The 2022 World Series features one very familiar face in the defending American League Champion Houston Astros and an upstart Philadelphia Phillies team that is enjoying its first playoff run of any kind in 11 years.
When it comes to LGBTQ support, both teams have had some low points. But given where the Phillies and Astros are at today, they also demonstrate how progress can be made when it comes to Pride. Which means this is a World Series matchup we can appreciate.
Philadelphia is the most vicious sports town in the country. If your electronics are ever running low on power, just play outfield on a road trip to Philly and you’ll never run out of batteries again.
Hell, Phillies fans have even been known to boo their own players for committing the sin of being the greatest third baseman of all time.
So it’s a bit surprising that Philadelphia would provide us with a great example of how baseball culture has evolved in its concepts of gender norms and masculinity over the past decade.
When the Phillies last made the National League Championship Series in 2010, they faced San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum in Game 1. As a two time Cy Young winner with shoulder-length hair that made him stand out almost as much as his pitching, Lincecum knew he was going to be the object of Philadelphia’s ire that night. So how did Phillies fans greet him?
With wolf whistles. Throughout the entire game.
Get it? Because Lincecum’s hair was long, that meant he had to be gay.
Fast forward 12 years. Who is the toast of Philadelphia baseball in 2022? NLCS MVP Bryce Harper. In addition to his transcendent baseball skills and unique flair for drama, Harper is best known for having the most well-coiffed head of hair in Major League Baseball.
Seriously, I know baseball has uniform regulations but every time I see footage of Harper shaking his tresses, I think that MLB should fine the Phillies for making him hide those locks under a cap.
Harper is so closely connected to good hair that he’s part owner of a Philadelphia barbershop called Blind Barber. And while I suppose it’s possible that none of its stylists are LGBTQ, that would be as big of an upset as an 87-win team winning the pennant.
And what do Phillies fans think of their hair-obsessed superstar in 2022? They adore him. Every time Harper comes to bat, instead of being greeted with homophobic taunts that would shame a ten year old, Philly serenades him with chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
Like the team’s performance after Rob Thomson took over the manager’s seat, that’s progress.
Over the years, LGBTQ Phillies fans have been making their voices heard above the din of their more boorish compatriots. Beginning in 2003, fans began hosting annual Gay Community Nights at Phillies games and in 2009, future out State Representative Brian Sims threw out the first pitch. The team also hosted a group from an Outsports conference one year that included longtime readers such as Larry Felzer and the late, great Joe In Philly.
Then the team started getting on board in 2011 when luminaries like Roy Halladay, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard filmed an “It Gets Better” video. Progress continued as the Phillies began hosting official Pride Nights in 2016.
But perhaps the surest sign that a new day had dawned when it came to The City of Brotherly Love’s LGBTQ acceptance was in 2020 when The Phillie Phanatic nominated Gritty for a Queer Eye makeover.
Even the most vengeful boo is no match for the positivity of Jonathan Van Ness.
This is the fourth time the Astros have appeared in the World Series in the past six years. And up until 2021, when it came to the section about Astros Pride, we could have just written “crickets.mp3” and called it a day. In fact, we pretty much did just that in 2019.
Even during the down years of the early 2010s when the Astros were abominable on the field and completely ignored their LGBTQ fans off of it, there was still one bright spot in the Space City. Annise Parker, the first out lesbian mayor in Houston history, was a big fan and a great spokesperson for both Astros and LGBTQ community supporters.
In August 2014, Parker was visiting Boston for a mayors conference and took some time to go to Fenway Park to watch the Astros take on the Red Sox. When she was asked what she thought of that year’s team, Parker could have chosen to act like a typical politician and offered a diplomatic statement so as to offend no one. Instead, she summed up the 2014 Astros this way:
“The season sucked!”
The 2014 Astros lost 92 games. No lies detected.
Mayor Parker also took the lead in fighting back against former Astros All Star Lance Berkman when he recorded a transphobic attack ad opposing Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015. Employing similar blunt language, Parker exposed Berkman as the 2014 Astros of human decency:
When Lance Berkman went from NYC to STL to play ball did he do it to escape NYCs scary nondiscrimination law?-A— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) October 5, 2015
During her time in office, even if the Astros were keeping the LGBTQ community at arm’s length, Parker was determined to show every Houston baseball fan what Pride looked like. Now that the Astros are an American League force and improving their outreach with our community, she deserves to be part of the good times.
Over the past two seasons, the Astros have finally started putting in an effort to let Houston’s LGBTQ community know that they’re a valued part of their fanbase and the change is noticeable.
Last year, the Astros hosted their first Pride Night since 2010. And this time around, it took them much less than 11 years to bring it back again — they celebrated their second one in June.
That sense of progress is also aided by Dusty Baker, who’s still seeking his elusive first World Series title as a manager. As I wrote last year, between his friendship with Glenn Burke and his quotes of support for gays and lesbians, Baker is the best LGBTQ ally ever to wear an Astros uniform. That’s still true today and even after winning two pennants in a row, it’s also his greatest achievement in Houston.
For a number of years when it came to LGBTQ inclusion, the Phillies were attempting to rebound from a disastrous 2010 while the Astros appeared to be just plain tanking. Thankfully, things are different today and regardless of which team eventually emerges triumphant, we can truthfully say that the World Series will be won by a team making legitimate progress.