In the wake of Jason Collins coming out publicly -- and we'll leave the definition of "hero" to another time, I suppose -- the good folks at A Blog of Their Own have put together MLB All-Gay-Friendly Team, based on recent public comments. The individual entries are inspiring (to me, anyway). But I'll just list the players here ...
Starting Pitcher: C.J. Wilson
Righty Reliever: LaTroy Hawkins
Lefty Reliever: Jerry Blevins
Catcher: Mike Napoli
First Base: Nick Swisher
Second Base: Brandon Phillips
Shortstop: Darwin Barney
Third Base: David Wright
Left Field: Ryan Braun
Center Field: Jay Bruce
Right Field: Jonny Gomes
Designated Hitter: Jason Giambi
Barney's not a shortstop and Bruce isn't a center fielder, but close enough for horseshoes and showing support for openly gay athletes.
You'll note that a number of these players are either exceptionally wealthy, acknowledged team leaders, or both. Jason Giambi's considered a future manager. You've got relatively young players (Barney and Bruce) and grizzly veterans (Hawkins and Giambi) and everything in between.
Baseball players tend to move in a herd. This is a natural state of affairs. If you have to live with 24 other dudes for seven or eight months and you say a bunch of stuff those dudes don't like, they'll make your life unpleasant. Maybe it's not as bad as it used to be, but it's still there. Which isn't to suggest that a huge majority of major leaguers share Barney's and Giambi's opinions about gay athletes. At the least, though, we may assume their comments are tolerated, and shared by at least a fair number of their teammates. Which is a big change from just a few years ago.
A few years ago, it was perfectly permissible for veteran players to express their disdain for openly gay teammates. I don't have a problem with players speaking their minds, even as I disagree with them. The problem was that nobody at the time was speaking up for the other side. Because, again, that just wasn't permissible.
Almost exactly 10 years ago, Todd Jones said some ridiculous things; his employers (the Rockies) immediately distanced themselves from his comments, but his teammates don't seem to have said much. Which isn't surprising, because Todd Jones was a veteran and you don't disagree with veterans publicly.
There are, undoubtedly, still some baseball players who share Jones' views (or rather, his views at the time; maybe he doesn't hold those views today). But most of those who do won't express them, because they just won't get any support from their teammates or their organization.
Monday night, I was watching the Mets' broadcast when field reporter Kevin Burkhardt, out of the blue, started talking about Jason Collins. Play-by-play man Gary Cohen weighed in. Burkhardt and Cohen went on at some length, with nothing but glowing things to say about Collins. Meanwhile, Keith Hernandez simply said, "I am in full agreement, Gar. Hopefully he will be treated with the respect that he deserves."
Which was followed by what seemed to me an uncomfortable silence, as if Hernandez's colleagues were waiting for him to say something about the possibility of a gay baseball player coming out. After a lot more talk between Burkhardt and Cohen, who mentioned Glenn Burke ... which prompted Hernandez to mention, almost completely beside the point, that Burke was a teammate of Hernandez's brother in college. Followed by Burkhardt and Cohen getting back on the subject at hand.
Which doesn't necessarily say anything about Hernandez, except perhaps that he's not comfortable discussing gay baseball players. But if he were, I wouldn't be too quick to hold it against him.
Look, we all want everyone around us to be exactly where we are. But they're not going to be, and that doesn't make them bad people. In 42, there are the Dodgers who accept Jackie Robinson (the good guys) and the Dodgers who don't (bad guys). But what if Jackie Robinson hadn't been black, but instead had been gay? Would Pee Wee Reese and Ralph Branca have been so accepting?
I don't know. But I suspect they wouldn't have been. There must have been gay baseball players in the 1940s, and yet it's now 70 years later and we're still waiting for the first active major leaguer to come out. Something tells me it wouldn't have worked out so well in 1947, or for that matter in 1997.
Today, though? Yeah, I think it would be okay. And I wish it had happened already. I wish the NBA hadn't stolen the march on Major League Baseball, which has so often seemed behind the times since 1947. Granted, I'm often glad that baseball's been behind the times; a lot of the old ways are worth preserving. But just as baseball was ahead of the curve in 1947, at least in some quarters, now the NBA's ahead of the curve. And it's frustrating to me that baseball's owners and players have, for the moment anyway, ceded that cherished high ground.