “That’s why they traded Glenn.”

Burke was not welcomed with open arms by feisty, old school A’s manager Billy Martin.

“The tension in the clubhouse was so thick you could cut it with a knife,” Oakland pitcher Mike Norris told the documentary.

Burke began spending more time across in San Francisco’s well known gay district and decided to quit baseball.

He became a celebrity in the gay community, but was diagnosed with AIDS in 1994 and died a year later.

Bean, who came out publicly in 1999 and wrote a book, Going the Other Way has envisioned how the barrier should be broken.

“I would love for it to be a superstar of some magnitude, to make that decision on their own, to be able to play comfortably,” Bean told the LGBT Weekly.

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