Editor’s note: An excerpt from the new book “The Umpire Is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self,” by former MLB umpire Dale Scott, with Rob Neyer. Scott came out as gay in 2014.
By Dale Scott
The first time any of my colleagues said anything to me about being gay was during spring training in ’98 or ’99. There was this little bar, Frank’s Friendly Tavern, just on the edge of the Arizona State campus in Tempe. It’s gone now. But Greg Bonin started going there in the early eighties, and it became an umpires’ hangout. Especially Minor League umpires.
In spring training, MLB guys like myself, who’d been going there forever, would stop by a few times and meet up with umpires who were working Minor League camps. A lot of them, I didn’t know well or was meeting for the first time. On any given night, the MLB umpires on hand would pick up the tab for the Minor League guys.
One of those nights, Derryl Cousins and I were sitting at a table off to the side. Out of the blue, Derryl said, “Scotty, I know you have a different lifestyle than most of us. I just want you to know I think you’re a great guy, and I would walk on the field with you any day. So it’s not an issue.”
Now my full defense mechanisms fired up immediately. For one thing, I’ve got no idea why this came up. So I just said, “I appreciate that, Derryl.” But I didn’t really admit to anything; I just took the compliment and moved on to something else. Later that spring, Rick Reed did the same thing, and I responded the same way, not really responding.
But if those guys knew? It seemed likely that just about everyone else did too.
In my first full season as a chief, in 2002, my crew was Jimmy Joyce, Jeff Nelson, and Ron Kulpa. But we all had single weeks off during the first month of the season. So our first game on the field together, as a complete crew, wasn’t until May 7. And our first opportunity for a crew dinner was May 18 in San Francisco. After our Saturday afternoon game, we went to Morton’s, one of our favorite hangouts.
After we’d ordered and the wine had been poured, Kulpa pipes up, “Okay, chief. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Dale, we know you’re gay. We don’t care. We want to be able to joke and bust balls this season without walking on eggshells.”
At that, Jimmy grabbed the wine bottle and tipped it up, making it look like he was guzzling it, while I’m pretty sure Jeff did a spit take across the table. I froze for a second and then smiled, not too surprised Ron would make a statement like that, since he basically has no filter.
I was actually happy about Ron putting it out there. Jimmy then shared a conversation he’d had with his wife, Kay. She had figured it out and tried to explain it to Jimmy. But guys like Jimmy and Davey Phillips, they were mostly oblivious. For one thing, they had a stereotypical idea in their mind of what a gay person is like. And when you’re not that, when you’re not checking those boxes, I think a lot of them just sort of say, even when there are other signs, “Nah, there’s no way.”
The same thing goes for my father. There were a hundred things saying, Dale’s gay. But hey, he went to the prom with a girl, so I’m sure that can’t be true. Unless Dale actually tells me, I’m not going to believe it.
A decade or so later, it became sort of official when I got Mike, who’s now my husband but wasn’t then, listed as my domestic partner on my MLB insurance benefit. All my colleagues were aware by then, and now my employer was too. When Cathy Davis, umpire senior administrator, was making arrangements for the opening series trip to Australia in early 2014, she gave the names of the umpires and their guest to MLB International, who were booking the flights and hotels. When Cathy gave Mike’s name as my guest, the person at International responded with, “So Dale wants a room with two beds?”
“No, he wants a room with one king-size bed.”
“Are you sure?”
”Yes, I’m sure! “ Cathy was one of the first to know about Mike and I, and she was a huge ally.
But that was about as far as it went until later that year, when Referee magazine was putting together a story about me for their October issue and asked for some non-baseball photos from before I got to the big leagues.
The story’s about me growing up in Eugene, working at KBDF, the beginning of my umpiring career, first in high school and then professionally. The writer, Peter Jackel, did a great job interviewing friends from high school, my radio program director, and the local umpire association commissioner who got me started in 1975, with everything accompanied by corresponding images.
Just after the season in 2013, Mike and I had been legally married in the backyard of our winter home in Palm Springs, with the ceremony officiated by then mayor Steve Pougnet. That felt like another huge victory for equal rights and a victory I no longer wanted to hide. Meanwhile, this Referee article would be coming out, and the most important person in my life wasn’t even mentioned?
That’s why I submitted the photo of us with a telling caption: “He and his longtime companion, Michael Rausch, traveled to Australia for the 2014 season opener between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers.”
I understood this would potentially (and finally) out me, quite publicly. While it might have seemed somewhat accidental, I wanted that and was ready for it. With all the sacrifices and hardships the LGBTQ community and individuals had made and continue enduring, it had become hypocritical for me not to come out, to not be proud of who I am and our (at the time) twenty-eight-year relationship.
The magazine was delivered to subscribers in late September . . . and nobody really seemed to notice. Maybe because the article wasn’t published online. But one D-1 college umpire picked up on it and emailed the editors of Outsports, who contacted me about doing a story. I wasn’t interested at that moment, with the postseason about to begin, but I agreed to do something after the World Series. The Outsports story, written by Jim Buzinski, came out on the second of December, and that opened the floodgates publicly.
About a week later, I was in Palm Springs, half asleep with “The Tonight Show” on. As Jimmy Fallon was doing his monologue, he started out, “Some pretty big sports news here,” and I perked up a little. “Dale Scott recently became the first Major League umpire to come out as gay. Well, he says he’s out, but the other umps said he’s safe. So now they gotta look at replay.” I jumped out of bed, not believing what I just heard. It was so surreal.
