Kevin McClatchy: Team Player

4.17.2013

By Jerry Portwood

For more than a decade, Kevin McClatchy, former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, feared someone would learn his secret. After coming out publicly, he wants professional sports to grow up.

Photography by Jeff Swensen

Snow falls on a Sunday morning in March as Kevin McClatchy steps barefoot into the kitchen, dressed in shimmery blue, knee-length basketball shorts and a long-sleeved white T-shirt. He scratches his chest, rubs his silvery hair, and pours himself a cup of coffee. “You like bacon? Eggs?” he asks, placing the peppered slabs in the frying pan.

His boyfriend, Jack Basilone, a handsome, energetic guy in his early 30s, is already dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, ready for the morning. “I gotta feed the boys,” he says, referring to the five horses in the stable a hundred steps from the house. “Do you want to go out, Hank?” He motions to the 108-pound chocolate lab who sits expectantly at McClatchy’s feet. “Or is bacon too much for you to handle?” Eventually Hank relents and joins Basilone for his stable chores.

McClatchy scrambles the eggs and looks for cheese, but all he can find is a fat-free cheddar that doesn’t make the cut. Basilone returns and McClatchy sets the plates on the thick, wooden farmhouse table, finds a bottle of habaƱero hot sauce, and the three of us sit down to breakfast. This relaxed, no-frills meal is the way McClatchy lives his life these days.

He wasn’t nearly as at ease the first time we met in January. He was visiting New York City on a business trip a few weeks after his 50th birthday. All buttoned up in a suit and tie, we’d chatted about his life since he’d come out publicly in a New York Times story last September that sparked a flurry of analysis on blogs and newspapers around the country. McClatchy remained taciturn, rubbing his hands anxiously. Having lived behind emotional armor for years to protect himself from potential scandal, he was still shy about opening up to a stranger. So I was curious: For someone who could live anywhere in the world, why had he chosen Ligonier, Pennsylvania? Was he hiding out?

“No, I don’t think it’s about that,” he replied. “I think it’s more that we enjoy the tranquility. Hiding is the wrong word; we enjoy being around our animals. And it’s not far from any place if we really want to get there.”

The drive to Ligonier takes a little more than an hour from Pittsburgh. It could be a movie set, with a gazebo in the town square, antique stores lining its main streets, and a preserved fort from the French and Indian War nearby. Inside McClatchy’s country house it feels spacious, masculine, tasteful with its Americana paintings and overstuffed sofas.

At the time the sold his stake in the Pittsburgh Pirates, the baseball team he owned for 11 years, in 2007, McClatchy was successful and happy. He had found Basilone, a younger man he loved and with whom he could share his life. Then, in March of last year, he assumed the role of chairman of his family’s 155-year-old newspaper chain, with 30 daily newspapers around the country.

Although McClatchy had told family members and close friends he was gay while in his early 30s, he’d tried to keep it a secret from everyone else. Baseball required it. “I put everything aside,” he explains. “I knew when I was trying to buy the team, there was going to be a huge sacrifice when it came to my personal life. But I thought it was going to be a rare opportunity, so I made that choice.”

Passing as a straight man for most of his life, McClatchy was fiercely dedicated to sports, and he played by the rules.

Tags: Sports
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