My chat with Major League Baseball’s Billy Bean
Billy Bean loved the game but he cut his pro baseball career short because of the pain of being a closeted gay athlete.
But the former Los Angeles Dodger (he also played for the San Diego Padres) was back at his old stadium tonight for LGBT Pride Night and to play in the ‘old-timers’ game the next day.
‘LA is near and dear to me, they do such a great job – they really pull out the stops,’ Bean told me recently – a few weeks before we saw each other at tonight’s game.
‘[Pride night] is a wonderful olive branch to our community. I really admire the way they want to do something big.’
Bean, now 53, rejoined Major League Baseball in 2014 as an executive after decades away from the game.
He was the League’s inaugural Ambassador for Inclusion and last year was promoted to MLB’s Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion.
Bean came out as openly gay in 1999 – several years after he had retired from the game.
‘When I was a player there wasn’t one message that I ever saw that made me feel that I could share that part of my life,’ He says. ‘I didn’t blame baseball. All the things I felt was self-imposed. I was afraid to talk to my own family.’
To be a part of the sport’s efforts towards LGBT inclusion and understanding is deeply meaningful for him.
‘I have to say there are some days I still can’t believe my eyes,’ he says. ‘Pride nights are a wonderful message that our clubs put out individually. We do feel a higher standard to be a great example to our community.
‘The LGBT community is part of every diversity spectrum: race, gender, language, old and young. Far and near each and every one of us represents the bigger message.’
The League was tested recently when Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar was suspended for two games after calling Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte a ‘fag’ for striking him out.
‘Obviously I was disappointed when I saw Kevin’s comments,’ Bean says.
‘I was really pleased with the way we rallied together – that we all know it’s important baseball knows what baseball stands for: zero tolerance. I think he learned an amazing, valuable lesson and the other 749 active players also learned something that day.
‘What our players say and do is going to be followed and scrutinized. The sports world stopped and everyone took note.
‘When I was playing that comment would have come and gone and no would have batted an eyelash. It used to go unnoticed. Those are devastating memories. It took a long time for people to understand.’