June 21, 2007

Where are the famous old gay baseball players?

One of those dog-that-didn't-bark questions is why, despite the vast number of books written about baseball players, I have never heard of a single prominent player in history who sounded like he probably was homosexual. There are currently 750 major league baseball players. There must have been at least 10,000 major league ballplayers over the last 130 years

Two really obscure players -- Glenn Burke (who died of AIDS in 1995) and Billy Bean (not the celebrated "Moneyball" general manager of Oakland -- that's Billy Beane) -- came out of the closest, but that's it for admitted homosexuals in the history of big league baseball. (In contrast, AIDS claimed the lives of numerous male figure skaters).

But what about famous players? Maybe 1,000 ballplayers in history would be more or less "famous" and thus would be subject to constant reminiscences and research.

The only rumor I've heard about about a prominent player of the past being gay reflected desperation more than evidence. A New York gossip columnist claimed Sandy Koufax was gay, which would be a surprise to his live-in girlfriend (who is First Lady Laura Bush's old college roommate), his two ex-wives, and his neighbors in all the small, conservative rural towns the Jewish, Brooklyn-bred Koufax has chosen to live in in Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, and Oregon since he retired from the LA Dodgers in 1966. Koufax denounced the rumor, then had to put up with a lot of tsk-tsking about how backward baseball players are not to come out of the closet.

What about famous players who displayed traits that correlate to some degree with homosexuality? There aren't many.

For example, I looked up the life story of Earl Averill, one of the lesser Hall of Famers, who played centerfield for the 1930s Cleveland Indians. Why? Because he hadn't played baseball professionally until he was 24. Instead, among other jobs, he'd worked as a florist, a job with an above-average concentration of gay men. Maybe flower-arranging was his true passion and hitting a ball with a stick was just something he did to make money?

But, it appears that he'd been a florist mostly because he'd married young and he needed a sure paycheck. He and his wife were married for half a century and after he retired together they long ran the Earl Averill Motel in his hometown of Snohomish, Washington. His son Earl Jr. played in the majors, too. I can say with a high degree of certainty that Earl Averill wasn't gay.

Now, you are probably saying, "Okay, but what do we really know about individual ballplayers of long ago?" Actually, we know quite a lot. At least since Jim Bouton's 1971 bestseller Ball Four, there's been a big market for tell-all baseball books. Reporters constantly interview cranky old retired baseball players, who often love to gossip maliciously about their contemporaries.

Compare baseball to a more obscure sport, tennis.

In contrast, we know that the greatest tennis player of the 1920s, Bill Tilden, was a homosexual pedophile. He was arrested twice in the 1940s for corrupting minors and served a prison term, so it was in all the papers at the time. He is a minor character in Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel Lolita, where Bill Tilden is called "Ned Litam:"

"I tried to teach her to play tennis so we might have more amusements in common; but although I had been a good player in my prime, I proved to be hopeless as a teacher; and so, in California, I got her to take a number of very expensive lessons with a famous coach, a husky, wrinkled old-timer, with a harem of ball boys; he looked an awful wreck off the court, but now and then, when, in the course of a lesson, to keep up the exchange, he would put out as it were an exquisite spring blossom of a stroke and twang the ball back to his pupil, that divine delicacy of absolute power made me recall that, thirty years before, I had seen him in Cannes demolish the great Gobbert!"

Frank Deford, Sports Illustrated's top writer, wrote a frank biography of Tilden back in 1976 precisely because, as he wrote in SI at the time, so few famous male athletes are gay.

Also, Baron Gottfried von Cramm, the leading German tennis player of the 1930s, who played a famous match against American Don Budge in the 1937 Davis Cup, was so publicly flaming in manner that Hitler couldn't make up his mind whether to promote the tall blond von Cramm as the perfect Aryan hero or arrest him for his affair with a Jewish male actor.

I'm not saying there have not been any famous gay baseball players, but I am estimating that less than 1.0% of the top 1000 players of the past were homosexual.

Update: Commenters suggest a fairly prominent name in baseball history who sounds plausible, so if you are interested, check the comments.


Anonymous said...

