Every day this month, we’re looking back at our pioneers, the mark they left on our community and on the sports world, plus landmark events and stories that show Courage Is Contagious. Today, we’re revisiting December 2014, and the public acknowledgement by our friend, MLB umpire Dale Scott, that he was a married gay man, as reported by co-founder Jim Buzinski.
A photo with his husband in a small magazine was his first public acknowledgment. “I am extremely grateful that Major League Baseball has always judged me on my work and nothing else,” he says.
By Jim Buzinski
Major League Baseball umpire Dale Scott bleeds the green and yellow of his beloved Oregon Ducks football team, having gone to games since the Johnson Administration. He has two black Labs, Roman and Rollie, who rule his world. Using his skills as a former DJ, he has recorded the voice mail greetings for 15 of his fellow umpires. He loves history, politics and documentaries and watches every season of “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.” He has worked three World Series, three All-Star Games, two no-hitters and numerous playoff games. He is gay and married to his partner of 28 years.
That last fact is just part of who Dale Scott is and has had no impact on his abilities as an umpire for the past 29 seasons. Yet it is understandably the one that most people will notice, because Scott is the first Major League Baseball umpire to publicly say he is gay while active (and the first out active male official in the NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB). This story you are reading now came about because Scott made a decision to first come out in a very quiet and understated way.
Scott was profiled in the October issue of Referee magazine, a subscription-only publication with a circulation of about 45,000. The article by Peter Jackel was a look at Scott’s 29 years as a Major League umpire, and how he became one of the game’s best despite nearly being fired early in his career. It also delved into his past career as a disc jockey with his “distinctive, radio-rich voice of a Vin Scully and the comedic timing of a George Carlin.”
Jackel talked to friends of Scott’s who grew up with him in Eugene, Ore., but nothing was written about his private life since he became an umpire. Prior to publication, the magazine’s editor, Jeff Stern, wanted some non-game photos and that’s when Scott made a decision to reveal a part of himself previously hidden from the public.
After consulting with his partner, Michael Rausch, Scott decided to send the photo below of the two of them, and it ran with this caption: “He and his longtime companion, Michael Rausch, traveled to Australia for the 2014 season opener between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.”
“My thought process was,” Scott told Outsports in his first interview on the subject, “is that there’s a story about my career and how I got started in umpiring and they’re talking to people I have known since junior high and it didn’t seem right to have a whole story and pictures without a picture of Mike and I, someone who’s been with me through this entire process. We met the October after my first year in the big leagues.
“Obviously, when I sent that picture to Jeff, I knew exactly what it meant. In a small way, this was opening that door in a publication that wasn’t going to be circulated nationwide. It could be picked up, but it’s not Time magazine. I made that decision to go ahead and do it because I felt it was the right thing to do.
“I realized that it could open a Pandora’s Box, but this is not a surprise to Major League Baseball, the people I work for. It’s not a surprise to the umpire staff. Until Mike and I got married last November, he was my same-sex domestic partner and had his own MLB I.D. and was on my insurance policy.
“This is not going to be some huge flashing news to Park Avenue [MLB headquarters], but I also didn’t want to be making some coming out story, some banner headline, because that’s not how I operate. It’s not a shock to MLB management because they’re well aware of my situation and it’s not a shock to the umpire staff. If it would have been, I don’t think I would have done it.”
While Scott got a lot of positive feedback on the Referee article, no one said anything to him about the photo. Scott had come out publicly and nothing happened. The magazine is not available on news stands and the article did not appear on the magazine’s website, limiting its potential reach. (Update: Due to heavy demand after this story ran, Referee has posted its Dale Scott feature).
One Outsports reader, an active NCAA Division I baseball umpire who is gay but does not want his name used, did notice and he sent us this email: “Fantastic! He indirectly allowed the outing by letting the picture be released in a national sports magazine. I’m told by a Minor League Umpire friend he has been ‘out’ for years, quietly, to friends, his crew, etc. His [partner] frequently visits the stadium and travels with them. He is one of the top respected umpires and a crew chief. Wow.”
I first contacted Scott in late September and in an email exchange he was very reluctant to say much beyond what was in the photo caption. He wasn’t seeking attention for being gay and was also worried that it would cause a distraction just as baseball’s postseason was starting. Scott was the crew chief for the Dodgers-Cardinals divisional playoff series and he didn’t want a story on his personal life to possibly become the focus over the games. I told him I understood and was going to write something about the photo in Referee, but would wait until after the postseason if he would talk with me; he agreed.
While still reluctant about becoming the story, Scott nonetheless was expansive and articulate when we talked in mid-November. He has always been proud of who he is and of his relationship with Rausch and figured the news wouldn’t shock the people who sign his checks.
“If you want to write a story I can’t stop you,” he said. “I’m also not worried because I do know who I am. I think Major League Baseball has proven that it certainly isn’t an issue with them. I’ve worked three World Series, I’ve worked the playoffs consistently, I’ve been a crew chief for 12 years. Obviously, if they had an issue with my life, it would be shown in my career with lack of assignments.
“I am extremely grateful that Major League Baseball has always judged me on my work and nothing else and that’s the way it should be.”
Scott is a classic example of someone who is openly gay within his workplace and social circle but, until now, not publicly out. He never held a meeting with fellow umpires or with management to discuss his sexual orientation, yet he never hid his relationship with Rausch and says eventually everyone in his circle figured it out by the late ‘90s.
“There’s never been a coming out statement,” he said. “You work with an organization for a long time and people figure it out. It is what it is. I’ve never had any pushback from other umpires. If anything else, it’s been the opposite. It was in the late ‘90s when, unprovoked by me, some individual umpires were talking to me and said, ‘I know who you are and it doesn’t bother me and I’d walk on the field with you any time.’ It was them saying it’s all good. It was all positive stuff.”
