Baseball Chasing Down Its Ghosts


All 30 Major League teams now fly the rainbow flag atop their scoreboards. Out gays comprise 15% of all franchise owners. There are three lesbian general managers, two gay field managers and five lesbian or gay umps.

Best of all, clubhouse culture has evolved in lockstep with these transitions: the days of relentless overt and covert locker room homophobia are no more.

Of course, none of these things are so. Not even close: our national pastime has by any fair measure shown itself to be a laggard and at times obstructionist on matters of diversity – a bastion for social and political conservatism dating back to its Reconstruction-era origins.

But as with other racist American industries caught up in a zeitgeist not to their liking, Major League Baseball has been brought kicking and screaming into a new multicultural normal wherein nearly half its players are non-whites.

To its credit, MLB has for the last decade developed, funded and sustained some of the most far-ranging antiracism programs in sports. The independent firm charged to monitor the league’s hiring practices has tracked major improvements over the same time period, indicating the league’s commitment to change.

MLB has opened a second front in its effort to address its oppressive past: For the last two years the league has sponsored pilot programs promoting LGBLTQ persons to all levels of the organization (including the thousands of vendors and suppliers the league engages each season).

Heading up the effort is former major leaguer and now baseball’s vice president of social responsibility and inclusion, Billy Bean, who came out as gay after retiring in 1995.

As part of his portfolio, Bean made a tour of all 30 teams during which he discussed his experience of discrimination in the MLB workplace, including the locker room.

In an August 14 interview with Associated Press writer, Melissa Murphy, Bean described the clubhouse culture still in place:

“Bean says the comments in the clubhouse that ‘everybody’s been hearing for the last 500 years’ will take time and education to reduce. ‘It was acceptable to be disparaging. When guys are ragging other guys, they feminize them. The comments were sexist as much as they were homophobic.’”

Bean’s message of inclusion has been met with mixed responses. During spring training Mets slugger, Daniel Murphy, cited his evangelical Christian faith when disavowing Bean’s homosexuality. Murphy added the familiar tag that he is “100% opposed to Murphy’s lifestyle.”

The reverse was true for Murphy’s teammate, veteran Michael Cuddyer: “In my opinion nobody should be run out of a game or doing something that they’re good at based on something that doesn’t matter out on the field.”

Bean later celebrated that players were having such open conversations about diversity, pro and con – something that could not have happened in his playing days.

Its progress noted and admired, Big League Baseball still has much atoning ahead: the game has for too long emphasized its entertainment value and profits over being a good employer.

Yet, from all appearances, baseball is finally chasing down the ghosts that have haunted its offices and diamonds since its inception.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Blacksburg, Va. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2016

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