When ‘Pride’ steps to the plate
“You haven’t lived,’’ the man said, “until you’ve walked into a room full of people you haven’t met and seen your worst mistakes and choices put on a video screen.’’
His name is William Daro Bean. In Baseball-reference.com, he is listed as Bill Bean, perhaps to distinguish him from Billy Beane, who also played big-league baseball and is now the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland Athletics. But when he played for the Tigers, Padres and Dodgers, in a six-year career of modest accomplishment, his teammates knew him as Billy.
What they didn’t know—teammates, managers, friends, even his own mother and stepfather—was the secret Billy Bean harbored, one that he had persuaded himself would shatter his world if it was ever revealed.
“I chose to keep my life secret,’’ he said. “I chose not to reach out to people that probably would have been supportive of me. I only looked at myself through the one thing I hated about myself. It was my inability to understand my sexual orientation.’’
But it was in the act of suppressing the truth, that he was gay, Bean lost almost everything that mattered to him, including the game he loved.
“I never thought I’d be a part of baseball again,’’ he said.
But now, in a Red Sox town hall meeting of Red Sox employees, an audience that included owner Tom Werner, club presidents Sam Kennedy and Dave Dombrowski, and Sox bench manager Torey Lovullo, a childhood friend, Bean was staking his place back in the game, in a role he could not have imagined when he was living in the shadows.
Billy Bean, who ultimately became only the second major league player ever to acknowledge publicly that he was gay, is MLB’s ambassador for diversity. Silent no more, Bean is an advocate for taking baseball to a place where others of differing sexual orientation will not fear, like he did, that they cannot be true to themselves.
“We all want to create an environment that’s inclusive,’’ Kennedy had said by means of introduction, “that embraces diversity, the differences among us. You cannot have a successful, productive championship organization if you don’t do that. I’ve been here 15 years and really proud to be part of an ownership group that embraces this concept and is commited to it.’’
Sox employees sat riveted as they watched Bean’s life unspool before them in a video. The highlight plays. The storybook wedding to a beautiful woman. The divorce that followed when Bean could not live that particular lie. The attachment to a new partner, his face blurred because his family to this day may not know of their relationship. The partner dying of AIDs, Bean unable to fully share his grief. A doctor telling him he might be next.
“He died of HIV in 1994,’’ Bean said. “In those days, people were dying still. I saw a doctor who told me that because we were a couple that I’d probably become HIV positive within a year and a half, with no understanding or factual nature.
“I tested negative every single month my last year. I didn’t tell the Padres. I literally would have rather died than tell my parents that fact, or a friend of mine.’’
Even after his baseball career ended, Bean preferred to remain in isolation. He moved to Miami, as far away from San Diego as he could. He finally brought himself to tell his mother and his tough-cop stepfather that he was gay, news they accepted with equanimity and love, but still he allowed few others within his inner circle. It wasn’t until Tim Layana, his college roommate at Loyola Marymount, died in a car crash and Bean didn’t learn of his passing until days after the funeral because no one knew how to contact him, that he decided he could remain silent no more. He came out first to a reporter in the Miami Herald, and then in a story in the New York Times.
“It wasn’t until I stopped hiding and lying about myself that I was able to meet people in the LGBT community that helped me get a bigger picture of what life is all about and how I can make a contribution,’’ he said. “I was certain I didn’t want to do that, because I just felt the shame and all the stereotypes that were a part of my generation, in and around sports especially.’’
But then came a luncheon in Washington, D.C., in which he found himself seated beside Judy Shephard. Her son, Matthew, had been a student at the University of Wyoming brutally slain by two young men driven to do so, police said, because Mathew was gay. Mathew Shepard’s name is now attached to federal hate-crime legislation. Billy Bean recounted his conversation with Judy Shepard.
“Judy looked at me, this mother, a Republican from Wyoming who had never thought about LGBT rights, and said to me: ‘Billy, there are no other people to move this conversation forward. No male role models in sports. A couple of women who were brave enough in individual sports.’ She said, ‘Matthew would have thought you were a hero because you played in the major leagues.’
“The message here is not about me or one person. It is about baseball. People were interested in my life because I was lucky enough to play for a blink of an eye in the history of our great sport. I looked at her and just felt so full of shame, and trying to figure out, ‘What is the meaning of my life. Why am I afraid to pick up the phone and call my best friend? Why is that impossible?’ Why did I decide for them that I wasn’t good enough.’’
Billy Bean imagines a world in which no one in baseball—be it a front-office executive, a ticket seller, a ballplayer, a groundskeeper—will ever believe they are not good enough because of their sexual orientation. It is why he now speaks out, addressing baseball’s GMs in a meeting in Phoenix, addressing groups of minor leaguers, speaking at a Red Sox town hall. Two years ago, when they named him ambassador for diversity, MLB gave him a platform from which his voice can be heard.
It was almost with a sense of wonder that Bean noted the Sox have scheduled a Pride Night for June 3 at Fenway Park, which he called a “historic moment.’’
“For the Red Sox to initiate an evening, a Pride Night, that allows people who have been coming to this stadium for years and years and years,’’ Bean said. “Boston has this amazing, incredible LGBT community that does wonderful, philanthropic things for many people.
“Even if it’s just the message that everyone’s invited, that’s valuable.’’
Billy Bean embraced Torey Lovullo, his old friend who he had avoided for years until Lovullo’s grandfather, a man Bean also loved dearly, died, Billy and Torey reuniting at the funeral. He thanked Dombrowski for being the one who approached him after his speech to the GMs, the others taking their cue from Dombrowski. He thanked Kennedy for the chance to talk to the Sox employees.
“I’m very proud of baseball,’’ he said. “There is a lot of work in front of us, but the important part is we’re trying. It’s not a Powerpoint presentation. It’s about people, and people believing they can be their best selves, and have a great career in the sport they love.’’