Penthouse Retrospective

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

Gay Umpires | 30 Years Ago This Month

Well, it didn’t work. On Tuesday, November 1, the D.A.’s office quietly dropped their investigation of me without ever having filed a single charge. Even today the majority of baseball fans who knew about this case in the first place still don’t know that I was never charged and that the investigation against me was dropped — and they still believe that I resigned from baseball.

In retrospect, maybe it was bad judgment for me to have gone to that house, especially given the rumors that were already floating around about me. But I would never have gone there if I had known what they were involved in. I remember a friend telling me afterward, “You never should’ve gone there to visit your gay friends.” I said, “I don’t understand. Does that mean if you have lunch with a thief, then you’re a thief, too? Suppose you go next door to visit neighbors and you walk in, and all of a sudden the door slams back and there’s the F B. I. arresting everyone for possession of cocaine. You might get arrested, too — even though you’re an innocent bystander. But forever after that, you wouldn’t be remembered as ’the innocent bystander.’ You’d be remembered as ’the guy who got busted for cocaine.’”

In other words, it really didn’t matter that I was a gay man visiting other gays. What happened to me could have happened to anybody — gay or straight. And it frequently does.

So I concentrated on one thing: clearing my name with baseball. That was why, right after my lawyer phoned on November 1 to tell me they’d dropped the investigation, I called Bart Giamatti’s office and set up a meeting for 11:30 on November 30. Over the next 29 days, other than going to the gym, I sweated it out at home. Too many people knew me, and I didn’t want to answer questions. Mostly I worried about what Giamatti would say and whether he would still be on my side.

November 30 finally arrived, and here was Giamatti starting me off with, “I know you’re not going to like what I have to say. “He was right — that meeting was the biggest disappointment of my life. How could they banish me for something I didn’t do? Why wasn’t exoneration from the D. A.’s off ice good enough for them? Where was their loyalty after I’d devoted ten years of my life to the game?”

It hurt me that Bart Giamatti was the one holding the gun to my head and saying, “We don’t want to fire you. We’d like to see you retire voluntarily.” After all the support he’d given me in the past, it felt like a betrayal. Yet because he’d touched my life in so many ways — especially by being a father figure when I needed that — I wondered if he believed this was for my own good. He’d always taken the long view with me and treated me with compassion. Maybe he figured I was better off out of baseball now, and that this whole mess might be a blessing in disguise.

I became convinced that Giamatti sympathized with me and wanted to help, but the league tied his hands. The owners were concerned about the game’s image, not Dave Pallone’s personal problems. They must have told him, “Look at all these things that happened to Pallone the last three years. Look at the notoriety he got from the Pete Rose thing. And now this sex scandal. It’s in baseball’s best interests not to rehire him.” I could understand that. Bart once told me, “No individual is bigger than baseball” — and that probably guided him here. Add the pressure of being commissioner-elect, and the fact that the owners knew I was the type of person who might take them to court, and Giamatti had no choice. I realized that although he held the gun to my head, it was the owners who pulled the trigger.

The first week of December, when my lawyer received the letter from [league counsel] Lou Haynes spelling out the reasons why baseball was terminating me, I was distraught. None of the reasons were valid:

Concern about my involvement in the Saratoga Springs scandal. I was cleared. What more did they want?

The Cincinnati bar rumor. They had investigated this rumor and found absolutely nothing.

Low 1988 ratings. The joke of jokes, even to Giamatti. Plus, how could I ever get high ratings after the Pete Rose incident?

These reasons were camouflage for the real reason: I was gay, and they didn’t want the publicity surrounding that to tarnish baseball’s macho image. In other words, they were prepared to sacrifice a proven, veteran umpire so they wouldn’t look bad.

That ate away at me. Baseball always talked about how open, fair, and inclusive it was — the all-American game that gave us Jackie Robinson. But the lesson I learned on November 30 was the biggest irony of all: Baseball was living a hidden life, too. Publicly, it pretended to be inclusive and fair, but it was close-minded and biased behind its mask. They believed I was gay, and therefore guilty of everything — and that’s why they wouldn’t hire me back. Yet they allowed Cesar Cedeno to continue playing for 13 years after being charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of a 19- year-old woman in the Dominican Republic, for which he paid only a $100 fine plus court costs. They let Lenny Randle play six more years after he was convicted of battery for shattering his manager’s cheekbone with a punch. They allowed George Steinbrenner to operate a franchise after being convicted of making illegal campaign contributions. They didn’t care when pitcher Bryn Smith was arrested for solicitation or, in 1989, when outfielder Luis Polonia was convicted for having sexual relations with a 15- year-old female minor. And how come baseball did virtually nothing more than slap the wrist of all the players who recently admitted publicly to buying, using, or selling illegal drugs?

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.

Leave a Reply