In February, just as spring training was starting, I was contacted by USA Today, “HBO’s Real Sports,” and CNN. I told all three the same thing: I’m still gay. So there’s really nothing to talk about. Right now, the focus should be on the thirty teams that think they can win the World Series. If you want to talk after the season, about how everything went, I’ll be happy to. But right now there’s no story.
That spring I was in Arizona. My first game was in Goodyear: Reds versus Indians. First two innings, I was at first base; then I switched to third base. Between the third and fourth, Marlon Byrd, running from the outfield to his dugout, stopped and gave me a big bear hug, saying, “Buddy, I’m so proud of you. You’re free. You’re free!”
Same game, Joey Votto shook my hand and also said he was proud of me. Honestly, the only comments I got all spring were positive. And that continued into the regular season. Business as usual, never heard anything from the stands about being gay. Not a thing. Also, I received hundreds of email messages, most of them from people I didn’t know and all of them positive. So why didn’t I come out earlier? Part of me wishes I had.
It’s an enormously personal thing. No one can make that decision except the person who’s contemplating it. In a perfect world, everyone gay would come out and blow away the stereotypes and preconceived notions of who, what, and how many we are. I encourage our community to live and be their true selves, to unchain themselves from hiding, lying, having to play the game.
But I also live in reality, and although many like myself have come out and found acceptance and love from family and friends, many others have received the opposite.
Outing someone is also wrong. With one exception. I do believe outing is warranted when closeted elected officials at any level, or someone who leads or controls an organization, actively promote or implement policies or laws that attack, oppress, or demoralize our community or infringe upon rights due every American citizen. That hypocrisy actively hurts our community.
Are there gay umpires working in Major League Baseball right now? None that I know about. Are there gay players? Of course. But I have no idea who, and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t say. I do hope a player comes out and breaks the silent barrier that has gripped the sport. Once that happens, it should help others to take that step.
Following the Outsports story, I received hundreds of emails from around the world, along with comments on various websites. Many were personal and touching, some were funny, a few were juvenile, and, yes, a couple were insulting.
I was contacted by officials, coaches, and participants in multiple sports: baseball, softball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, cricket, even professional wrestling. I heard from police officers, firemen, members of the military, mothers, fathers, from those who were straight, gay, bi, out, closeted. Of the hundreds of messages and comments, literally two were hateful or homophobic.
Parents expressed hope that my coming out would make it easier for their kids. Closeted gay coaches, police and fire personnel, teachers, and many others said this took them another step closer to walking through that closet door. The response was overwhelming and humbling, but not all were as serious.
A woman from New York wrote how proud she was of me, happy that I could finally be myself. She wished Mike and I nothing but love and a long life together. Then, in her second paragraph, she said, “However, as a longtime season ticket holder with the Yankees, for the life of me, I do not understand how you made some of those calls against them! What were you looking at?” I loved that! Because I want to be known not as “that gay umpire” but, instead, just as an umpire who happens to be gay.
In the Outsports story, I mentioned my love for the Ducks, which was repeated on several websites. An (anonymous) comment had me laughing: “I am shocked, SHOCKED Dale Scott has come out as an Oregon Duck fan. Then again, with all their uniform changes, it’s not too surprising.”
Then there was the email I received from Sal Fernandez, a seventeen-year-old high school senior from the LA area. It caught my attention immediately, because his email address was dalescott5@. I was, he wrote, his all-time favorite umpire since he’d started working games four years earlier. Now, I’ll admit, after seeing his email address, I wasn’t sure, at first, if I should be flattered or inform MLB security that I had a stalker. But as I began to read his message, I quickly realized how my coming out could change a person’s life.
Sal was in the closet and afraid that if anyone found out, it would sabotage his dream to work in the Major Leagues. But now, he wrote to me, “I know I may not have the skill to be a Major League umpire, but it won’t be because of who I am.”
Wow. I was blown away. I’d never second-guessed my decision to come out, but hearing from Sal confirmed that I’d made the right call.
Sal asked if we could meet for lunch when I was in the LA area. In early June I had a series with the Dodgers, staying in Pasadena. We had a great lunch, chatting as if we had known each other for much longer than a few emails. He was graduating the next week and looking forward to starting college that fall.
A couple of months later, just weeks before Sal departed for Northern Arizona University, I was back in LA, and we had lunch again. I asked how graduation went.
”Well, I came out to everybody that night. My family, friends at school, all because of you!“
“Really?” I said. “So how did that go?”
“It went well, but I wouldn’t have had the confidence to say anything if we hadn’t met the week before.”
I was so proud of Sal and, must admit, a little proud of myself too. He did something at seventeen that I didn’t fully do until my mid-fifties.
I wondered how things would have been different if I’d had an umpire to look up to, a role model doing what I was striving to do and who, oh by the way, happened to be gay? Would I have lost the fear of being outed, ostracized, and blacklisted with no chance of getting out of umpire school or of being skipped over, if I had been hired initially, because of my sexuality?
I was lucky. I was able to handle those fears and anxieties relatively well. Now I hope my coming out has made it easier for a current or future closeted umpire in the Minor or Major Leagues to simply be his or her true self. A player or umpire — for that matter, anyone — should be judged on their work and how they treat others, not on their sexuality or the person they love.
From “The Umpire Is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self,” by former MLB umpire Dale Scott, with Rob Neyer. Published with permission.
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