MysteryMan

Is there a gay Jackie Robinson in baseball’s future?

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This comes up from time to time, and today it’s my friend Graham Womack who brings it up:

It’s one of the last remaining areas of bigotry in America, persecution of gays, and not surprisingly, baseball isn’t much evolved … With estimates that 10 percent of people are gay or lesbian, chances are good that a sport of 750 players (up to 1,200 after September call-ups) already has a gay All Star or two. I’ll celebrate when the day comes that he plays openly.

I’ll celebrate too, but I’m not exactly holding my breath, either, because as I’ve argued in the past (longtime readers will remember it, so feel free to skip to the next post), things other than bigotry prevent a ballplayer from coming out of the closet. Indeed, I think bigotry may not even be at the top of the list.

Yes, there will be idiots and bigots who say stupid hateful things if a player — let’s call him Johnny Robinson — comes out of the closet while on a major league roster.* Comments sections of blogs and other dark corners of the web will spew their usual garbage, but they’re gonna do that anyway.  I’m more interested in what the public at large thinks, and I think the public at large will, on the surface anyway, be pretty accepting.

Why? Because — as I wrote a couple of years ago — there is an inverse relationship between the vehemence of anti-gay rhetoric and the specificity with which the gay target is identified. Bigoted jerks hate non-specific gay people to whom they can attribute the worst stereotypical behaviors and to whom they can ascribe an “agenda” with impunity.  Put a name on the person, and the voices grow quieter (e.g. the gay neighbor down the street). Put a famous name on the person and they’re quieter still (e.g. the gay celebrity). Bigots are even more likely to accept gay family members. The point is that the more prominent any given gay person is, the less likely they are to receive an overt negative reaction. Mostly because bigots are cowards.

So if Johnny Robinson need not worry about overt public hatred and condemnation, why wouldn’t he come out?  My guess: it would be a gigantic distraction and overall pain in the ass for him.

While the tone of the reaction would be generally OK, the volume of the reaction would be overwhelming.  Johnny Robinson would have 100 interview requests on Day One.  He’d immediately be descended upon by a million baseball writers and, way worse, a million non-baseball writers, all trying to talk to him. Since they couldn’t all be in the clubhouse, they’d have to set up special press conferences. That would take away from Johnny Robinson’s pregame or postgame routine and one thing ballplayers hate is to have their routines disrupted.

It would be even worse in the offseason. Being a pioneer is inspirational, but it’s also really hard on the schedule in the 21st century. There are a lot of dinners, photo ops, guest appearances on talk shows, meta/cute playing oneself on progressive sitcoms, parades to grand marshal and all of the rest.  At what point does Robinson get to take that postseason vacation? When does he slip back into is offseason workout regimen? When does he get to spend some quiet time with his boyfriend who, by the way, is probably going to become a minor celebrity himself, which makes it all even more complicated.

I can’t imagine Robinson wouldn’t be utterly crushed by that, and because of it, I can’t imagine the player who would want to subject himself to it, even if it presented itself to him with open, loving and accepting arms as opposed to bigotry.

My guess: the first openly gay ballplayer will wait until retirement. Which, while not the most inspirational thing possible, is totally understandable because baseball is hard enough as it is.

*People always mention Glen Burke here, but whether he was truly out while playing in the late 70s is an open question. Teammates knew and ownership reportedly knew, but it wasn’t generally known by the public. Heck, it’s probably the case that most people had no idea who Glen Burke was at the time.

Rick Ankiel drank vodka before a start to deal with the yips

9 Apr 2000: Rick Ankiel #66 of the St. Louis Cardinals winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Milwaukee Brweers at the Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals defeated the Brewers 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Elsa Hasch  /Allsport
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The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.

It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:

On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:

“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”

Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.

 

Justin Turner talks “Easy D”

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up prior to game six of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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A couple of weeks ago our president wrote one of his more . . . vexing tweets. He was talking about immigration when he whipped out the phrase . . . “Easy D”:

No one was quite sure what he meant by Easy D. Was it the older brother of N.W.A.’s founder? The third sequel to that Emma Stone movie from a few years back? So many questions!

Baseball Twitter had fun with it, though, with a lot of people wondering how they could work it in casually to their commentary:

It wasn’t a scout who did it, but twelve days after that, a player obliged Mr. McCullough:

I have no more idea what Turner was talking about with that than Trump was. We’ll have to wait for the full story in the L.A. Times. But I am going to assume Turner was doing McCullough a solid with that one rather than commenting on the president’s tweet. Either way, I’m glad he made the effort.

And before you ask: yes, it’s a slow news day.