Progress is a many-splendored thing

Saturday evening, we were treated to the news that Brewers farmhand David Denson has become the first publicy gay player in the history of MLB-affiliated baseball. As Tom Haundricourt reports, Denson came out to his Helena Brewers teammates a month or so ago

Before he knew it, Denson was making the emotional announcement he yearned to share, and the group around him expanded to the point that he soon was speaking to most of the team. Much to Denson’s relief, when the conversation ended he was greeted with outward support and understanding instead of condemnation.

"Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them," recalled Denson. "They said, ‘You’re still our teammate. You’re still our brother. We kind of had an idea, but your sexuality has nothing to do with your ability. You’re still a ballplayer at the end of the day. We don’t treat you any different. We’ve got your back.’

"That was a giant relief for me," Denson said. "I never wanted to feel like I was forcing it on them. It just happened. The outcome was amazing. It was nice to know my teammates see me for who I am, not my sexuality."

In the wake of Denson’s public announcement, Ryan Braun and Scooter Gennett and Craig Counsell and Doug Melvin have all made wildly positive, supportive statements. While it’s naïve to think that every single player and coach in the organization feels the same way, I do think that Braun and Gennett represent the great majority of opinion in the majors. How great, I wouldn’t want to guess.

It’s funny, how difficult these things are to predict. For some years now, it’s been said that this process — we can’t call it integration, which means nobody really knows what to call it — might best be served by a superstar coming out, because he could a) remain secure in his job, and b) serve as a particularly effective spokesman for the cause, if he chose to.

Well, okay. Maybe. But the fact that no star in any of the four big pro sports has come out does suggest that such players just feel they’ve too much to lose. Or maybe it’s just a matter of numbers; there are far fewer superstars than non-superstars, which by definition means there are very few gay superstars. So the "pool" of coming-out candidates is small enough that the probability is relatively low that one of them actually will do that.

There are far, far, far more non-superstars … and then again many times more minor leaguers, in baseball anyway. So maybe it shouldn’t be at all surprising that we’ve seen two come out this summer, one in an independent league and one in the low-A Pioneer League.

And if it’s two this summer (so far), how many next summer? Six or seven? A dozen? It’s long been the case that change did not begin at the highest level of baseball. The designated hitter, inteleague play, split-season playoff formats, uniform shorts, and yes, integration … all these things came first in the minor leagues. So why should active players coming out be any different?

I can see this thing playing out in a couple of ways. One, maybe the bravery of David Denson and Sean Conroy and others will inspire a current major leaguer to come out. Or two, one of these publicly gay minor leaguers will simply advance to the major leagues along the normal path, relatively unencumbered by the old fears and prejudices.

One way or another, though, it’s going to happen soon. They shall overcome.