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May 24, 2002

Prospectus Feature

6-4-3: Rounding the Bases

by Gary Huckabay

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Hard as it may be to believe, I'm going to spend less time than usual on this column, despite the large number of interesting things to talk about.

Sexual Orientation

Ok, so Mike Piazza says he's not gay. Bobby Valentine says that MLB's ready to deal with an openly gay player. Mike Timlin says he's already knowingly played with a gay player. Steve Phillips says that statistically, you'd expect a gay player in every clubhouse. He also encapsulates a lot of good thinking on the subject by saying "Who cares?"

I've never understood why anyone gives a rat's ass about anyone else's sexual preference. I had an e-mail exchange with some imbecile a little over a year ago in which he chastised me as a "faggot" because I had commented on a great move by "that fag ballplayer [and now Oakland A's GM] Billy Beane." I made the mistake of actually wasting the time to respond to this guy, pointing out that to the best of my knowledge, Billy Beane was not gay, and he was probably confusing him with former Los Angeles Dodger Billy Bean, who publicly acknowledged his sexual preference a few years after his retirement from baseball. Apparently, this didn't change my status as a "f---ing faggot," as I learned from his response. So it goes. It's hard to do anything but let the downright stupid statements speak for themselves.

It's easy and pointless to stand back, assume the mantle of a moralist for tolerance, and criticize people as homophobic. I don't mean to do that, but it's hard not to. MLB clubhouses aren't exactly bastions of tolerance, and, frankly, if I were gay, I don't think I'd have the courage to come out while I was playing. Succeeding in MLB is hard enough without major distractions; the media attention, the learning curve of your teammates and the league, and all the crap that'd come with publicly acknowledging your sexuality would be a pretty big burden to bear.

I had a brief conversation about this topic yesterday with a good friend who has a differing view on this than I do.

Friend: "It'd be divisive. You'd get factions in the clubhouse. The large Latin cultural influence would make it harder. MLB isn't Berkeley."

GH: "Do you really think other players would care if, say, Alex Rodriguez was gay?"

Friend: "I think some would. I also don't think it's fair to write off those players as stupid, reactionary homophobes, which is what you're going to do. It's not a simple issue. Not everyone who doesn't hold your worldview on this issue is an idiot."

GH: "OK, but what causes the uneasiness among the other players? I just don't get it. Are you afraid of the guys asking you on a date? Say no, thanks, I'm straight, and take it as a massive compliment. Hell, it'd make my freaking month!"

Friend: "It's not that simple. You're trying to be analytical and linear about something that's emotional. You're also being a real elitist about it, but that's not exactly shocking.

"Don't tell me that you don't have emotions from time to time that you're not proud of, and that couldn't stand up to logical questioning. You shouldn't have to apologize for it, and neither should they. You're also, by implication, willing to make it more difficult for the team to succeed for the purpose of your own personal crusade. If a player's gay, he's still got a responsibility to be a great teammate, and that'd mean keeping quiet to minimize problems for the team. Suck it up, live with it, make that compromise, and go do your job."

We agreed to disagree on the issue. Another reason to love baseball: it provides a crucible for all sorts of interesting discussions like this that otherwise wouldn't occur.

Giambi for Mabry

There are two axes to trust. One is ethics; will someone act in a trustworthy fashion? The second is competence; does this person usually succeed in their endeavors? Can I trust them to actually execute?

From time to time, we all work with people who aren't as positive as we'd like on one of the axes. Fortunately, once someone demonstrates that they are, in fact, ethical and competent, they've truly earned your trust, and, with that, sometimes, when you completely disagree with their action, you need to accede to their judgment.

Such is the case here. It's not as if anyone has the power to call the league office and overrule the trade or anything, but I think A's fans should simply trust Paul DePodesta, David Forst, and Billy Beane here. The dots aren't that hard to connect, and the lobotomobile hasn't pulled up to the Coliseum.

Optimism

According to an executive at one bank, as well as Fay Vincent, there is reason to believe we might be able to finish the 2002 season. "I can't speak to the financing and debt issues for all clubs, but one of our clients is going to have trouble meeting their service if there's a work stoppage. Personally, I'd advise them to settle for what they can get quickly, make a few minor adjustments in their own house, and move on."

That might be good advice. One PR mistake I think the owners have made is to put up this mask of 30-0 solidarity. All the votes are 30-0? In 1994-95, the real issue was whether or not owners could agree, among themselves, to a new-revenue sharing structure. The new rule of order requiring a supermajority meant that the status quo was going to be very hard to move, and so the owners decided the best way to solve their revenue inequity problems was to basically extract the money from the players. It didn't take.

Those same divisions exist today. As a show of solidarity, once an issue is determined, everyone votes in favor of it, so a 30-0 vote can be announced to the public. There is a problem with that, though. If even one owner gets so pissed that they refuse to switch their vote over, and vote tallies start becoming secret, or released as 29-1 or 28-2, that looks like a deterioration of ownership's cohesion. It would have been smarter to acknowledge from the beginning that legitimate and vigorous disagreement exists among owners on these issues, but that despite those differences, they're united on their bargaining position. From there, you bump the majority up from 24 or 25 to 28, 29, and eventually 30, showing increased resolve.

It's a minor point. Either way, there's some hope that we'll actually get a complete season out of this year, and maybe a new, long-term CBA. Keep a good thought.

Why it Matters

I'm not a big fan of Stephen Covey at all, but he's absolutely right about one thing: no one says, on their death bed, "I wish I had spent more time watching TV."

We unfortunately have another lesson in the fold about the fragility and precious nature of life. Last Wednesday, my wife and I were involved in a very serious car accident in Concord. My wife has been in the hospital for a little over a week, and was recently moved out of intensive care. Another party in the accident remains in the hospital in far worse shape than either of us. One minute, you're taking the dogs (both of whom are OK and scheduled to have stitches removed next week) out to a park for a walk, and the next thing you know, you're in an ambulance and hoping everyone survives.

You're not guaranteed anything. That's why baseball matters. It happens during the warm part of the year. You can play it with any number of people, from one to as many friends or family as you can find. Almost everyone who's ever played baseball in any form, no matter how great or crappy of a player they are, has a great memory of the best play they've made, either a hit, or, in my case, a defensive play. There's just no substitute for playing ball.

Watching baseball is pretty great, too. The air just smells better in the ballpark, even with artificial turf and tofu dogs. So don't just sit around and spend time on the Web, or watch TV. Go to a ball game. Go see the Orioles. Go find the seven kids in a local neighborhood who are playing with one of those pink rubber balls from Walgreen's and a dad's old 33-ounce bat--maybe a Bill Madlock model. The pitcher's hand is as good as first base, and there's only seven kids, so one guy's the permanent pitcher, and right field is closed off. There's no umpire, so you have to swing at one of the first five pitches or you're out, even if the pitcher's mad at you and purposely throwing you crap.

You have a limited amount of time, and you don't know what the limit is. You should be spending your time doing only the very best things you can. I humbly submit that one of those things is being outside watching or playing baseball. You won't wish you had spent more time watching TV, but you will wish you had spent more time on family, friends, and baseball. Preferably all at once.

--

Due to a tweaked migration to a new machine, I have completely lost all e-mail, addresses, and contact info gathered through e-mail over several years. If you've ever exchanged e-mails with me, please send me a new e-mail, preferably with all your contact information. I have several hundred people whose contact info needs to be refreshed. Thanks for your help, and I apologize for the inconvenience.

Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Gary's other articles. You can contact Gary by clicking here

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