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The Stonewall Inn was no haven. Mafia-run, claimed to have been opened on a $3,500 investment when it was re-christened from the Stonewall Inn Restaurant (originally Bonnie’s Stone Wall, likely a coded reference to Mary Casal’s 1930 autobiography the Stone Wall, which frankly described her attraction to women) and with the insides painted entirely black to cover the charred wood after a fire flushed its previous occupants, it was nevertheless an essential gay club because of its large capacity and location in New York’s Greenwich village, on a main thoroughfare and within two blocks’ proximity to eight subway lines[1]. There were persistent rumors of extortion, they watered down the drinks, and (this being the most important bit) they couldn’t protect you from the police. Of course, it was the selfsame police who had ensured that the mafia would profit from the gay, lesbian, and trans communities whose very existence they had criminalized.

Police criminalization and marginalization of LGBT people has a long and sordid history that should make even the most stolid blink, and New York City – long understood as a haven for those communities – has historically been on the vanguard of oppression. Subsequent to the end of Prohibition, the newly-established State Liquor Authority interpreted homosexuality itself as a violation of the moral laws attendant to law regulating the sale of alcohol, with homosexuality, and any practices or comportures considered attendant, self-constitutive as “lewd and dissolute” behaviors[2]. The SLA began a “systematic campaign” to cleanse New York City of gay bars in 1960, one that was almost entirely (if briefly) successful[3]. The denial of liquor licenses to any suspected homosexuals ensured that void was filled by the mafia.

In his book Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, historian David Carter contextualized the period by arguing that “New York City increased its enforcement of antihomosexual laws to such an extent that it amounted to an attempt to impose police-state conditions onto a homosexual ghetto”[4]. The wave of McCarthyism that swept America in the 1950s brought with it strenghtened and strident homophobia that entrenched in law harsher anti-homosexuality laws than in any country “the US criticized for their despotic ways;” LGBT people could be jailed for life for the crime of consensual sex in their own homes, and simply being homosexual was reason for committment to a mental institution in many states[5].

In the mid-60s, vice squads were arresting over 100 gay men weekly after having entrapped them. Public agencies attempted to maintain a veneer of nondiscrimination, though it was clearly for show, since even “homosexuals who behaved largely as heterosexuals were allowed to—kissing, touching each other intimately, or dancing in an overtly sexual manner—were a disorderly presence and hence could endanger a bar’s license”[6]. To simply be gay and in any space, public or private, was a threat to one’s very life and livelihood (one could legally be fired for being gay or trans at the time, as one still can be today in 28 states), a truth that went doubly so for those who visibly marked their otherness. The mafia’s tricks for running a bar under the table, then, were essential to the tenuous safety of LGBT patrons.

The Stonewall Inn was, theoretically, not a gay bar but a private club, a ruse intended to afford patrons privacy and protection from police harassment (blacked-out windows reinforced with plywood should emphasize the immediacy of the posed threat). Liquor bottles were tagged with names to imply they belonged to members, though in practice anyone admitted could drink. There were techniques to weed out potential marauders, though the Inn’s most important defense was its bouncer, Blond Frankie, who used his photographic memory to attempt to bar undercover police or potentially-hostile heterosexuals from entering. Upon entrance, many would sign names (fake for anonymity and often campy, “such as Elizabeth Taylor and Donald Duck) in a book that was presumably a prop supporting the “bottle club” ruse[7]. While this allowed the bar to continue operation without significant problems for its mafia owners (who supplemented their schemes with cash payoffs to the police), it had little effect on the persistent raids and arrest on gay bars.

While the police could and did arrest any patron or employee of gay havens seemingly at random, those who were most at risk of arrest were those who did not comport to the police standard of “three articles of clothing appropriate to their sex,” a standard chosen from a century-old statute intended to suppress the working rights of tenant farmers[8]. This practice was mostly utilized against butch lesbians and those who were variously called drag queens and transvestites (many would be understood as trans women using modern parlance).

It went like this: on the night of June 27, 1969, Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine of Manhattan’s First Division of Public Morals intended to put the screws on the Stonewall Inn. They had been stepping up raids recently, and Pine had been stung by the words of one of the bar’s owners in their previous meeting: “If you want to make a bust, that’s your business. We’ll be open again tomorrow”[9]. Pine wanted to stick it to those owners, and intended that night to slice up the bar, confiscate vending equipment, and verify the rumors of watered-down liquor (a federal crime). To do so, he would need to go through the bar’s vulnerable patrons. The police raided the bar around 1:20 AM, technically on the morning of the 28th, entering with a claim, “we’re taking the place!,” that would prove false.

