As traumatic sports events from my childhood go, the baseball strike of 1994-95 ranks right near the top of the list. I was a junior in high school at the time and I still have vivid memories of watching on TV as then-commissioner and eternal pox on the game Bud Selig cancelled the World Series. I felt slapped in the face and betrayed by the sport I love.
So I decided the best thing to do in response was to watch “Field of Dreams” and collapse into a weeping mess when Kevin Costner asked his dad to play catch. Even as a closeted 15-year-old, I was a basic drama queen.
One of the other prominent memories from that ordeal was that for several years afterward, I felt like anytime I told someone I was a baseball fan, I felt that I had to explain why. As if it was all on me to justify still caring about a game perceived as an outdated relic that unapologetically just told its fanbase to go to hell.
Those awful thoughts came flooding back on Tuesday when current commissioner and ownership toady Rob Manfred cancelled the first two series of the 2022 season due to the lockout that MLB management imposed on its players. I realized that no matter what happens going forward, it’s going to dramatically impact the tone of my baseball writing this summer — and perhaps several summers ahead as well.
The one constant through all the years in my Outsports work has been my enthusiasm for writing about MLB’s Pride promotions and its attempts to connect with the LGBTQ community.
From team-by-team Pride Night breakdowns to LGBTQ-centric World Series previews to ranking playoff teams by Pride swag (and if owners have their way with the expanded postseason, that’s going to feel like writing “War and Peace”), I cannot begin to tell you how much enjoyment and fulfillment I get out of connecting my game with my community. These are some of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written and I’m always proud to show them off.
But here’s the thing. It may seem obvious but it’s still worth stating: a key component to MLB Pride is pride in being a baseball fan. If my experience from 1994 is any indication, one of the unanticipated side effects of the lockout will be that even in the (extremely unlikely) best case scenario where the season starts in mid-April, this trauma is going to crush that sense of baseball pride. Potentially for years.
Without that lowercase-p pride in the game itself, any LGBTQ Pride outreach from MLB is going to feel much more hollow. At best, it’ll be using our community as a PR distraction from ownership’s threats to immolate the season in a depressingly obvious effort to break the union.
At worst, all the rainbow logo caps in the world won’t be enough for me to evade the question: why am I still doing this?
As Alex Reimer and Cyd Zeigler have written previously, it can feel quite ostracizing to admit to other gay men that you’re a sports fan. And they were talking about the NFL — the league that seemingly dictates Sundays for the entire country.
When it comes to baseball and what George Carlin called “a 19th century pastoral game,” it feels like even more of an uphill battle. Not only do I worry about turning myself into an outcast when I mention my love for sports, I have to add even more justification to explain “You know that sport that everybody jokes is boring? It fascinates me more than anything else in the world.”
This past summer during a post-game hangout in my gay kickball league, a few of my teammates vocalized their wishes that the Cubs would disappear so Boystown could take over the entire Lakeview neighborhood. When I heard that, I had to answer back and stick up for my favorite team. But there was still a brief second where I felt like I was being forced to choose between being true to myself as either a gay man or a Cub fan.
Even worse, what’s most galling is that I spent more effort trying to stand up for baseball in that moment than Manfred and the owners have in the past five years.
The longer this lockout drags on, it feels like that conversation is going to be even harder. It’s nearly impossible to feel any pride standing up for baseball when I have to keep insisting, “Yes, but see when they actually get to play, it’s really great…”
I still would love to write a 2022 MLB Pride story this June. But if past work stoppages are any indication, it feels like I’m going to be spending a lot more time explaining why anybody should still bother paying attention. Furthermore, I don’t know how long it’s going to take to find people willing to listen.