Penthouse Retrospective

by Dave Pallone with Alan Steinberg Originally Published: July, 1990

Gay Umpires | 30 Years Ago This Month

Wednesday morning, September 21, I was at La Guardia Airport on my way to catch my plane to Albany when I decided to check the papers. I picked up a New York Post. and there, in bold print across the whole back page, was this sickening headline: “Report Links Ex-Ump to Sex Scandal.”

For a few seconds I couldn’t breathe. Oh my God, I thought. My life is destroyed. And my heart hit the floor. Even though I’d sensed it coming, I still wasn’t prepared for this kind of jolt. I had put my whole adult life into baseball and in the time it took to read a single newspaper story, my career — and my reputation — were wiped out. A million things went through my mind: Who do I call first? What do I say? How do I explain this newspaper story? Will they believe it’s true? Even though it’s false, as this story unfolds, people close to me will realize I’m gay. How do I explain why I never told them?

But then, as I paid for the paper and started walking to my gate, I suddenly had the most incredible reverse reaction. I thought, Well, at least now my secret is out. How can I explain what that was like? One minute I had felt totally ruined. The next minute I felt almost relieved-like 2,000 pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. That feeling caught me by surprise. Was that my subconscious need to be my real self? Was it my guilt over living a hidden life? I didn’t know; I just knew that, for a brief moment, I felt profoundly relieved. It was like, “Now I don’t have to hide anymore. Now I’m free.”

But almost immediately I knew that reaction was a mirage. My secret wasn’t really out. The article only implied I was gay — and attached that to the worst possible connotations. It suggested I was gay (a) because I was being investigated in a sex scandal involving teenage boys; (b) because I was supposedly seen “in the company of” a number of the young boys and men involved in a teenage-sex-ring case; and (c) because I supposedly went to Saratoga Springs last year “at the request of homosexual friends who promised [me] a good time.” (This was the kind of slanted, biased reporting I’d hoped to stay clear of by not giving interviews. The logic here is that adult male homosexuals are degenerates who corrupt innocent young boys — exactly the sort of ignorant stereotyping that has forced many gays to stay in the closet. This kind of thinking is a major reason why gays in high-visibility careers — like politics, entertainment, and professional sports — know they can’t come out. If they do, it will very likely cost them their livelihood. I believe that this is why you don’t see anyone in major league baseball coming out, even today.)

Before I boarded the plane to Albany, I realized I was flying into a nightmare. I knew this scandal would force my hidden life into the spotlight- in the wrong way, at the wrong time — and that once people accepted I really was gay, most would also assume that I was involved in this sex ring. I thought, Christ, I gotta clear my name. Nothing else matters.

A couple of hours later, I met my new lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, Jr., in his office. He was a tall, dark, self-assured man who wore glasses and a no-nonsense expression. I was impressed; he was just what I had been told — understanding, probing, tough. Plus, he was also representing Bill Desadora, one of the Saratoga Springs men my friend Sam Gennaro [a pseudonym] had introduced me to the previous Halloween. Desadora was scheduled to go on trial in mid-October on sodomy charges. So, obviously, Jones was the right lawyer for me; no other defense attorney knew more about this case.

I was distressed about the Post article, so I showed it to him. After he read it, I said, “This is terrible. I did nothing wrong; why are they going after me? And how could it ever get in the newspapers? Why do the newspapers know when I didn’t even know? In any kind of an investigation, even if something gets leaked, somebody comes at you. Yet they haven’t come after me. Why? This investigation has been going on since January, yet not once did anybody from the assistant DA’s office approach me; not once did anybody question me; not once did they come to my home; not once did they call me; not once did they send me a letter. I mean nothing. They did it all behind my back. And I didn’t hear anything about it until September 15. I don’t understand that. How can they let something like this get in the newspapers without even talking to me, never mind charging me? Doesn’t that seem very unusual?”

Jones agreed that these methods were reckless and irresponsible, and he intended to present that point of view at our meeting with McNamara. Then I told him my version of the events of the weekend of December 5-7, 1987.

That night I went to see my old friend Connie Bianchi in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I explained my predicament and she suggested that I tell her the whole story in detail. So, in effect, this is what I told her:

“My friend Sam Gennaro and his lover Paul [a pseudonym] — whom I knew from Boston — had been after me for years to come visit them in Upstate New York, where they now lived. In late October of 1987, they came to my place for a visit over Halloween. During that visit, they invited me to a party on the Upper East Side, and that’s where I met two of their acquaintances from Saratoga Springs, Larry Blodgett and Bill Desadora. Larry had a successful insurance business and Bill was a real estate broker. Sam told me they were highly respected in the community, and that’s how they behaved around me.

“The next day Sam, Paul, Desadora, and I met downtown for brunch. They said, ’You have to come visit us soon.’ They wouldn’t let up. Finally, I said I would come, but I had to pick the right time. We talked it over and agreed the weekend of December 5 was best. So that Friday I flew up and stayed at Sam and Paul’s house in Clifton Park, New York. The first night we met with Bill and Larry and went to a gay bar-which are few and far between in that area. We also hit a few straight bars. At the end of the night, we agreed to meet up the next day for lunch. Next day we woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning. Since Paul had to work, Sam said, ’Why don’t we take a drive to Saratoga Springs? You’ve never really seen it in the daytime. It’s beautiful — they have the famous racetrack and some incredible estates. Then we’ll call Bill and Larry and go out to lunch.’ And that’s exactly what we did.

It does not take much of an intellectual stretch to understand that gay umpires in pro sports have been around a long time. But few have ever opened up about it.

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