News item: Gabe Kapler named new manager of Philadelphia Phillies.

I laughed when I heard the news, because Kapler was a staple in the early days of Outsports in the beginning of the 2000s. We had a very active discussion board and the Hot Jocks section was the most popular section.

For some reason, pictures of Kapler, then still an MLB player, dominated the board. (Does Google Image search for Kapler and discovers the reason):

There were so many Kapler posts on the board that the late, great Joe Guckin (Joe in Philly on the board) started calling him “He Who Shall Not Be Named.” The name stuck and was used for years after.

Kapler, unintentionally, also was a figure of liberation for gay male sports fans at the time. Outsports launched its discussion board in 2000 and it became an oasis for men who were both gay and sports fans, long thought an oxymoron. Many felt uncomfortable posting as openly gay on mainstream sports boards and Outsports was a safe space.

They could discuss the merits of the DH, argue baseball rules (we had a section where an MLB umpire who was gay answered rules questions), talk the NFL, NBA and NHL playoffs and argue over the same stuff any other fan would. The one difference was photos — posting pics of bikini-clad women was standard on mainstream boards, but anyone who dared post male beefcake was quickly labeled gay or worse.

It was different on Outsports. Men no longer had to feel shame about openly admiring another man’s body, hoping Sports Illustrated would have some shirtless image on its pages or sneak a peek at a fitness magazine “for the articles,” as straight men would say about Playboy.

All this was years before smartphones, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter existed, when finding photos online was a treasure hunt. The Hot Jocks section of our discussion board was a daily visit for the hundreds of gay fans who posted monthly. Shirtless shots of Kapler were so ubiquitous that they became a cliche; hence his nickname.

Kapler (and others like Brady Anderson) was proud of his body and not ashamed of showing it off. He also apparently never cared that gay men might be among the audience admiring his sculpted physique since he kept on taking off his shirt.

Kapler was years ahead of his time in displaying the aesthetics of an athlete’s body, something that is now so common that the ESPN The Magazine’s body issue is an annual summer must-buy, with athletes, male and female, clamoring to be featured.

As the Internet grew and blogging became popular, Kapler embraced the platform to post on fitness, nutrition and health as part of a lifestyle he called Kaplifestyle. Shirtless photos continued to be a staple, as were offbeat articles about the wonders of jerking off with coconut oil or the importance of tanning your balls. This was truly a Renaissance man.

Along the way, Kapler moved up the ranks as a baseball executive, becoming the Dodgers’ director of player development. He was talented enough to be a finalist to be hired as the Dodgers manager before the team settled on Dave Roberts. The Phillies recognized the job he had done in LA by naming him their next manager. This wasn’t just some musclehead who blogged about esoteric nutritional supplements and showed off his pecs. This was a man who also developed his mind as a highly sought baseball executive.

With the news that He Who Shall Not Be Named now manages his favorite baseball team, I imagine Joe in Philly is somewhere Up There rolling his eyes and cracking a smile.

(Note: This is an updated version of a post from Oct. 31).