How much longer will Major League Baseball stay in the closet? (2022)

In his 1990 autobiography, “Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball,” Dave Pallone, a gay major league umpire who was quietly fired in 1988 after rumors about his sexual orientation circulated in the baseball world, contended that there were enough gay major league players to create an All-Star team.

Since then, attitudes and laws about homosexuality have changed. High-profile figures in business, politics, show business, education, the media, the military and sports have come out of the closet.

Athletes in three of the five major U.S. male team sports – the NBA, NFL and MLS – have come out while still playing, with NFL player Carl Nassib and NHL prospect Luke Prokop coming out in summer 2021. Meanwhile, according to OutSports magazine, at least 185 publicly out LGBTQ athletes – 90% of them women – participated in this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, more than in all previous Summer Olympics combined.

But among the more than 20,000 men who have played major league baseball, not one has publicly come out of the closet while still in uniform.

What’s taken so long? And is baseball ready for its gay Jackie Robinson?

(Video) Major league brawl

Two ex-players pave the way

“I think we’re getting close,” Billy Bean, the only openly gay former major league player alive today, recently told me. “We’re making incredible strides.”

Bean played for the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres for parts of six seasons, hiding his homosexuality from his friends, fans and teammates at great emotional cost. He quit baseball in 1995 and four years later publicly came out. In 2003 he published a book, “Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball,” in which he describes the anguish of being a closeted ballplayer. In 2014, then-Commissioner Bud Selig hired Bean as Major League Baseball’s first Ambassador for Inclusion.

Bean was the second major league baseball player to come out of the closet after hanging up his spikes. The first, Glenn Burke, played for the Dodgers and Oakland Athletics between 1976 and 1979. He came out publicly in 1982 in an Inside Sports article, “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.”

“It’s harder to be gay in sports than anywhere else, except maybe president,” said Burke. “Baseball is probably the hardest sport of all.”

In his autobiography, “Out at Home,” published shortly after he died of AIDS in 1995, Burke recalled: “I got used to the ‘fag’ jokes. You heard them everywhere then.”

No other ex-major league baseball player – much less one still in uniform – has yet followed in Bean’s and Burke’s footsteps.

A lingering stain of homophobia

What’s stopping LGBTQ baseball players from coming out publicly?

(Video) The MLB is more popular than the NBA and the numbers prove it - Max Kellerman | First Take

Perhaps they calculate that the personal or financial costs still outweigh the benefits.

There is a strong current of fundamentalist Christianity within baseball, which could make life uncomfortable for openly gay players. One study of Bible verses in pro athlete’s Twitter bios concluded that major league baseball players were “far and away the most overtly religious group of athletes of the four major sporting leagues.”

There are also lingering strands of explicit homophobia.

In 2012, Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter told the Los Angeles Times that he’d be uncomfortable with a gay teammate, because “biblically, it’s not right.”

In 2015, Houston Astros slugger Lance Berkman, an evangelical Christian, campaigned against the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance, designed to protect LGBTQ rights. “To me,” Berkman said at the time, “tolerance is the virtue that’s killing this country.” The ordinance was defeated.

Other MLB players have made homophobic comments over the years, including John Rocker, Julian Tavarez, Yunel Escobar, Daniel Murphy and Todd Jones, along with manager Ozzie Guillen.

Changes start at the top

Even as players on big-league rosters stay in the closet, MLB and individual teams have taken steps to make baseball more inclusive for LGBTQ employees and fans.

(Video) MLB tests 'robot umpires' for calling pitches

In 2009, when the Ricketts family purchased the Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts became the first openly LGBTQ person to own a professional sports team. Billie Jean King, the former tennis star who, in 1981, became the first openly gay high-profile sports figure, is now part-owner of the Dodgers.

At least four teams – the Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks – now have openly gay top-tier executives. Bean has started a program to recruit and mentor more LGBTQ people to work for teams’ front offices at the major and minor league levels.

In 2000, a lesbian couple was ejected from Dodger Stadium for kissing. Today, out of 30 MLB teams, only the Texas Rangers have never hosted an LGBTQ Pride event of some kind.

How much longer will Major League Baseball stay in the closet? (2)

Several teams have fined or suspended players, managers, and at least one broadcaster – the Cincinnati Reds’ Thom Brennaman – for uttering anti-gay slurs. And despite the occasional homophobic epithet that continues to emerge from their ranks, more and more straight baseball players have expressed support for the LGBTQ community over the past couple of decades.

In 2003, Colorado Rockies star Mark Grace told the Denver Post that most ballplayers wouldn’t be threatened by the idea of a gay teammate. “I’ve played for 16 years, and I’m sure I’ve had homosexual teammates that I didn’t know about.”

Added Grace: “I think if you’re intelligent at all, you’d understand that homosexuals are just like us.”

