METERMajor League Baseball umpire Dale Scott made history in 2014. He came out as gay, the first MLB umpire to do so. It was big enough news that Jimmy Fallon joked about it on The Tonight Show: “Well, he says he’s out, but the other referees said he’s safe. So now they have to watch the replay.”
But during Scott’s 37-year professional baseball career, his identity was no laughing matter. He feared the repercussions if he was reported, especially in his early seasons, which coincided with the AIDS crisis. Now retired, Scott reflects on his years as a professional in a new memoir, The Referee is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Selfco-written with Rob Neyer.
“Rob said, ‘You have a completely unique and different story that no one else has had,'” says Scott, who initially didn’t want to write the book. “The more I thought about it, after I came out publicly in 2014, the feedback I received was very positive. People told me that my story really helped them in their lives.”
He remains the only MLB umpire to publicly come out while on the job, though the book makes it clear that he’s not the only gay umpire in MLB history.
No active player on an MLB roster has ever come out to the public, though there were two who did so after their careers ended: The late Glenn Burke, and MLB vice president of social responsibility and inclusion Billy Bean, who wrote the introduction to Scott’s book. Bean conjures up a painful memory of his last season, in 1995, when he played for the San Diego Padres. He suffered the death of his companion and felt that he could not tell his companions.
Scott wonders when an active MLB player will come out, like athletes from other leagues have, like Carl Nassib in the NFL and Jason Collins in the NBA.
“We’ve had it in football, basketball, soccer,” says Scott. “Baseball is a little bit behind eight ball. I’m not exactly sure why.”
Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, Scott learned he was gay in high school. Although a classmate named Leslea was his date to the high school prom, he had by then come to terms with his identity.
“I told myself I wouldn’t look in the mirror every day for the rest of my life and lie to myself,” he says. “I also understood that I had to play the game, the society game. I couldn’t just do the rounds in 1979 saying, ‘Guess what, I’m gay. It wasn’t going to fly.
“It wasn’t because I was embarrassed or guilty or anything like that, that I didn’t go out earlier. I understood society, I understood the norms of the time.”
Scott says those rules led him to live two lives. “Even before he got me into baseball, there was Dale, the fun, easygoing guy that everyone knew, and Dale, who went to the only gay bar in Eugene, Oregon,” he says.
His debut as a professional umpire – in the minor leagues in 1981 – coincided with the AIDS outbreak. He writes about the loss of several friends and acquaintances to the disease and about homophobic comments from fellow referees of him. Misinformation related to AIDS was widespread: it was assumed that all gay men had the disease and that it could be spread by touching shared objects. Scott was concerned about the tight confines of an arbitration schedule, which involves sharing locker rooms and hotel rooms. He was afraid that if his colleagues found out he was gay, they would refuse to work with him anymore.
However, the arbitration schedule had unexpected benefits when it came to protecting his identity.
“He didn’t work in the city he lived in, he was always on the road, out of town,” says Scott. “It wasn’t like an office job, where you’re in an office with co-workers and you go out for drinks, or there’s a Christmas party for the employees and their spouses. I didn’t have to do that kind of schedule. The fact that I didn’t work in the city I lived in played to my advantage in a lot of ways.”
In 1986, there was a significant change in Scott’s home life. That year marked his first season in the American League. After the season, he moved to Oregon, from Eugene to Portland. He went to a gay bar in his new hometown and met an artist named Michael Rausch. Eventually, they moved in together. Scott was reluctant to let his colleagues know: Rausch’s sister, an airline stewardess, posed as his date while he was working spring training in Arizona.
“She thought it was a great idea,” says Scott. “It wasn’t because someone was snooping around thinking I was gay. She was just doing it proactively.”
Scott initially shared his identity with very few people. He told his younger brother, and when he told his mother, she said that she already knew. Seven years later, he felt ready to talk to his father, through a letter that took him a while to assimilate.
Meanwhile, he continued to build his resume, working on his first playoff series in 1995, then his first World Series in 1998. Three years later, he worked on the dramatic 2001 Fall Classic after 9/11. Before Game 3, he was able to chat with George W. Bush at Yankee Stadium, where the president threw out the first pitch.
The book contains two offbeat sections that Scott describes as popular with readers: a list of all the referees he worked with, and a list of all the referees he’s ever ejected from a game. Notably, he was the last umpire to eject Billy Martin, in 1988, before the untimely death of the famed and struggling Yankees coach in 1989.
Although Scott became a respected referee and official within the referees’ union, there were still tense moments. During a labor dispute in 1999, he received an anonymous threat that a colleague would report him.
“It wasn’t intimate, but I was disgusted at how low some stooped,” Scott writes.
However, at that time I was also seeing signs of change. He recalls two separate one-on-one conversations with referees Derryl Cousins and Rick Reed in which they said they were aware of his sexuality and that it made no difference to their professional relationship or friendship. And in the early 2000s, he was out to dinner with his referee team and one member, Ron Kulpa, suggested it was time to let the elephant out of the room and move on.
A key step was taken in 2013, when Scott and Rausch got married. A year later, Scott gave an interview to Referee magazine and was comfortable with the publication printing a photo of him and her husband, identifying Rausch as his “lifetime partner.” Referee was a subscription-only magazine with little circulation, but Outsports noticed the story and didn’t his own interview with Scott. When the article was published in December 2014, Scott says he “publicly opened the floodgates.”
Scott describes the response as overwhelmingly positive. In spring training in 2015, he received a warm response from MLBers: a hug from Marlon Byrd, a handshake from Joey Votto. He also received a lot of fan mail.
“I got emails from all over the world that were extremely positive, from people from all walks of life,” says Scott. “Gay, straight, bisexual. I heard from a wide variety of people,” including a father in Toronto who told his two daughters, aged 10 and eight at the time, that “this was one of the first steps in growing up in a society where this will no longer be news, where people will be accepted and move on.”
During a game in 2017, Scott suffered a concussion when Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo hit a ball that hit him in the mask. Although Scott was conscious, he was carried off the field and taken by ambulance to a hospital. backing out. However, Scott continues to keep an eye on developments in baseball. He is encouraged by minor league pitcher Solomon Bates, which came out earlier this year. This summer, Scott has participated in eight Pride Night events at MLB ballparks, throwing out the first pitch on occasion.
As for the future, he’s sure it won’t be long before an active player follows in his footsteps.
“We don’t know the situation,” he says. “I could be like the minor league player [Bates] who came out, maybe he reaches the big leagues… or maybe there is a player who is already in the big leagues and one day decides to leave. But it will happen.”