Carter sets the scene.

As whispers went around the club that the place was being raided, customers rushed to locate friends. “Are we going to be arrested?” one shocked young man asked. Another terror-stricken man moaned, “I’ll lose my job. What will happen to me? My family! Oh no, no, no!” Then the police sealed the doors of the bar.[10]

Typical police procedure was to separate the patrons into discrete groups as they saw fit: the men who were wearing what was considered appropriate dress (and constituted the largest subset of patrons) were released first, on the assumption they would gratefully and quietly slink off, while lesbians and those suspected to be drag queens were separately grouped, with those whose clothing was not considered appropriate at risk for arrest. The police would often only make one or a few arrests as an example, but on that night the police chose to attempt to arrest all those whose clothing they deemed inappropriate. They had for this attempt, however, an audience. Likely influenced by the later hour and larger sum of patrons (as most raids occurred earlier in the evening), those who were released mingled in front of the Stonewall Inn, with the mood growing progressively angrier as the crowd witnessed innocents loaded into paddy wagons.

It’s not quite clear who, exactly, began to fight back on that night. It likely never will be. A police officer shoved a drag queen, who in turn smacked the officer with her purse. The officer responded by clubbing her in full view of the crowd. Soon thereafter, a butch lesbian, arrested for gender nonconformity and already abused inside the bar, “lost her mind in the streets of the West Village—kicking, cursing, screaming, and fighting”[11]. Resisting arrest and multiple times escaping police cars, the unknown woman gave a rejoinder to the gay men watching, “Why don’t you guys do something!” The crowd, viewing the lesbian being bodily thrown into the back of a squad car, began to respond in earnest.

What is often described as a brick was more likely a massive cobblestone, wrenched from its place lining a tree near the Stonewall Inn and thrown onto the trunk of a police car. The victimized began a concerted push back, in a moment described by Michael Fader as “the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us”[12]. The crowd, having previously been pushed far back by the police, in turn pushed them back, with law enforcement ultimately and ironically barricading themselves inside the Inn as a refuge. It was there that bricks (found at a construction site near where protesters had been pushed back to), garbage, and glass began to rain down on the Stonewall Inn, the only sustained, concerted act of violence in what has come to be known as the Stonewall Riots.

Stonewall was not the first act of gay rebellion in the US, nor was its aftermath the only inciting event for the peals of LGBT community organizing that would follow. It was when the levee broke, when the dehumanization, the violence, and the threats to livelihood became too much for the community to bear. Drag queens, lesbians, and gays (many of them non-white) cried out that night for liberation, and in the nights to follow the streets surrounding the Stonewall Inn were awash in more than riots: camp humor; open displays of gay affection; chants of “Christopher Street belongs to the queens” and “Liberate the street.” It should perhaps be unsurprising that calls for liberation engender radical, revolutionary intent: consider the mission statement of the Gay Liberation Front, founded later that year in New York City: “We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished.”

This story has nothing to do with baseball, on its face. But recall, as I often do (or perhaps consider for the first time) that there are no out major league (or, for that matter, minor league) players. I do not say there are no gay players in those ranks, of course, because there assuredly are. We don’t know of them and we know of literally dozens of homophobes playing in, commenting on, and being honored by MLB. Some days, I can’t think of baseball without liberation on my mind.

***

In Philadelphia, the team’s tempestuous relationship with its star, Dick Allen (then called Richie) was reaching a head. As we wrote last year, in discussing the June 15, 1968 firing of manager Gene Mauch:

Allen was not the easiest guy to manage, but his tenure in Philadelphia was marked by subtle and overt racism as well as the not uncommon habit of some fans to scapegoat a team’s best player. General manager John Quinn commented that “the Allen problem was a factor, but not the entire problem” in explaining Mauch’s dismissal.

Here’s how Allen ranked on the Phillies in OPS, DRC+, and batter WARP during his first five years in the majors:

Year OPS DRC+ bWARP
1964 1 1 1
1965 1 1 2
1966 1 1 1
1967 1 1 2
1968 1 1 1

In 1964, when the Phillies blew a 6.5 game lead over the season’s final 12 games, Allen hit .429/.462/.796 during the streak.