In _Baseball When the Grass Was Real_, a collection of reminisces collected by Donald Honig, the strange tale of William Hershberger always made me wonder if he was gay. Hershberger was the only major league player to commit suicide during a season, in August 1940. Bill McKechnie, Hershberger's manager and the reminiscer, recalled that Hershberger was manic-depressive (didn't use those words) and that he, McKechnie, knew the reason why Hershberger killed himself but that he would take it to his grave. Something so personal, perhaps shameful, that Hershberger would only confess it to a single soul -- in contrast with the many suicides who leave public notes -- gives reason to suspect this was not the usual suicide over a member of the opposite sex. Among a list of books and articles about Hershberger I found online (see below), one has the title, _It Had to Be a Woman_. Well, maybe not.

(Here is the link: http://www.baseballlibrary.com/baseballlibrary/sabr/tbi/H/Hershberger_Willard.tbi.stm#articles)

Audacious Epigone said...

What's known about the concentration (if it exists) of homosexual football players?

Paul said...

Mike Piazza was the subject of a relentless rumor mill while he played in New York, and I recall a lot of wink-wink talk radio speculation about Brett Tomko while he was in Cincinnati (mostly because he didn't hang with teammates, tended to mock jock machismo in interviews, and liked to draw and write poetry).

I guess historically, you'd focus on bachelors and dandies. Old ballplayers were merciless with nicknames, so anyone the least bit effete would likely be dubbed "Queenie" or "Princess." Baby Doll Jacobson? Hmm.

Anonymous said...

It would be terribly ironic if Moe Berg were gay, just to add to the huge list of "stuff other than baseball" he was famous for...

Anonymous said...

I read a pretty interesting article a while back, I can't find it now, by a baseball insider saying that all the rumors about seven years ago that one of the New York Mets was gay, which many people pegged onto Piazza (perhaps because of his porn 'stache), were actually sourced by pitcher Mike Hampton (who has, of course, since moved on to the Rockies and now the Braves).

Anonymous said...

Some people on my father's side of the family know a relatively well-known baseball player from the 80s who is a closet homosexual. Since I'm not a big fan of outing people, however, I don't wish to provide his name.

It may be the case that there is more secrecy in baseball than many other sports when it comes to homosexuality.

Steve Sailer said...

Piazza has lived with about 10 different lingerie models during his baseball career. It's been argued that that just proves he's gay: "Why else would a man sleep with all those centerfolds, except to cover up something? Huh? Huh?"

Piazza's hobby is playing heavy metal on his electric guitar. My guess would be that a man whose favorite band is AC-DC isn't terribly AC-DC himself.

Anonymous said...

This is a pointless article. Why did he write it? What point is he trying to make?

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time (over a decade ago by now), I was a fan of Sportscenter with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, but I received my first clue that Olbermann was actually an idiot (something he has since proved in spades) when the subject of gay athletes came up in an interview and he opined that since 10 percent of the population was gay (itself a discredited figure, of course), 10% of major leaguers must be gay, 10% of Hall of Famers must be gay, etc.
Anonymous #1: Interesting theory on Willard Hershberger - still the only major leaguer to commit suicide during the regular season. We probably will never know the truth, however.

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is what factors attract gay athletes to say, Figure Skating, and don't work to attract them to Baseball. And probably also Football.

If the sport allows gays the ability to be flamboyant, performing, and non-team oriented (i.e. single person not a team) it might well attract gays. Tennis, swimming, diving, bicycle racing, running, etc. might well apply.

Meanwhile baseball, even more football, require team orientation and self-sacrifice to be successful. You can't be the star and flamboyant within the context of winning championships which is the only thing that counts.

I'm sure there were TO types back during the 49'ers heyday with Joe Montana, but Montana is remembered and those types forgotten. Namath was flamboyant but also delivered with a team context. He didn't catch his own passes for sure.

Anonymous said...

Baseball and gay just don't go together all that well.

Let's see:

Baseball -- vs. -- Gay

Chewing tobacco -- cigarette holders

baseball caps -- berets

wooden clubs -- riding crops

beanballs -- vicious gossip

sliders -- uhhh, won't go there...

stealing bases -- stealing lovers

brawls -- histrionic meltdowns

hat hair -- well-coiffed

bat boys -- bush bunnies

grand slam -- grand finale

Heh, I just had to try to come up with a list similar to your "why lesbians aren't gay" article.

Anonymous said...

