Photo of Billy Bean by Roger Erickson
One year after Major League Baseball announced its initiative to become more inclusive of LGBT players and fans, commissioner Bud Selig announced today that former player Billy Bean has been hired as the league's Ambassador for Inclusion.
Bean will work to help the league usher in a more inclusive workplace, addressing issues of race and gender, Outsports reports. Bean will visit 30 MLB teams this year, to talk to players, coaches, and executives about how to make professional baseball a better place for LGBT players, staff, and fans.
"It's ironic that I am returning to baseball to help erase the same reason I left," Bean told Outsports, referring to his departure from the game in 1995. "Our work is just beginning. I want this generation's coming-out stories to be uplifting, happy, and inspire others to be who they are, and fulfill their true potential. At the end of the day, it's all about giving everyone the best chance to succeed, to play free of burden."
Last year Bean told The Advocate, "I’m glad my journey allowed me to be a part of those who have passed the baton that has allowed us to get to this day. But if I even knew 1 percent of what I know about myself now, I would still be playing baseball."
Also at the All-Star festivities in Minnesota this week, the league honored Glenn Burke, the first player to come out as gay after retirement. His coming-out was followed nearly two decades later by Bean's.
Burke played for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics in the late 1970s. While he openly discussed his sexuality with his teammates, he did not come out to the public as gay until 1982. In addition to his role in increasing the visibility of LGBT players in sports, he is credited with inventing the high five in 1977 with fellow Dodger Rusty Baker.
Burke waited on deck for his chance at bat October 2, 1977, game against the Houston Astros. Baker just hit his 30th home run, putting the Dodgers ahead of the Astros and into the playoffs. As his teammate came back from rounding the bases, Burke thrust his hand in the air.
"So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do," said Baker.
Immediately afterward, Burke hit his first major league home run. When he returned to the dugout, Baker gave him a high five. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Burke was known as the "soul" of the Dodger clubhouse, even while he was rumored to be carrying on a relationship with the son of baseball legend and then-Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. But the older Lasorda was not pleased by such rumors. He often chewed Burke out and continually denied that his son was gay. Eventually Burke was traded to the Oakland A's, where he faced discrimination and harassment from teammates, especially under manager Billy Martin, according to ESPN. He was demoted to Triple-A ball in 1980 and retired at age 27.
Pro baseball and hockey are now the only two major male sports leagues that have no openly gay players on any current rosters. Hockey has made significant strides in presenting an open and affirming atmosphere, largely due to the efforts of Patrick Burke, who launched You Can Play in honor of his late gay brother Brendan, along with Brian Burke, the brothers' father and president of the Calgary Flames. Out player Robbie Rogers has been on the roster of Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, while Michael Sam was recently signed to the St. Louis Rams and Jason Collins is slated to play another season with the Brooklyn Nets.