As anyone who follows my Twitter feed during baseball season can readily attest, I believe umpires have two functions in life:
1. To give Cubs pitchers every single borderline strike.
2. To get the call wrong.
It goes without saying I’m not a fan of the men in blue. But after spending a couple hours chatting with former major league umpire Dale Scott for two episodes of the 3 Strikes, You’re Out podcast, it was impossible to be anything but completely charmed by his easygoing demeanor, incredible storytelling skills, and keen sense of humor.
Usually, I’m used to my communications with members of his profession being rather one sided and frequently referencing what Vin Scully once eloquently called “blinkin’ fertilizer.” But after a Zoom chat with Scott, I couldn’t escape this worldview-shattering conclusion:
Dear reader, I now like precisely one umpire. To the point where I would happily spend money on a Number 5 replica ump jersey.
Maybe it is a new day after all.
Scott came out publicly after the 2014 season—at first in a profile for industry publication Referee Magazine through an unassuming photo caption of him and “longtime companion” (now husband) Michael Rausch. After a reader tipped off Outsports, co-founder Jim Buzinski contacted Scott and published his story that December.
Initially, Scott figured that it would cause a minor ripple on the sports landscape. But as he remembered, “I woke up that Tuesday, December 2nd, picked up my phone, turned it on and I had missed 15 calls, I had 57 text messages, I’m going, ‘What is going...OHHH...’”
For the next couple of days, Scott’s life was a “whirlwind” as he got used to seeing his name in headlines on ESPN, NBC, USA Today and CNN. Things eventually got back to normal as the news cycle moved on but Scott was left with the realization of how big a deal this was nationally and what a giant step he’d taken for LGBTQ sports figures everywhere.
You have to remember that as an umpire, Scott learned that if no one noticed him, that meant he was doing things right. So it wasn’t like he’d strategically mapped out the process of coming out publicly when he decided to do it.
Yet while his name was in the headlines, Scott was contacted by a prominent PR representative who told him, “If I was advising someone who was coming out in your position, I wouldn’t have done [anything differently]...you did it perfectly!”
That kind of praise was a reflection on who Scott is both personally and professionally. He didn’t go out of his way to seek the limelight but when he found himself with all eyes on him, he knew how to take charge and do the right thing. (These qualities also served him well keeping order on the field during the soccer riot disguised as a baseball playoff that was the Jose Bautista bat flip game discussed in today’s episode.)
Even after the publicity had died down, Scott was reminded of the enormity of what his coming out meant to both baseball fans and the LGBTQ community:
“It’s amazing how many people you touch that you have no idea...I got 150 plus e-mails after I came out publicly in Outsports. All of them were positive from all over the world. Very few I knew...It was from doctors and lawyers and football referees and basketball referees and coaches [who] said, ‘I’m not there yet but I’m a step closer because of your story.’ Or ‘I wish I had the courage to do what you did and some day maybe I will. You coming out has pushed me in the right direction.’”
That’s why coming out matters. And it also proves that the next active MLB figure to come out it is going to impact just as many lives—especially if it’s a player.
After sustaining a concussion early in the 2017 season, Scott called it a career following 32 years in the big leagues. He’s currently living with Rausch in Portland, Oregon and, like the rest of us, is waiting out the pandemic. Once it’s safe to travel, Scott hopes to take a few road trips and catch up with his umpiring colleagues during the 2021 season.
Additionally, he’s writing a book about his career and coming out experience with prolific baseball author Rob Neyer due to be published next April. Although Scott never planned on putting his life story on paper, the reaction to his coming out showed him that it’s a unique one that will inspire so many people he’s never met.
And that’s anything but blinkin’ fertilizer.
Listen to part two of Ken’s interview with Dale Scott on the Outsports podcast 3 Strikes You’re Out by clicking here.