Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Batter Is Out!

Gay men and lesbians can get married in Massachusetts have their civil unions recognized in several other states, an openly gay man was almost elected Mayor of Dallas and he would have joined a host of openly gay and lesbian elected officials across the country, there are so many queers on television that the Logo channel sort of unnecessary, mainline Protestant denominations are increasingly tolerant of same-sex congregants, non-discrimination laws are on the books in more and more places, and it seems likely that if the Democrats manage not to screw up and take the Presidency next year then gay men and lesbians will be able to serve openly in the U.S. military. Et cetera, et cetera.

So, you might not be wrong in asking yourself, "Are we there yet?"

Are LGBT folks now woven inextricably into the fabric of American life? Have we achieved what generations have fought and died for? I mean, imagine plucking up a member of the Mattachine Society and dropping him into our contemporary culture. He or she would weep tears of joy, no?

But I'd say "no." We're not quite there yet.

Almost, maybe. But not quite.

What we need is an openly gay man playing Major League baseball.

No, really!

At that point, we can all just relax.

We need a gay Jackie Robinson. And we need a gay-friendly Branch Rickey.

The exclusion of Blacks from baseball was a matter of insidious convention: the commissioner exacted a promise from team owners that they would not sign any of the numerous outstanding players from the negro leagues. Branch Rickey, the effusive and whiskey-soaked manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers changed all that when he gave Robinson a contract to play for the Montreal Royals, a Dodgers farm team, in 1946, and the next year brought him up from the minors to play for the Dodgers. And they had an agreement: for three years, Robinson would have to take it. Whatever abuse was heaped on him, he would have to bear it silently, and never, ever respond. And the abuse he faced was considerable, even from his own team mates. And this being baseball, it wasn't just verbal; he was spiked and beaned. But Jackie Robinson bore it all with superhuman dignity. The only response he offered was to play incredible baseball. Rickey's motivations probably had to do as much with money as they did with notions of fairness and justice, but to the American people, Jackie Robinson almost immediately became a national hero. If you loved baseball--and back then, that would be just about everybody--you had to admire the man.

Even today, baseball is the fundamental crucible of the American experience. It's our game, and our gift to the world.

I truly believe that if some obscure rookie third baseman on some Major League team somewhere would mention that he sure found all the traveling during the season to be hard on his boyfriend, the world would never be the same.

Not to say it wouldn't be difficult for him. Particularly when his team played in Philadelphia. (When Robinson and the Dodgers first played in Philadelphia, the Philiadelphia team was so viscious that it united the Dodgers in support of Jackie Robinson. And oh yeah, the Dodgers beat the Philadelphia Athletics that day.) On and off the field, he would be living under a microscope. Overnight he would become a household name, and everybody would have an opinion about him. And so, it would be really helpful if he was a good ball player. And if he wasn't injury prone. "On the disabled list with a groin injury"... Yikes that would be tough. But really, all he would have to do would be to live his life and give 110% on the field. That would be plenty. Every time he took the field with his team, those specious arguments about why we should be second class citizens would crumble one by one.

And call me crazy, but I think that baseball is ready for this.

Last night, I watched the Triple A All-Star Game. The game was played on the homefield of the Abuquerque Isotopes. That's such a great name for a team, and much was made of it. The announcers commented at one point that one particular player probably knew exactly what an isotope was, as he was a graduate of Yale University with a degree in Bio-Chemistry or something.


Not so long ago, baseball players were sort of famous for being not very bright compared to other professional athletes. You were recruited for football or basketball out of college, but not so baseball. You got into the major leagues by giving up your life to minor league baseball, usually right out of high school. If you completed high school. And playing in the minor leagues is a rough time. It's constant travel, and they get traded around a lot, and you get paid something like $800-a-month, no matter how good you are. When you're not playing, you're either practicing or sleeping. And less than five percent of minor league players ever get called up to the majors. It is, and it's considered to be, a life of sacrifice. All for baseball. So no matter how good you are, if you have a college degree--from Yale no less--and you're employable, you've gotta really Really REALLY love baseball to decide to give up five years of your life to play it. But increasingly, that's just what's happening. Thus, the minor leagues and the major leagues are now boasting a more educated--and hopefully somewhat more enlightened--group of men. Joe Valentine, a pitcher for the Cincinatti Reds, was reared by two women who have been in a relationship for thirty years. No one is much concerned about Valentine's non-traditional family, only his performance on the mound. I don't think that would have been the case twenty years ago.

Still need convincing that baseball is our rubicon? Check this out. Gay nights at San Diego Padres and also, according to Jimbo, at Washington Nationals games, have been besieged by anti-Gay protesters. And fairly large protests, too. Probably more than show up at Pride parades our city council hearings and such. And as the quotes from the anti-gays seem to indicate, what gets them particularly exercised is the admixture of baseball and gay. And the fact that Their Sons will be there at the game.

Now I think that these people have some vague memory about Jackie Robinson. Because part of the Jackie Robinson phenomenon was that regardless of how mom and dad might have felt about "those negroes," little Tommy couldn't help but be amazed when Jackie Robinson stole home. Very quickly, Robinson became one of the most popular players in history.

Those Christians know what's up.

There we are, bottom of the ninth. Our guy's team leads by one run, but the opposing team--let's just say it's the Phillies--has two men on base at first and second. Two outs. Howard is at the plate, and he's done pretty well against this pitcher. First pitch; Ball One. Second pitch, a nice cutter, get's a strike. The count is 1-1, the third pitch, Howard hits it! A line drive to right, and Oh! Our Guy at Third dives for it and while he's still sliding on his belly makes a perfect throw to First. Howard is out, and Our Guy's team wins! Great play by Our Guy!

Everybody who's supporting Our Guy's team is on their feet, cheering wildly. If it's an important game, his team mates are out of the dugout to carry him off the field. All those fans, the dads, the moms, and especially the kids, are cheering for a cock-sucking homo who made a great play.

Trust me. America will never be the same after that.

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