Editor’s note: “As Told To Amy G,” presented by Toyota, will feature exclusive conversations with Giants staff, players and alums, as well as interesting figures around Major League Baseball, throughout the 2019 season. Today, Amy catches up with MLB's "Ambassador for Inclusion," Billy Bean.
Meeting Billy Bean was on my MLB bucket list. You may not know who he is, but you should. A quick recap: He is a former MLB journeyman who played stints with the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres. But during his entire Major League career, he hid his true identity before he found the courage to come out and let the world know he was gay in 1999.
As a human being and especially as a mom, I can’t imagine my children ever feeling like they couldn’t be open and forthcoming with who they were for fear of family, teammates, and society casting them out. It’s simply heartbreaking, and I applaud Billy and anyone with the fortitude to face this paralyzing fear and be free. At the end of the day, as a parent, that’s all I really want for my children -- to be happy, to be honest, to be good and to be themselves.
Billy is all of these things and has turned the challenge of coming out into a symbol of hope for so many as Major League Baseball’s first “Ambassador for Inclusion.” There couldn’t be a better time for a position like this. Every company should take note and create this job. It’s imperative. Period.
I’m obviously passionate about this topic, and my conversation with Billy was one of the most moving interviews I’ve conducted in my career. It goes far beyond baseball and shows how powerful the MLB stage can be in tackling a human rights issue.
Billy was invited five years ago to start talking to different clubhouses in the game and share his story. It was a smart and proactive move by MLB and Billy, not surprisingly, has taken the position to the next level.
That’s where our conversation begins.
"I will always carry that moniker of the first ambassador of inclusion. I think it's just an example of baseball at a wonderful time where we really wanted to expand our sensitivity and awareness to our workplace protection laws. And one of the great opportunities that came in front of me during the first couple years I was in that role, is as a former player -- someone who's loved the sport since he was a little kid -- I brought some thoughts and ideas in front of the people that run our sport.
"It allowed me to progress into the role of vice president and the opportunity to be in the conversation with the commissioner, at times, talking about things related to off the field and education programs. So my job has expanded a lot in that way. We've created some wonderful education programs. But at the core, it really was about getting better practices and that all started when I was invited to talk to clubs and clubhouses five years ago. I’m proud of the work that we've been able to do since then."
When Bean was a player (’87-’95), no one was stopping by MLB clubhouses to discuss inclusion, and homosexuality was, quite simply, a taboo topic. Billy kept his true identity locked up … in a vault. Looking back, if he had someone to look to, that came forward, things regarding his baseball career may have been very different.
"I think one of the great regrets of my life is not sharing what was going on with me. It probably would have kept me from quitting. That’s sort of the bittersweet part of my return to baseball. There was no real closure with myself as a player, but it really drives me in the work that I am doing now and continue to expand that conversation and maybe that's in part how those promotions came to be. I didn't want to just sit back and wait for baseball to come to me and say, 'Hey Billy, it’s great that we are talking about LGBT inclusion and fostering a more respectful and inclusive and accepting workplace.'
"We have to be someone that wants to do that and I give great credit to the operation leaders of baseball that literally invited me when I had no definition of that job. And just by sharing a little bit of my life experience, it’s ignited a conversation that took a lot of the stigma and fear away from those alpha male societies that it’s OK if we care about everybody."
Bean will be forever grateful to the San Francisco Giants organization for being a trailblazer when it comes to social causes. Back in 1994, they hosted the first “Until There’s a Cure” night at the yard. The Giants went out on a limb to bring the AIDS epidemic discussion to center stage and made their own statement that MLB teams had a responsibility to think outside the lines and use their influence to raise money and awareness for all types of causes and concerns.
For Billy, it was a sign of hope.
"I can't think of an organization more than the Giants that were fearless, you know, Peter McGowan and Larry Baer are just icons of sensibility. I remember being on the field when the Giants held their very first 'Until There’s a Cure' night. I was with the San Diego Padres and that was when my partner was ill at the time with HIV ... and I was in the closet with everybody and I literally was paralyzed. It makes me emotional now to remember.
"It was the very first time that I thought that there were people that would actually understand what I was going through. There's not enough gratitude, I've told this to Mr. Baer at the 2014 World Series how much that meant to me. I was a baseball player who knew no other life than that community. And sometimes the things we go through in our lives prepare us for where we are now, and I think that's why I'm in this chair today ... and the opportunity to try and make baseball better, a little more responsible, held accountable for the things we do and say and understand all through that we are all role models, we can be ambassadors for good or bad.
"One way or another, we are influencers and no one more than the players. Finding that bridge for a conversation that is relatable to the players has been my main challenge, and not personalizing or making it always about me -- because it’s not. I’m long since gone and you have to find a way to challenge these players to be impactful to their family, their friends, to the people that look up to them, and the communities that they play in."
Bean sees the Giants as one of the trailblazers when it comes to social causes (Photo via USA Today Sports Images)
The Giants always have been heavily involved in the Bay Area community and as an organization. It stands as a pioneer in bringing awareness to so many topics that have previously seemed untouchable. From “Peanut Allergy Night” to “Strike Out Violence Night,” the Giants have rarely, if ever, left a stone unturned. It was no surprise to find out the Giants reached out to Billy immediately after he was appointed “Ambassador for Inclusion” to see how they could help and see how Billy could make their community outreach even stronger.