He had a penchant for controversy, though. In July 1965, he and teammate Frank Thomas got into a fight during batting practice. He missed the last month and a half of the 1967 season when he badly cut his hand pushing his car, which has stalled, on a wet street. In April 1968, without the team’s permission, he drove from Philadelphia to New York and showed up to a game against the Mets just 20 minutes before game time and was scratched from the lineup. On June 1 that year, Mauch scratched him again, declaring him “unfit to play,” and kept him out until June 11. Then on May 2, 1969, he missed a flight from Philadelphia to St. Louis on a Friday morning and didn’t show up until the second inning of the following afternoon’s game, earning a $1,000 fine[13].

Then, on June 24, he missed an entire doubleheader against the Mets. (The Mets swept it, 2-1 and 6-0.) A horse racing aficionado, he’d gone to New Jersey’s Monmouth Park to watch his horse, Trick Fire, run. Supposedly, he hadn’t realized the Phillies’ twinight twinbill with the Mets had been moved up by an hour. Supposedly, he got caught in traffic on his way to Shea Stadium. Supposedly, he heard on the car radio that he’d been suspended by manager Bob Skinner. What’s certain is that he drove home to Philadelphia and was suspended indefinitely.

On July 19, Allen met with Phillies owner Bob Carpenter and agreed to rejoin the club on the condition that he’d be traded at the end of the season. He returned to the lineup on July 24, the day after the All-Star Game. The Phillies, 26-37 (.413 winning percentage) going into the doubleheader on June 24, were 13-18 (.419) in his absence. He would go on to lead the club in OPS and DRC+ for the sixth straight season while writing messages in the third base dirt.


(photo source: DickAllenHOF.blogspot.com)

This was not the end of the saga. Allen’s return would mark another controversy, and his trade an even greater one, not even of his own making.

***

The same day that Allen missed the games with the Mets, White Sox rookie third baseman Bill Melton hit three homers in a 7-6 win over the Pilots. He became just the fifth White Sox batter to hit three home runs in a nine-inning game. The record has since been matched ten times by nine players (Harold Baines did it twice) but never surpassed.

***

The expansion Padres were shut out by the Dodgers, 19-0, on June 28. It was the second time in little over a month they’d lost by that score. They had a wretched June, losing four straight starting June 6, winning a game, losing four more, winning one, losing 11 straight, winning another, and losing another six straight starting with the 19-0 shellacking. The 3-25 streak dropped them from eight games out of first to 21.5 behind.

After the 19-0 loss, they’d been shut out 16 times in 77 games. They were on pace for 34 shutouts, which would be the most in major league history since 1908, breaking the record of 33 set by the 1908 Cardinals. They’d fall short, ending the year with 23 shutouts, a total since surpassed by only the 1976 Padres, also with 23, the 1978 Braves, with 24, and the 1972 Rangers, with 27.

***

Oakland’s Reggie Jackson hit his 29th home run of the season on June 29, just the third time a player had hit 29 or more by the end of June. The others: Babe Ruth in 1928 and Babe Ruth in 1930. The same day, the Giants’ Willie McCovey became the first National League player ever to hit 26 homers before July 1. And also the same day, Chicago’s Billy Williams started both games of a doubleheader against St. Louis, his 895th and 896th consecutive games played, tying and then surpassing the National League record held by Cardinals icon Stan Musial.


[1] Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2004, pgs. 11, 67-68

[2]  ibid, pg. 17

[3]  ibid, pg. 47

[4]  Ibid, pg. 18

[5]  ibid, pg. 15

[6] Ibid, pg. 51.

[7] Ibid, pgs. 69-70.

[8] Ibid, pg. 15.

[9] Ibid, pg. 125.

[10] Ibid, pg. 138.

[11] Ibid, pg. 151.

[12] Ibid, pg. 160.

[13] Lewis, Allen. “Phils Fed Up, Ready to Crack Whip at Disappearing RIchie.” The Sporting News, July 12, 1969, pg. 16.

Thank you for reading

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Robert Grace
6/24
Thank you for writing about Stonewall here.
Ginny Searle
6/24
It was my pleasure, Robert, thanks so much for reading!
ofmontreal
6/24
Indeed! I somehow always connect Stonewall and Richie Allen. I wish he'd had a bigger crowd to fight for him too. Thanks for the great episode ;-)
Robert McWilliams
6/25
Excellent mini essay on Stonewall, and it often, very often, occurs to me and saddens me there there are no out gays in the major leagues (or in minors?). One can only hope that baseball (and other sports) will finally, finally, finally start to catch up with the rest of society. I myself am just longing for the day in KC when the kiss cam shows non straight people kissing.
Ginny Searle
6/27
I very much relate, Robert! Thanks so much for reading and commenting