When Major League Umpire Dale Scott came out publicly as gay a little more than two months ago, he received 220 e-mails. He answered every one. There was one in particular that stood out and convinced Scott that telling his story was more than worth it. It read:
"I am 17 years old and my dream is to become a MLB Umpire just like you. I live in SoCal. Thank you for doing what you did because I am gay too but I haven't came out because I am nervous to say but you will help me get through it. I have been umpiring for 4 years and I just got done with [an umpiring clinic] last week.
"I hope I can be a great umpire like you and you are my inspiration and my favorite umpire of all-time. ... I hope we can maybe hang out for lunch or something and talk about umpiring because I would love to get insight and advice from you."
"That right there to me is worth doing the whole damn thing, to touch someone, to give them the confidence to continue." Scott told Outsports late last week, his last bit of downtime prior to heading to spring training and then onto the regular season. "I don't know if this kid can umpire, I don't know if he has any talent whatsoever, but it's great to give him the confidence to know he can pursue that dream as far as it will take him and to have the confidence that he can say to himself that [being gay] in itself is not a reason not to pursue this."
Scott exchanged emails with the young man and the two will meet up for lunch when Scott is in Southern California to umpire games this season. Becoming a role model is an unlikely result for Scott, who first came out via one photo of him and his husband in the subscription-only Referee magazine. He was initially reluctant to talk much about the subject to Outsports since he didn't want to be defined by his sexuality. He then opened and once the story ran Dec. 2, he has embraced his new publicly out status.
The reception he has gotten has made Scott ponder the need for other gay people who are secure professionally to come out publicly. He is a crew chief and has worked three World Series, three All-Star Games, two no-hitters and numerous playoff games. He is first active male official in either the NBA, NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball to come out as gay.
"I understand that coming out is such a personal decision," he said. "But if young people are trying to find their way in life and they have at least somebody out there who has been successful and has been able to pursue their goals and go through the obstacles of getting to the point where they're at and they were able to do that and they're gay, it gives you confidence. You can say there might be a lot of checkmarks you won't be able to check off -- not having the talent or the education -- but this one [being gay] can be checked off, this won't be the thing that holds you back. This is what we need to be as a society .. I would love to say everyone should come out and we're getting there closer, but I still understand reasons why personally someone can't."
Scott has been a Major League Umpire for 29 years and for the past 15 years the league's administrators and his fellow umpires all knew he was gay and had a partner. Scott was comfortably out within his private sphere. He did not think going public would make as much of a difference in how he viewed himself as it did.
"It is a freeing feeling and I didn't necessarily anticipate that because I didn't feel I was that stuffed into the closet," said Scott, 55. "You cut off that last layer of security, if that's the right word. And now if somebody has an issue they need to look in the mirror and deal with that issue since the issue is not me."
A perfect illustration of this came recently in Palm Springs, where Scott and husband Michael Rausch have an offseason home. Scott was asked to speak to a small gathering of local umpires, a chance for them to hear from someone in the big leagues.
"This one guy was talking about his wife ... and he then asked me, 'What does your wife think about that?' I said I don't have a wife. He goes, 'So you're not married.' 'No, I'm married.' He looked at me and there was this little pause and I said, 'You do the math.' ... I would have never done that in the past. I would have said I was not married. … This time, I didn't have to lie. It's a feeling I didn't anticipate or didn't fully realize."
(Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
The emails Scott received came from all sorts of people in all sorts of professions, both gay and straight. Friends emailed to say in effect, "I knew you had big balls, but I didn't know you had those big of balls," he recounts. Each email touched him in some way.
"I was getting messages from completely random people I don't know, a lot of them who are straight and who said things like 'I'm so happy that some day my daughters or my sons will be able to live in a world where this is not going to be an issue. ... By the courage you displayed and what you just did, this is taking us another step closer to that.' Stuff like that was just really uplifting."
He also heard from closeted gay people in professions such as police officers or soccer and football referees. All said that his being open gave them the courage to take another step to doing the same in their lives.
One was a man who described himself as a top soccer referee in his league. As Scott recounts, the man wrote: "I'm not out to anyone, I completely have a double life when I'm out with the boys, so I can never speak about my home life or my partner. I'm just so afraid that if I tell someone or it comes out it will be such a backlash. I am so relieved to hear that this is something that Major League Baseball has known for years and you've continued to work big games and this has not affected you one iota. That shows me that maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on it and that I can go out and be more truthful with my life."
The reaction from baseball people to his coming out was universally positive. His fellow umpires were all laudatory. Bud Selig, the MLB commissioner at the time, issued a statement whose simplicity and directness impressed Scott: "For 29 years, Dale Scott has been an outstanding Major League Umpire," it read. "To his friends and colleagues throughout the game, Dale is universally regarded as a class act. All of us at Major League Baseball are very proud of him, just as we have always been."
"I thought the statement from the commissioner's office was outstanding since it was so matter of fact. I was touched by that because it reaffirmed what I knew," said Scott.
He has only heard from one player and he is a retired player from the 1990s who is gay and has a partner. The ex-player is not out publicly and congratulated Scott, adding that he wished he had been able to do the same while he played.
With spring training starting, Scott is wondering what the response will be from players or managers. "I'm going to be interested to see in spring training to see if anybody comes up to me and says, 'Hey Dale, congratulations, or good for you.' I'm assuming the vast number of guys are going to treat me the way they've always treated me. I would be surprised if they're aren't a few who don't mention it in a positive way."
He also does not expect any negativity about his sexual orientation but is prepared if it does happen.
"I get asked all the time about whether players or managers of fans [will say anything negative.] If they're uniformed personnel, I will deal with that the way I deal with any argument or situation. If they say something they're not supposed to say, I'll eject them. That's how it works. Fans, I have no control of but quite frankly, they're gonna do what they're gonna do.
"I honestly do not think any negative shot at me will be taken by any uniformed personnel and if some stupid fan does something, it will be an isolated case and looked down upon. Maybe I'm naive but that's what I think."
The fame Dale Scott achieved for simply stating his sexual orientation faded fairly quickly, which is how he wanted it. After all, he is still the same man who has called balls and strikes for 29 years and been with the same man for 28 years and nothing about that will change; the public simply gleaned one new fact about him and he is thrilled he took the step.
"It's been quite an experience. I just wasn't sure what was going to happen but it's been very positive and I'm just grateful."