While we wait for a baseball player to come out ...
FEB 11, 2014 11:57p ET
Do you guys keep up with Ed Sherman? He’s a smart guy, and regularly blogs about the sports media. He’s also got a new book about Babe Ruth’s Called Shot, which I haven’t seen but will soon; I wrote a long chapter in my last book on the subject, but could have done so much more. As I’m sure Sherman demonstrates in his book.
Anyway, yesterday Sherman wrote about the media circus that will no doubt attend the drafting of Michael Sam; a circus that will almost certainly dissuade some teams from wanting to draft Sam. Sherman’s piece is mostly long quotes, so I won’t quote anything here. Summarizing, though:
- the circus surrounding Tim Tebow with the Jets – Tebowmania, they called it – became irritating to his teammates, and trading for him might have contributed to the eventual firing of the team’s general manager;
- drafting Sam will work if a team has strong leadership, and it shouldn’t be an issue after the first season; and
- the media have a responsibility to treat Sam and his story with respect.
Here’s my Question of the Day (and no, I don’t expect a definitive answer) ... if an NFL team knocks Sam down a few slots on their draft board because he’s (publicly) gay, do we get to mount our highest horsies and label their managements homophobic and all the rest of those nasty words?
I bring this up because it’s going to happen in baseball, too. Granted, the situations aren’t quite the same. In the great majority of cases, a gay baseball player will have years for the transition from Draft Day to Major League Debut. This transition will make his arrival in the majors a somewhat smaller story. So perhaps a better analogy is a free agent who’s been around for a while, and comes out during an off-season. What would you think about a general manager who downgraded the player, however slightly, because of the distractions sure to accompany a signing?
Ken Rosenthal rounded up seven top baseball executives who said all the right things. Cliff Corcoran rounded up some admirable quotes from other baseball figures, including real he-men like Kirk Gibson and Don Mattingly.
But getting back to the original question, does a baseball team have an inherent responsibility to promote equality and social good? Or does a baseball team’s general manager instead have an overwhelming responsibility to build the best baseball team he can? It seems reasonable to guess that hiring the first openly gay player might create some short-term problems; as “John Henry” says in Moneyball: The Movie, the first guy through the wall is gonna get bloody.
Or maybe not.
Eleven years ago, Rockies reliever Todd Jones said, “I wouldn't want a gay guy being around me. It's got nothing to do with me being scared. That's the problem: All these people say he's got all these rights. Yeah, he's got rights or whatever, but he shouldn't walk around proud. It's like he's rubbing it in our face.”
There aren’t as many guys like Todd Jones around these days. In fact, maybe Todd Jones isn’t like Todd Jones these days. But if you read Dirk Hayhurst’s new book this spring – I’ve read it, and it’s good – you’ll see just what sort of outsized influence veteran players can have in a clubhouse. If you have two or three guys like Todd Jones (circa 2003) in there, things might get out of hand. And while it’s tempting to say that Jones was an outlier, and point to the Rockies’ admirable condemnation of his professed attitude … the fact remains that 11 years later, the culture STILL has somehow not found any room for an openly gay player.
Which I find, as a baseball fan, offensive. Major League Soccer’s got an openly gay player. The National Football League will soon have an openly gay player. An NBA player hoping to continue his career came out (granted, he didn’t find a job). Which essentially leaves only the NHL, which has done some good things, and … Major League Baseball, which habitually makes great efforts to trumpet its dedication to inclusion and equality. Meanwhile, there’s never been a female general manager or an openly gay player.
We’ll see both within five years. I suspect we’ll see an openly gay player within a year or two. When it happens, there will be a media circus because that’s what the media does. Especially if it’s one of the big cities on one of the coasts. And it might be a huge problem. Or it might pull the team together. It might just depend on which way today’s Todd Joneses want to swing.