When the umpires union signed its latest contract that became effective in 2010, Scott was able to add Rausch as his domestic partner, further making his relationship official in the eyes of the league. It was the ease of acceptance in baseball that made Scott willing to speak out for the first time.
“The first 10 years of my Major League umpire career, I would have been horrified if a story had come out that I was gay,” he said. “But guys unprovoked started to approach me and say, ‘I just want you to know that I would walk on the field with you any day, you’re a great guy, a great umpire and I couldn’t care less about your personal life.’ Basically what they were saying without me provoking it was ‘I know and I don’t care.’ That meant a lot to me because it surprised me since I had not brought it up. At first I was uncomfortable because I had spent my whole life hiding that fact from people even though I wasn’t hiding it from myself or my friends.”
Scott, 55, is a baseball lifer who still loves the sport if not the grind of the travel and long season. He also someone who embraces change and welcomes the new instant replay system that took effect this season. “It definitely has changed in the one year it’s been implemented the relationship between umpires and managers,” he said. “Before replay, if I went out and missed a call, especially a big call, you would just be crucified in the media for the next news cycle. Now, you miss a call, they challenge it, you get it reversed, you get the call right and you move on. ... I’m upset I missed the call but I’m not upset that we made it right.”
He will start his 30th season next spring and expects to umpire at least three more years. For all but one of those years he has been together with Rausch. The two met on a Monday night in October 1986 at CC Slaughters, a gay bar in Portland. They had an instant connection and have become inseparable since. “We’re opposites,” Scott said. “He’s an artist. He’s very creative, I am not. The old opposites-attract thing fits us and it’s obviously works for us.”
The two split time between homes in Portland and Palm Springs, and it was in the desert that they were married last November; “It was kind of a long 27-year engagement,” Scott jokes. The mayor of Palm Springs officiated and the affair was so low-key they didn’t tell their families until later because they didn’t want a fuss made over them.
It was because of his marriage to Rausch that Scott felt compelled to submit the photo to Referee. Despite not being publicly out until now, he long ago came out to himself and has never looked back.
“I figured it all out when I was 19. My coming out process was very simple. One day I just said to myself: ‘I get it, you’re gay. Now it all makes sense.’ I realized this is who I was and what I was. I decided I can do one of two things — I can lie to myself and be miserable the rest of my life or I can accept who I am, understanding that I’ve got to play the game. This is 1979. I might have to have a ‘beard’ or not talk about personal things. I understood that there was a game that had to be played in the game of life as a gay man in 1979, but I also understood who I was and what I was and it wasn’t like some long-drawn out process.
“I wasn’t going to look at myself every day for the rest of my life and lie. That to me would be a miserable existence.”
Scott equated his directness with coming out to himself with the mindset of being an umpire.
“It was kind of like being an official. I look at things as black and white. I don’t have a lot of nuance, because that’s the mindset you need on the field. It’s not like you say ‘I think he tagged him or he might have tagged him.’ He either did or he didn’t and you just have to make that decision and move on.”
Scott says that in addition to never having a negative exchange with anyone in the umpiring ranks over being gay, he believes he has changed some minds. “Now people joke with me because it’s that elephant in the room that’s not in the room any more,” he said.
“I was working the playoffs a few years ago and one of the umpires I was working with was someone I knew but hadn’t worked with together on a crew. We were in the locker room and he was telling a story about someone and he used the term ‘that’s so gay.’ Right away he caught himself and a few minutes later, one-on-one, he said, ‘Hey Dale, I’m really sorry about saying that. I didn’t mean anything by it.’ I told him that half the battle was him realizing what he just said. That it could be very hurtful to people and he realized it on his own. That’s progress.”
Scott is aware that discussing his sexuality could cause more attention than he wants. While he assumes some teams have heard rumors, this still will be news.
“It’s still a headline, look at Michael Sam,” Scott said. “People scream at me because I’m an umpire. The last thing I want is people screaming at me because I’m gay. I’m an umpire who happens to be gay. I’m not trying to be some gay person who happens to be an umpire.”
While he has no intention of writing a book when he retires, he jokes that if he did it would be called “Out at Home,” a reference to him always being openly gay in his private life. Since Portland does not have a Major League Baseball team and many of his friends aren’t huge sports fan, it has allowed Scott some breathing room not found in other professions.
“My job is unique from the standpoint that I live in a city I don’t work in. We don’t have Christmas parties and office parties where all the employees and their spouses and their kids get together. From that standpoint it was easier for me because you didn’t have those awkward situation where there’s everybody with their girlfriend or their wife and you’re either alone or you have a beard or you bring your ‘roommate’ who’s been your ‘roommate’ for 10 years and goes on vacation with you.”
With baseball in its offseason, Scott felt it was the “perfect time to throw something out there and deal with anything there is to deal with and move on.” The photo in Referee magazine was a small thing but if it leads to Scott making a difference in someone’s life, he will have no regrets.
“If this story or the Referee picture motivates somebody somewhere who’s an amateur umpire or is trying to go to umpire school and is trying to get a job in the Major Leagues but maybe has doubts because of their sexuality and sees this and it gives them some confidence, that’s great.
“I understand the smallest story or piece of information can motivate someone somewhere. I think that’s great.” — Jim Buzinski
By Jim Buzinski May 23, 2019
The wildest single inning he ever worked was in Game 5 of the 2015 playoffs between Texas and Toronto when he got as much air time as the players. Now retired and enjoying life with his husband, Michael Rausch, it’s an on-field moment that he treasures. Read more by clicking here!
We’ll have another LGBTQ Sports history story tomorrow and every day through Oct. 31.