(Video) Coach tells athlete to stay in closet about sexuality | WWYD

In 2005, Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said that having a gay teammate “wouldn’t bother me at all. If you can play, you can play.” And in 2018, after the media highlighted a rash of anti-gay slurs tweeted by several major league ballplayers, pitcher Sean Doolittle tweeted a full-throated defense: “Some of the strongest people I know are from the LGBTQ community. It takes courage to be your true self when your identity has been used as an insult or a pejorative.”

No perfect time

The first gay major league baseball player to come out will not be a matter of if, but when.

A 2015 poll found that 73% of Americans – including a majority of white evangelical Christians – said they would support a pro sports team signing an openly gay or lesbian athlete.

Some hope that the first pro ballplayer to come out will be a star. In 2014, Pallone, the gay former umpire, told Fox Sports that he wanted it to be “a player whose name rolls off somebody’s tongue. That’s what will do the most good.”

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Or the first gay big-leaguer could simply emerge from the prospect pipeline. In the past decade, two openly gay ballplayers – David Denson and Sean Conroy – played in the minor leagues. A third minor leaguer, Bryan Ruby, currently an infielder for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, part of an independent professional league in Oregon, came out in September 2021. There are growing numbers of openly gay college players, and the best of them could ascend the professional ranks into the majors.

“When I was playing, homosexuality was a taboo topic. We never talked openly about it,” Bean said. “Gay athletes in high school, college and the minors now have role models.”


There will always be some who argue that the time isn’t ripe for a major breakthrough. But as Jon Buzinski, the founder of OutSports, told me: “Everybody will say, ‘We aren’t ready.’ Society was not ready for Jackie Robinson. If you are going to wait for everybody to be ready, nobody will do it.”


Is MLB growing or shrinking? ›

MLB attendance peaked in 2007 and has been gradually declining since, and that drop has accelerated in recent years.

What are the new MLB rules for 2022? ›

Phillies in for a major test in Games 3 and 4 despite home-field advantage. For the 2022 season: The National League will adopt the designated hitter. For the 2023 season: Pitch clocks will be used, there will be a ban on defensive shifts, an automatic ball/strike zone will exist and there will be larger bases.

How long do baseballs last in MLB? ›

Between 90 and 120 balls are used per game in the MLB, and the average lifespan of a baseball is just a few plays, or eight pitches – about a week in total, including batting practice.

What are the new rule changes in Major League Baseball? ›

All four infielders must have both feet entirely on the infield dirt when the pitcher is on the rubber. Two infielders must be entirely on either side of second base. Failure to comply will result in an automatic ball.

Is the MLB losing popularity? ›

Baseball's popularity is even lower among adults under 30, with just 7% ranking the sport as their favorite. Many things have contributed to the decline in baseball viewership, with the most recent sports news being the three-month-long lockout which delayed the start of the 2022 season.

Is MLB losing viewership? ›

First, it continues a downward trend. Attendance slipped 4% from 2017 to 2018, and another 1.7% from 2018 to 2019. Tack on another ~6% so far in 2022 and DePaoli, who worked in MLB front offices for 16 years, said, “That's a significant drop across [just] a few seasons.”

Why is MLB banning the shift? ›

Major League Baseball passed a sweeping set of rules changes it hopes will fundamentally overhaul the game, voting Friday to implement a pitch clock and ban defensive shifts in 2023 to hasten the game's pace and increase action.

Is Baseball getting rid of the shift? ›

Major League Baseball's new Joint Competition Committee has voted to ban defensive shifts and to add a 15-second pitch clock beginning in the 2023 season. But the approval comes despite objections from the MLBPA.

Are they banning the shift in baseball? ›

Major League Baseball will effectively ban the shift beginning in 2023 as part of a series of rules changes announced Friday. All four infielders will now be required to have both feet in the infield and two infielders will be required to be on either side of second base when the pitch is delivered.

What happens to used baseballs in MLB? ›

Do they reuse baseballs in MLB? When balls are discarded, they are not reused. Instead, they are authenticated and sold in MLB shops as memorabilia. The home team collects and sells each discarded ball and will even note what happened during the play before it was discarded.

How many balls does a MLB game use? ›

That is 120 balls used per game. There are 2430 games in a season. That is 291,600 balls per year.

Do baseballs have a shelf life? ›

Baseballs have a ridiculously short shelf-life. There's no official record of how long each ball stays in play or how many are used, but within a few pitches, most balls get switched. That happens for several reasons.

Why is MLB making bases bigger? ›

MLB is also increasing the size of bases from 15 inches square to 18 inches square. This gives infielders more distance between themselves and baserunners, in a bid to decrease collisions. The change also decreases base-to-base distance by 4.5 inches.

Will the shift be banned? ›

Bans the Shift and Adds a Pitch Clock for 2023.

