When Major League Baseball umpire Dale Scott stepped on the field for the 2015 season, he was wearing the same umpire’s mask, chest protector and shin guards he had donned for 30 years. Yet he felt appreciably lighter.
Just a few months earlier in December 2014, in a story on Outsports, Scott had discussed for the first time being an openly gay umpire, the first in the sport’s history.
"I didn't really think about this or expect this,” Scott told Outsports this week, “but when I walked onto the field for the first time in spring training and throughout the season [as an openly gay man], there were times when I thought there was a burden lifted off of my shoulders and that I'm totally a free man now.
“Before the article came out, a player might be walking by and ask me what I was doing on the All-Star break. 'You taking the wife out?' I'd go, yeah, whatever. Now, I felt comfortable saying my husband and I went to the Oregon coast. I could say what was really going on with my life. [Not being able to be honest] wears on you after a while.
“You feel you are cheating your relationship and you're cheating your partner and you feel like you're being shortchanged because you can't be like everybody else. You have this wall you don't want to penetrate. I now felt so unburdened."
Scott, 58, has announced his retirement today from Major League Baseball after 32 seasons, including 16 years as a crew chief. He umpired 3,897 games, which included 91 postseason games and three World Series, and he also worked three All-Star Games. “And 90 ejections,” he adds.
He last worked a game April 14 in Toronto as a plate umpire when he was hit by a foul tip and fell to the ground in the eighth inning. He was taken out of the stadium on a spinal board and hospitalized with a concussion and neck injuries.
It was the fourth diagnosed concussion in his career and he endured weeks of rehab. He does not know if he had others back at a time when the science of concussions was little understood. After consultations with medical experts inside and outside of MLB and his husband Michael Rausch, Scott came to the decision to call it a career.
He is leaving with no regrets and is especially glad that he decided to come out publicly as gay before retiring. His bosses at MLB and fellow umpires knew he was gay for years and it never negatively affected his career. But by going public, he was able to inspire others, both in and out of baseball, who never would have known that MLB had a gay umpire and that it was a non-issue.
One person who reached out was an assistant trainer for an MLB team who is gay but not out to his team. The two have struck up a friendship that might result in the trainer following Scott’s lead and going public.
"He was encouraged not only by me doing that but by the reaction I got that was so positive and I think eventually he's going to do it, too,” Scott said.
He did get some abuse from fans after the story ran, but it was of the variety that made him smile.
"A lady emailed me and she was a Yankees season ticket holder,” he said. “The first paragraph was how she was so happy for me and so proud. But that being said, she still couldn't forgive me for a couple of calls I made against the Yankees. I just laughed because that's what an umpire does, it's normal stuff."
Another person emailed and said, "I am shocked and appalled that Dale Scott came out as an [Oregon] Ducks fan. But I'm not surprised with all the uniform changes."
The most surprising reaction he got was a congratulatory tweet from former pitcher Curt Schilling, who said: “Dale Scott might be one of the nicest guys I've ever met, and was a HELL of an umpire.”
“It blew my mind,” Scott said of Schilling, whom he once called “a miserable guy to work.”
“God bless him,” Scott said of Schilling. “That was really cool of him to tweet, but if you had given me a list of players and ex-players, I wouldn't have guessed he'd be on that list as guys who were giving me kudos."
In general, though, the attention on his sexual orientation died down a few days after his story came out and he received zero negative comments from any player or anyone else in baseball.
"The game starts and you're just calling pitches and you're just calling plays,” Scott said. “I don't think the first thing fans are thinking is that's the gay guy that made that call. That's the umpire that made that call and I either agree with it or I don't."
Any mentions in the media of him being gay were always in context. In 2015, he just happened to be the home plate umpire in Washington when the Nationals were celebrating Pride night. MLB Network was broadcasting the game.
"Bob Costas mentioned it was Pride night and mentioned nonchalantly, 'Oh by the way, the home plate umpire is Dale Scott, a veteran umpire who came out as gay in December.’ And that was it."
Scott is very proud that MLB has been a leader in pro sports in making LGBT inclusion an issue. Billy Bean, a former player who is gay, was named the league’s first Ambassador for Inclusion and was given greater responsibilities this season.
"He's been a real positive influence for baseball and for sports in general,” Scott said of Bean. “I think he's doing an unbelievably good job. I'm so proud of Major League Baseball to put him in that position. It's such a proactive thing for them to do."
Scott has hundreds of memories from his 32 years being an umpire, but one of the wildest was in October 2015, the first season he was publicly out. The Texas Rangers played the Blue Jays in Toronto in one of most bizarre games in playoff history and it put Scott in the spotlight, but not for anything to do with his sexual orientation.
"If somebody had told me before I was walking out to work the deciding game, Game 5, behind the plate, that we would have two or three bench clearings, we would have two ejections, we would have to delay the game for people throwing shit on the field, I would have a rule that I had never seen ever and I would have a protested game that I never had in my career, I would have probably retired right then,” Scott said, still amazed at everything that happened during the game.
Now retired, Scott and Rausch , who married in 2013, will travel and do things without them having to fit around baseball’s calendar. He plans on stay active as a testament to the power of coming out.
“Before, if 40,000 fans would have Googled me and found out I was the gay guy, that would have horrified me,” he said. “Now, I would be proud."
Dale Scott can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org