The 2020 World Series has come down to the two best teams in baseball: the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays. Happily, that’s not just on the field. As each team’s recent history demonstrates, the Dodgers and Rays are both top-of-the-line franchises when it comes to uplifting their respective LGBTQ fanbases and communities.
Like the lineup they field on a nightly basis, the Dodgers’ outreach to the community is deep, talented, and a model for the rest of MLB. To begin with, they were one of the teams at the forefront of Pride Nights, hosting what is believed to be the first “Gay and Lesbian Night” in August of 2000.
To give that some historical context, this was less than a decade after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became law and a full fifteen years before Obergefell v. Hodges. It’s not surprising that the team that signed Jackie Robinson would be at the forefront in honoring civil rights for our community as well.
Dodgers Pride Night became an annual tradition in 2013 thanks to the team’s openly gay Senior Vice President Eric Braverman, who reconfigured the promotion to showcase and honor their LGBTQ fanbase, rather than simply try to sell tickets to them.
That effort has succeeded over the years, as LGBT Night at Dodger Stadium has celebrated exemplary athletic figures from the community including Robbie Rogers, Gus Kenworthy, and Dale Scott. Taking advantage of their Tinseltown location, the Dodgers have also rolled out the red carpet for celebrities like Lance Bass and Glee’s Dot Marie Jones to honor LGBTQ figures in the performing arts.
And back in the good old days when you could actually attend a baseball game by purchasing a ticket, the Dodgers shattered an MLB record by selling 12,000 Pride Night ticket packages in 2019.
The team’s activism goes way beyond one LGBT Night every year. They’ve also sponsored the last two Outsports Pride events, and just this past Thursday, they invited Billy Bean to speak to their front office on Spirit Day.
That still doesn’t cover everything. The Dodgers are also an historically important franchise for the community, as both Glenn Burke and Bean graced their roster during their respective playing careers.
As if all this wasn’t impressive enough, in 2018, the Dodgers made the LGBTQ equivalent of the Mookie Betts trade by adding all-time legend Billie Jean King and her partner Ilana Kloss as minority owners. The team celebrated this with a promotion last September, giving away 40,000 BJK bobbleheads. Every last one of which still moved better than Bobby Riggs.
Like every other team, the Dodgers aren’t perfect. Most notably, both Burke and Bean publicly remained in the closet during their careers as they each encountered a repressive and stifling baseball culture under then-manager Tommy Lasorda. A proud member of the game’s old guard, Lasorda had a son, Tommy Jr., who was gay and who sadly died of AIDS in 1991.
Lasorda never acknowledged his son’s sexuality, profanely exclaiming, “My son wasn’t gay. No way. I read that in a paper. I also read that a lady gave birth to a fucking monkey. That’s not the truth.”
Which is exactly the kind of airtight logic you’d expect from a manager who once got a mascot thrown out of a game.
Even with Lasorda’s unfortunate history, the sheer volume of LGBTQ positivity from the Dodgers would feel daunting for any team trying to compete with them. But just as they do on the field, the Tampa Bay Rays find a way.
Tampa Bay Rays
While they weren’t the first team to hold one, the Rays were quick to add their own Pride Night to their annual promotions calendar. For their 2019 edition, they welcomed Tampa’s Jane Castor, the first openly lesbian mayor of any major Florida city, to throw out the first pitch. The Rays also commemorated the 50th anniversary of Stonewall by displaying a special historic exhibit about the riots in conjunction with Equality Florida.
But far and away the most important Rays Pride Night took place on June 17, 2016—only five days after the Pulse Massacre in nearby Orlando. That week, the Rays responded to the horrific mass shooting by making the remaining available tickets five dollars and donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the Pulse Victims Fund.
Rays fans responded by selling out Tropicana Field and the announced attendance of 40,135 was the highest for any Tampa Bay regular season game since 2006. Included in that crowd was the family of Pulse victim Amanda Alvear. The Rays also invited Bean to throw out the first pitch and their players showed solidarity with the community by taking batting practice in “We Are Orlando” t-shirts.
Just like their L.A. counterparts, the Rays show their support for the LGBTQ community away from the field. In March of 2015, the Rays became one of only three pro sports teams to sign a US Supreme Court amicus brief in favor of marriage equality three months ahead of the Obergefell decision.
Then in 2019, the Rays joined the San Francisco Giants in signing another amicus brief supporting LGBTQ workplace rights which the Supreme Court upheld this June. At this point, it’s clear: if the World Series gets decided by Sonia Sotomayor, the Dodgers are in trouble.
The 2020 Series stands in stark contrast to last year’s one-sided match-up. Led by Sean Doolittle, the Washington Nationals were one of the most LGBTQ-friendly teams in baseball while the Houston Astros didn’t even bother to host a Pride Night, presumably because LGBTQ advocacy does nothing to help steal the opposing team’s signs. Perhaps they can make up for this oversight sometime in the future by banging on a rainbow trash can (The Astros actually did schedule a Pride Night in 2020, their first in a decade, but the coronavirus canceled that and every other promotional night).
While there can only be one winner in this year’s World Series, both teams deserve to be celebrated for how they have embraced their LGBTQ fans. Let’s hope we can keep saying that about every Fall Classic in the future.