Penthouse Retrospective

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

Gay Umpires | 30 Years Ago This Month

I don’t understand how they could possibly let all those other transgressions go by the boards. How could they allow people who were guilty of breaking laws to continue their careers, but then turn around and force me out for being innocent? What was the message there — that baseball considered manslaughter, political corruption, solicitation, and sex with a female minor more acceptable than being gay?

It’s time someone pulled the mask off baseball and shined the light on its real face. Baseball doesn’t accept gays, and if what the game did to me is any measure of where it’s headed, then it’s going backward. I personally know of about a half-dozen gay major league baseball players — including some of the best-known and most accomplished players in the game — and the only problem they have is that they must lead double lives because baseball refuses to address the issue openly. And until there are drastic changes, they will stay in the closet. That’s why it’s important to know that what happened to me wasn’t about performance on the field, or ratings, or rumors about my private life. It was about discrimination. And that was the subject of discussion with my lawyers all through December, as we planned our strategy. They kept asking me, “Do you want to sue to get your job back, or do you want to swing a monetary settlement?” I wasn’t sure. I wanted to retire, yet I still wanted my World Series. I had regrets about taking the leave of absence, too. It made it look like I was guilty and then resigned, and I wanted to counter that false impression. I also figured that if I went to court and won my job back, I’d have a lot of back pay and I could work one more year and then leave on my own terms. Some of my gay friends said it would be easier for me in baseball now that everyone knew I was gay. But I wasn’t convinced everyone did know, because I hadn’t admitted it publicly. Other friends asked if I’d be able to handle the double dose of ostracism if I went back. It was a very difficult decision.

My first inclination was to fight for my job. But I’d already drained my savings to pay my lawyers. and I didn’t have a war chest or a job to replenish my funds. How was I going to pay for a long, drawn-out court case? Then my attorneys explained that even if I won, I would only be entitled to my job with back pay and benefits — no damage award. That was a big factor, because I was almost broke and I had no idea where my next dollar was coming from. Finally, I said, “Start negotiations. See what they offer.”

My lawyers computed how many years of future service I would have had up to the age of 55, and the appropriate salary, benefits, and pension numbers I would lose — and they came up with a beginning negotiation figure that was substantially more than Giamatti’s original offer. That’s why the negotiations dragged on through January and February. Meantime, I fell into a depression: “I can’t believe how bizarre my life is. What’s gonna happen to me next?” If a light bulb blew, or the mail came late, or the subway stalled. I had fits of rage. I took long walks along the East River or through Central Park, not stopping, not hearing, not really seeing, just feeling numb again. I thought, How am I going to get through the year without baseball?

On February 15, 1989, I made what I hoped was the first step toward a new future. I took a friend’s job offer and moved to Washington, D.C., to work for Events Management, Inc., a company that arranges charity functions and social events. My job was to bring in new business and coordinate logistics: hire caterers and entertainment, arrange security, even help with decorations. It was my only full-time job, other than umpiring, since high school. The first morning I wore a sports jacket and tie and I felt like someone else. The last time I dressed for work that way, I was working the 1987 Championship Series. But every day for two weeks, I got up early, put on my new “uniform,” and reported to work like millions of other people. It was awkward; I was the classic fish out of water. Yet for a while I felt good, because it looked like there really might be life after baseball.

In late February I started dreading the idea of spring: warm air, chirping birds, kids playing ball in the parks. My attorneys were still going back and forth with the league and I needed a vacation from the turmoil, so I flew to Saint Martin to swim and relax on the beach. It was working miracles — until my lawyer called and said, “They’re ready to close. This is their final offer and we think you should take it.” So I searched my heart and sifted all the input from family and friends, and I decided to accept the settlement and move on with my life. They were offering a tempting amount — much less than our starting figure, but enough for me to start a new life. It also meant no more legal bills, no more tension and worry about what baseball would say or do and how I would fight it, no more ostracism and having to stand alone at home plate again, acting out a farce. I’d had it with all the conflict. It was time for a change.

It wasn’t an easy call. Once I took the money, I’d be facing the unknown. And I would have to reconcile myself to the fact that I was going to be without baseball for the first time in 19 years, and that people would think that I was either guilty or that I sold out for the money. I did sell out for the money — because I didn’t have a bottomless pit of funds to fight baseball in court, and I desperately wanted a life again. It wasn’t the noble road, and it let baseball off the hook for screwing me out of my career. But it was my only choice.

Before people judge me, they should know two things: First, the legal agreement I signed with the league doesn’t permit me to divulge the specific figures of the settlement. Second, in a letter to me in early January 1989, Bart Giamatti wrote that “among the reasons for the League’s decision to terminate your employment were substantial allegations that you engaged in certain conduct which could be characterized as serious misconduct or acts of moral turpitude. Under our collective-bargaining agreement, the League would be entitled to terminate you without any severance pay under those circumstances.” Yet they did give me my severance pay. Why? Out of the goodness of their heart? Hardly, in fact, in my mind they gave me not only the severance pay they said I wasn’t entitled to, but also my entire next year’s salary, plus a substantial amount on top of it. What was that — a bonus for “moral turpitude”?

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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