That recent "science of gaydar" article cites the increased propensity for gays to be left-handed, might make sense to scrutinize lefty pitchers and hitters for this query since baseball keeps track of those attributes any

Anonymous said...

I always thought that Rusty Staub was gay. He had some effeminate movements and was a bachelor not known for womarcpognizing.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks. Staub would be the kind of player of whom it would be plausible to guess he might have been gay -- excellent taste in food and wine, ran a fine dining restaurant personally for years after he retired, outgoing mediagenic personality with good manners. Of course, he was from New Orleans, where acting like a gentleman isn't considered gay ...

Anyway, Staub contrasts with the kind of players you more often hear gay rumors about, such as muscleheads like Mike Piazza, which are likely based more on gay fantasies than on reality.

Anonymous said...

That's a really ignorant post.

Anonymous said...

so Im gay which means i have to stop liking ac-dc lol not feminine and go to the ball park every chance I get. what is the typical gay well let me telll you its not the limp wristed faggot anymore . try athletic goes to the gym . drinks beer and whiskey not wine there are plenty of gay ballplayers out there and just because someone is married or has been married is no indication of there oriantation. i know contlesss gay men who felt they had to get married . most of these guys are older but not all.why should sports be any different than life .oh and the ten % figure someone said was wrong that is true it alot more than 10% and if you don't believe it go to my space and youll find more than you would hope to and its amizing how many young boys and girls admit it on my space todalou

Vinny said...

Wow, I'm not sure what is more ignorant here, the article itself, or the comments.

First, saying that a player was married with children so he must not be gay is beyond foolish. So many gay men marry women and have children. In my experience as a gay person, for the older generation, there are more gay men living in this situation than not. For a baseball player, who is constantly on the road and rarely home, this type of lifestyle would be ideal.

Looking to see who is flamboyant, or likes flowers, or any other such nonsense is as bigoted and ignorant. Most homosexual men are average, everyday people, indistinguishable for anyone else. People who are uncomfortable around homosexuals like to believe that all homosexuals fit these stereotypes because it allows them to live in their fantasy world. A fantasy world where none of their family, friends, or neighbors can be gay because they would know. Well sorry to ruin the small little world you live in, but you're just fooling yourself.

To say that someone can't be gay because they like AC/DC. Are you serious? Both me and my partner like AC/DC. What the heck does that have to do with being gay.

The article makes an argument that the neighborhoods in ehhc Koufax has lived are proof that hes straight. Please understand that I'm not saying that Koufax is gay, I have no idea I never met the man. But what does his neighborhood have to do with anything. As a gay man I have never thought to my self, "Gee I gotta go find me a nice gay place to live in with lots of gays". No, I make housing decisions based on the same factors most people do, quality of neighborhood, price, commute time, convenience of location, etc. I suspect that similarly, Koufax made housing decisions on what was best for him and his family, not on whether is was gay or straight.

The article itself seemed to really have no purpose, other than for the author to reassure himself that there are no gay stars in baseball history. To the author I say, "Keep telling yourself that, what ever makes you feel good". God forbid anyone wake up and live in the real world.

Mr_Genre said...

Well said, Vinny. And I'd like to add that despite some of these comments and despite what most blogs out there say, there are many heterosexual fans like myself out there who would support any players who came out.

I guess the only thing holding it back is the minority of bigoted fans and the scrutiny of sharing such truths in a locker room. I can only imagine how difficult of a secret that must be to live in under such conditions.

Anonymous said...

The Wikipedia entry for Harry Davis (1b, Philadelphia A's of the 1910s) asserts that he was homosexual. I have no idea on what the author bases that claim. While I wouldn't call Davis famous, he played on some great A's teams.

newyorkgirlinoz said...

I lived about a block from "Rusty's" the east side reastaurant owned by Rusty Staub in New York City. This was in the 1980's. It was a given that he was gay. No one made any issue of it.

Steve Sailer said...

Re: Harry Davis.


It looks like Wikipedia took this assertion about Harry Davis out. I can't find any source to back it up. And reading about Davis, he sounds like about the least likely oldtimer to be gay, a pillar of the community-type, kind of like if somebody asserted on Wikipedia that, say, Mike Scioscia is gay. Here are excerpts from Harry Davis's bio:

"On March 1, 1898, before heading to spring training with the Pirates, Harry was married to Miss Eleanor Hicks of Philadelphia. Together they would have two sons, Harry C. and Eugene.