Is the ghost runner going away? ›

The ghost runner will also return in 2022 with each extra inning beginning with a runner on second base, continuing what was in place for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Does anyone care about baseball anymore? ›

Just 11% of adults listed baseball as their favorite sport to watch in a 2021 Washington Post poll. That put it well behind football (34%) and tied with basketball for the second favorite sport.

Is MLB attendance down in 2022? ›

MLB Attendance For 2022 Down Nearly 6% From 2019, Last Year Before The Pandemic.

Does anyone still watch baseball? ›

and ESPN2, meanwhile, are averaging 1.51 million viewers for “Sunday Night Baseball” this season, a 1% decline from the same point last season. While down slightly from 2021, ESPN is up around 1% from this time in 2019 (1.49 million).

Is baseball on the decline? ›

While softball and lacrosse are growing, baseball is declining -rapidly -and that should be very alarming to Major League Baseball. From ages 6-12, baseball is still the biggest sport around but starting at ages 13-17, we are losing a whole generation of ball players.

What has more viewers NBA or MLB? ›

For past three years the NBA Finals have had higher ratings than the World Series, cementing the fact that more people are watching the NBA than MLB.

Which MLB team has highest TV ratings? ›

The top 5 for average viewership are:
  • NY Yankees – 205,422.
  • NY Mets – 183,570.
  • Philadelphia Phillies – 129,677.
  • LA Dodgers – 123,079.
  • Houston Astros – 95,091.
16 May 2022

What are the new rules for MLB 2023? ›

Breaking: MLB's competition committee has voted to implement a pitch clock, larger bases and ban defensive shifts starting in 2023, sources tell @JeffPassan. 15-second clock with bases empty, 20 with runners on; and two fielders on each side of 2B bag, both feet on the dirt.

What happens when the pitch clock runs out? ›

If pitchers or catchers violate the clock, they will be charged with an automatic ball. If a batter runs afoul of it, they will be hit with an automatic strike.

Who started the shift in baseball? ›

History in Major League Baseball

The infield shift strategy is often associated with Ted Williams, but it was actually first employed against Cy Williams during the 1920s.

Can a pitcher change his motion? ›

Once the pitcher comes set, he can only move his head, and his movements after accepting the sign–as he gets into his set position–also have to be smooth and without any erratic movements.

Is baseball on the rise? ›

Participation in baseball on the rise

A recent study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) found that the amount of people who played baseball within the United States rose 21 percent from the year 2014 to '18, or approximately 15.9 million people overall spanning all age groups.

Is baseball still big in USA? ›

In the United States, baseball is one of the most popular sports for both participants and spectators. The highest level of baseball in the U.S. is Major League Baseball. The World Series of Major League Baseball is the culmination of the sport's postseason each October.

Is baseball still a thing? ›

BOSTON — Across the United States, baseball, long considered the national pastime, is still popular by most measures. Millions go to games each year, millions more watch on television, and quite a few will turn their attention to the Fall Classic — the 117th World Series — which begins on Tuesday in Houston.

Why is baseball not popular anymore? ›

The fact that 1960 is the last time baseball reigned supreme is notable. The sports landscape has changed dramatically from 62 years ago. One big reason baseball no longer finds itself the darling of American sports is competition and the dawn of the television age.

Is MLB attendance down in 2022? ›

MLB Attendance For 2022 Down Nearly 6% From 2019, Last Year Before The Pandemic.

Is MLB bigger than NBA? ›

According to Forbes, MLB generates $10 billion, ahead of the NBA's $8 billion.

Which state is baseball most popular? ›

We're just trying to have some fun.
  • 1) California: 2,311 players, 11,519.2 WAR. ...
  • 2) New York: 1,216 players, 5,893.7 WAR. ...
  • 3) Pennsylvania: 1,434 players, 5,853.3 WAR. ...
  • 4) Ohio: 1,040 players, 4,805.0 WAR. ...
  • 5) Texas: 942 players, 4,157.7 WAR. ...
  • 6) Illinois: 1,061 players, 4,105.9 WAR. ...
  • 7) Florida: 562 players, 2,771.9 WAR.
14 Jun 2020

Is baseball attendance declining? ›

MLB attendance is on a long-term downward trend, including a 5% drop from 2019. The league has averaged 26,409 tickets sold per game in 2022.

What is the least watched sport in America? ›

Hockey: The Most American Sport That Americans Won't Watch.

What percent of the MLB is black? ›

According to Infogram | MLB Players % by Race:

White - 57.5% Hispanic - 31.9% Black - 7.7% Asian/Other - 2.9%

What country is baseball most popular in? ›

United States

Which game has more fans in the world? ›


The sport has roughly 3.5 billion fans worldwide and 250 million players across 200 countries around the world. The next most popular sports in the world are cricket (2.5 billion fans), basketball (2.2 billion fans), and field hockey (2 billion).


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