The major leagues’ most controversial umpire finally tells the whole truth about is double life.
Behind the Mask
Growing up in Massachusetts, Dave Pallone dreamed of playing major league baseball. When a high school injury snuffed that dream, he discovered umpiring. After a long apprenticeship in the minors, Pallone became a major league umpire by crossing the picket line in the umpires’ strike of 1979. For that transgression, he paid a brutal price. Over the next ten years, union umps ostracized him relentlessly as a “scab.” They refused to associate with him off the field, trashed his equipment, spread malicious rumors about him, undermined his work in games. A closeted gay, Pallone wore not only his umpire’s mask, but also the mask of his secret personal life. His only island of sanity was a three-year relationship with his lover, Scott. But that, too, was ill-fated; the day after Thanksgiving in 1982, Scott was killed in an automobile accident.
Pallone attracted public attention on April 30, 1988, when Pete Rose shoved him during a Mets-Reds game, igniting one of the most controversial incidents in baseball history. Rose was suspended for 30 days and fined $10,000 — and Pallone lost his only chance to work a World Series. On September 15 baseball suddenly forced Pallone to take a leave of absence. Six days later his career — and reputation — were permanently ruined. The New York Post ran a story announcing the “bombshell revelation” that Pallone was under investigation in “the Saratoga sex scandal” involving teenage boys.
Although the D.A.’s office in Saratoga Springs, New York, investigated Pallone, they never charged him or acknowledged the investigation. But that wasn’t good enough for baseball. In late November A. Bartlett Giamatti, then president of the National League, informed Pallone that the league was not renewing his contract. Giamatti cited low ratings, an old rumor that Pallone “picked up” a man in a Cincinnati bar, and alleged involvement in the Saratoga sex scandal. Pallone insists that it was all a smoke screen, and that baseball was so intent on getting a gay out of the game, they didn’t care about the truth.
Pal/one’s shockingly honest book, Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball (Viking, July 1990), written with author Alan Steinberg, takes a close look at how baseball is really played and officiated, and is bound to raise a controversy about the national pastime’s deeply ingrained homophobia. This excerpt begins in September 1988, after Pallone had learned that baseball was investigating his alleged involvement in the Saratoga Springs incident.
For most of the first two weeks of September, I juggled the pressures of a pennant race with the stress of worrying about why baseball was investigating me and how I could clear my name of something I hadn’t been accused of before something terrible happened. I was in a holding action; I just kept rationalizing that as long as no one contacted me directly, I must be okay. Then on Wednesday, September 14, things changed. I had just arrived in Philadelphia for the second game of a three-game series when Eddie Vargo [supervisor of umpires] came into the dressing room to tell me that Giamatti wanted to see me in his office the next day at 10 AM.
The idea of an emergency meeting worried me, but I assumed it was baseball-related. Since I had a “businessman’s special” afternoon game on Thursday, I called Giamatti’s hotel to find out what was going on. He wasn’t in, so I left a message for him to call me at my hotel. He did call-around midnight. I told him my situation and asked if we could reschedule. He said, “No, David. This can’t wait. I need to speak to you tomorrow.” That got me anxious: “Well, what is it about? Is it what we talked about in July-the investigation?” He said, “Yes, I’m afraid it is.” I said I’d take the first train to New York in the morning.
I was upset, apprehensive-I felt like I was heading into a war zone. So I called my lawyer, Joe Fiore. He suggested going with me, but I said I’d rather go alone and let him know what happened. He advised me to be careful about what I said. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I have nothing to hide.” When I hung up, I felt like I needed to talk to someone else. I phoned [fellow umpire] Paul Runge and told him what the meeting was about and that I thought something bad was going to happen. “I’m really scared about this thing,” I admitted. “It’s too secretive. What can I do about it?”
Paul said, “Did you do anything wrong?”
“Absolutely not. Jesus Christ, I barely know those people!”
“Then don’t worry,” he said. “If you didn’t do anything wrong, there’s nothing to worry about.” That was his general attitude in life: There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.
It calmed me down a little — but I couldn’t sit still in the hotel. So I went out to a gay bar called Key West to have a few drinks and collect my thoughts. I drank beer at the upstairs bar, feeling depressed and alone. The only other times I had ever felt this despondent were when my parents died and when Scott was killed. More than anything else, I needed to talk to someone who loved me. But there was no one in my life, so I sat there dwelling on the things I feared. I envisioned being forced out of the closet in a way I’d never dreamed of, and losing my career and my reputation as a decent human being. Then I thought about my mother — the day she drove me to the baseball camp, how proud she looked when I completed umpire school, how sure she was that I had chosen the right profession. And I thought of Scott — the first time we made love, the times he came on the road with me, the great mood he was in the night he died, when he put on my brand-new jersey and flashed me that smile that always said, “Hey, don’t worry. Everything’s going great.”