... Harry was a team leader and following the sale of Lave Cross after the 1905 season, Mack named him captain of the Athletics. He had become Philadelphia's leader on the field and was widely recognized as Mack's lieutenant. Off the field, he took promising players under his wing, boarding them in his own house. From future Hall of Famers like Eddie Plank and Eddie Collins to rookies like Billy Orr, many players could cite Davis as a big influence on their careers.

... Harry signed back on as a coach with his old team for 1913, amid speculation that he would eventually take Mack's place. This, of course, never happened, ... From 1914 to 1917, Harry continued to serve as a coach for Connie Mack, occasionally appearing in games, mostly as a pinch hitter. Following the 1917 season, Harry retired temporarily upon his November election to the Philadelphia city council, but was back by mid-1919 and remained with the A's as a coach and a scout until 1927.

During his career, and after, Harry had many business endeavors. He owned a scrap iron business, was a clerk in the municipality of Philadelphia, and owned a bowling alley later in his career. He also enjoyed bowling, golfing, and trapshooting. In his later years, up until his death, he was working as a foreman for the Burns Detective Agency, guarding the rotogravure plant at the Philadelphia Inquirer.


This biography originally appeared in David Jones, ed., Deadball Stars of the American League (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, Inc., 2006).

Steve Sailer said...

So, after a couple of years we've gotten a few commenters pointing to Rusty Staub, which sounds plausible (although hardly proven), and he would certainly make the cut as famous although not quite Hall of Fame quality.

I recall vague allegations made about Keith Hernandez, but they mostly seemed to be the usual gay fantasies compounded with the fact that Hernandez often went to dinner with Staub. I suspect that mostly reflects Hernandez's good taste -- Staub knew more about fine dining than anybody else in the league. Keith, however, was not playing for the other team. Once in the players comp seats behind home plate at Wrigley Field, I sat next to a young lady, whom my cousin knew from Rush Street bars. When my cousin, who had gotten us tickets from a teammate in the minors now in the Show, asked her how she'd gotten her ticket, the girl said that Keith and her were always together whenever he came to town. (I won't put a year on this recollection.)

The Hershberger idea is interesting, but I can't find anybody else who has argued this. (But that doesn't mean it's not true.)

So, if Rusty Staub is, say, the 300th most famous baseball player of all time, it looks like about one out of three hundred, which is an extraordinarily low ratio. That's a very interesting finding.

As for all those who are confused, shocked, or angry that we're engaged in looking for data about an important aspect of human nature, well, sorry.

Steve Sailer said...

Re: Brett Tomko.

From Wikipedia:

"Tomko married Playboy Playmate Julia Schultz (February 1998) in November 2003."

Clearly, he's just doing that to overcompensate! Why else would a man marry a Miss February?

Alley Oop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Keith Olbermann, but I received my first clue that Olbermann was actually an idiot (something he has since proved in spades)

30%+ of MLB players are left-handed because of the advantage they have batting and "That" a "recent "science of gaydar" article cites the increased propensity for gays to be left-handed," shows him to be idiotier.

Anonymous said...

Yes - Rusty Staub is gay but so what. Rusty has always been a wonderful ballplayer, very charitable (he founded the Foundation for Widows and Children of Police and Firefighters), was always kind to his fans, and is an idol to many baseball fans. Who cares what he does in the privacy of his own life if it doesn't hurt anyone?

Anonymous said...

I once played in a cable industry golf tournament where Rusty Staub was in my foursome. He was one of the nicest, friendliest people I ever met. The other guys in my foursome later told me that it's well known that Rusty is gay. Interesting, but not really relevant to how good a person and ballplayer he was.

Chuck said...

Glenn Burke--Dodgers and A's--came out publicly.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog post while checking the current news on Rusty's condition in the hospital. I'm checking because I have a direct past connection that I won't elaborate on, except to say that while having dinner with him, he made a "hand grenade" for me. You can take that as a tiny clue to a huge story that the public will never know. However, I can authoritatively confirm that the anonymous poster above is 100% correct in every regard. It is profoundly sad to see a good-hearted person who has been frightened by societal pressures and by fanatic religious voodoo into living his entire life hiding in the closet.