"The definition of the job when I took it was not defined. One of the things that I asked Commissioner Manfred when he took over was that I wanted to make sure it was by invitation. And one of the reasons that I was so visible with the Giants was because they were one of the teams that invited me right away, and a lot of that had to do with my relationship with Bruce Bochy and Larry Bear, and understanding how important it is to represent not only to a segment of the fanbase but literally to a conversation overall.
"The inclusion of LGBT and the diversity conversation really sparks the conversations about respecting women in the workplace and the way we treat others, the way we talk to each other. We are in a difficult moment, where social media history of a lot of our young players from years ago is being brought back to the forefront. And it's really a cultural issue, and I feel baseball was so far in front of a conversation because still, to this day, the other sports don't really have the same type of 'go-to' point person.
"And for that reason, a lot of people reach out to me when they hear about anything in any sport that is uncomfortable to them or they're disappointed by it and they know that I will somehow connect the dots and try to initiate a conversation. I feel like the effort and the work over the last four or five years, we're so close to seeing some real results and understanding that the priority here is to be better and better and the only way to get the best candidates is to look for that in the broadest group possible."
Bruce Bochy is special to a lot of baseball guys. Seems like that man has touched everyone’s life in the game. But what Bochy means to Billy -- it’s on a different level. A level I actually feel I can relate to, as one of the only females working with Bochy every day. He’s never made me feel like I shouldn’t be exactly where I am. That mindset isn’t something that’s evolved as Bochy has grown with the game. It’s part of who he is as a person and Bean will never forget it.
"When I first came to the Padres, where he first managed me, he was a third-base coach and we used to work out, a group of us in the morning. He was more of a buddy. He was a player just like me that had to fight and scratch for every single thing, and so he could really relate to the ups and downs of the journey. And then when he got the managerial job, he was so ready for that opportunity. And it’s really magical what you see because sometimes people can be a little overwhelmed with not only the responsibility, but the expectations of the players and managing personalities.
"And to see, he really bridges like two generations where the players now have a lot more leverage than they used to when I played ... maybe one or two players had that type of, you know where they were kind of on equal footing with the manager. But everyone that I've ever met that's played for Boch has just respected him in a way that, you just can't buy that kind of thing.
"It’s going to be amazing to see him inducted into the Hall of Fame when his day comes, and to have three world championships and the respect of the entire league ... there's not one person that wouldn't say the same thing that I’m saying about him. So I couldn’t be happier for his success. It makes me a little nostalgic and sad at times, you know, how many years go by so quickly in the sport and we get to see each other here and again.
"But for three years, we basically lived day-to-day at the office. He said some really important things to me that meant a lot to me because I sort of did just vanish off the face of the earth when I was on that team. Coming back to baseball, there was a sense of security with some of those relationships that helped me have the confidence to go out and do what I do ... so he's been an influencer in that way and continues to be, it's great.
It’s always interesting to me to see how far we’ve come with difficult conversations and situations, yet how far we still have to go. My position as a female, in-game baseball reporter didn’t exist when I was younger. Now, almost every team has a female member on the baseball broadcast.
And for all of the people out there dealing with discovering their sexuality and live in daily fear of societal rejection, Billy Bean is now a face, a person, and an icon for them to look to and have as a reference point. He represents a sense of safety and understanding and that … IS AWESOME.
"I keep reminding myself that as a player, if I would have seen the consistency and the images we're putting out there now, it would be life-changing for me. And a lot of people thought that when I first took this job that my role was to counsel players to come out. It’s not about that at all. That’s a personal, private choice that’s none of my business.
"It is about creating a culture that our fans, the people that work in and around baseball that would draw people to want to come and work in baseball. You know we've seen this amazing wave, and it takes time to see the results when you change a dialogue. If you could turn the cameras around and look at this amazing diversity -- the amount of women running through here with absolute certainty they’re going to be running the show in baseball down the road -- it’s great.
"There’s never been a time where it’s been more of a certainty that the trend in baseball, the way that we analyze players, and our player evaluation system ... that it is about a mental capacity, it is not about the package it comes in. We're not there yet, but we're certainly on the path. We are working hard in ways that will really captivate the attention and hopefully draw from the broadest group possible."
Bean is happy with how far baseball has come in the last few years but knows there's still more work to do (Photo by USA Today Sports Images)
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It seems that the world has become an easier place in general to be out since 1989, but how do you think MLB has (or hasn’t) improved for gay players, out or not?
"Since my return in 2014, MLB has prioritized off-the-field education as well as fostering the most inclusive, respectful, and accepting workplace possible. Our ongoing effort to provide sensitivity training to all players as they enter professional baseball is making a huge impact. Those resources did not exist in 1989. The world is constantly changing and MLB feels strongly that we must continue to lead by example. Any player who might be playing under the same circumstances that I did knows that their organization and its existing workplace protections laws will support them"
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