MLB umpire Dale Scott: ‘I wasn’t intimidated by threats to out me as gay’

Major 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 umps said he’s safe. So now they gotta look at replay.”

But during Scott’s 37-year career in pro baseball, his identity was no laughing matter. He feared the repercussions if he was outed, especially in his early seasons, which coincided with the Aids crisis. Now retired, Scott reflects on his years in the pros in a new memoir, The Umpire is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self, co-written with Rob Neyer.

“Rob said: ‘You’ve got a completely unique, different story that nobody else ever 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 got was so positive. People told me my story really helped them in their lives.”

He remains the only MLB umpire to come out publicly while on the job, although the book makes it clear he’s not the only gay umpire in Major League history.

No active player on an MLB roster has come out to the public – although 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 evokes a painful memory from his final season, in 1995, when he played for the San Diego Padres. He suffered the death of his partner and felt he couldn’t tell his teammates.

Scott wonders when an active MLB player will come out, as athletes in other leagues have done, such as Carl Nassib in the NFL and Jason Collins in the NBA.

“We’ve had it in football, basketball, soccer,” Scott says. “Baseball is a little bit behind the eight-ball. I’m not exactly sure why.”

Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, Scott knew he was gay in junior high school. Although a female classmate named Leslea was his high school prom date, by then he had come to terms with his identity.

“I told myself that I would not look in the mirror every day for the rest of my life and lie to myself,” he says. “I also understood I had to play the game, society’s game. I couldn’t just make the rounds in 1979 saying: ‘Guess what, I’m gay.’ It was not going to fly.

“It wasn’t because I was ashamed or felt guilty or something, that I didn’t come out earlier. I understood society, understood the norms of the time.”

Scott says those norms led to him living two lives. “Even before I got into baseball, there was Dale, the happy-go-lucky, funny guy everybody 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 outbreak of Aids. He writes of losing a number of friends and acquaintances to the disease, and of hearing homophobic comments from fellow umpires. Aids-related misinformation was rampant – there were assumptions that all gay men had the disease, and that it could be spread by touching shared objects. Scott worried about the close confines of an umpiring schedule, which involves sharing locker rooms and hotel rooms. He feared that if colleagues learned he was gay, they would refuse to work with him any more.

The umpiring schedule did have unexpected benefits when it came to shielding his identity though.

“I did not work in the city I lived in, but was always on the road, out of town,” Scott says. “It was not like an office job, where you’re in an office with co-workers, and go out for a drink, or there’s a Christmas party for employees and their spouses. I did not have to do that type of schedule. The fact that I did not work in the city I lived in played to my advantage in a lot of ways.”

In 1986, there was a significant change to Scott’s home life. That year marked his first season in the American League. After the season, he relocated across 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 at spring training in Arizona.

“She thought it was a great idea,” Scott says. “It wasn’t because someone was sniffing around thinking I was gay. I 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 she already knew. Seven years later, he felt ready to come out to his father – through a letter that took some time to absorb.

Meanwhile, he kept adding to his resume, working his first playoff series in 1995, then his first World Series in 1998. Three years later, he worked the dramatic 2001 Fall Classic in the wake of 9/11. Before Game Three, he got to chat with George W Bush at Yankee Stadium, where the president threw out the first pitch.

The book contains two unconventional sections that Scott describes as popular with readers – a list of all the umpires he worked with, and a list of everyone he ever ejected from a game. Notably, he was the last umpire to eject Billy Martin, in 1988, before the famously feisty Yankees manager’s untimely death in 1989.

Although Scott became a respected umpire and an official within the umpires’ union, there were still tense moments. During a labor dispute in 1999, he received an anonymous threat of being outed by a colleague.

“I was not intimidated, but I was disgusted by how low some would stoop,” Scott writes.

Around that time, however, he was also seeing signs of change. He remembers two separate one-on-one conversations with umpires Derryl Cousins and Rick Reed in which they said they were aware of his sexuality and that it didn’t make a difference to their professional relationship or friendship. And in the early 2000s, he went out to dinner with his umpiring crew, and one member, Ron Kulpa, suggested it was time to let the elephant out of the room and move on.

A key step came in 2013, when Scott and Rausch married. A year later, Scott gave an interview to Referee magazine and felt comfortable with the publication printing a photo of him and his husband, in which Rausch was identified as his “longtime companion”. Referee was a subscription-only magazine with a small circulation, but Outsports noticed the story and did its own interview with Scott. When the article was published in December 2014, Scott says it “opened the floodgates publicly.”

Scott describes the response as overwhelmingly positive. At spring training in 2015, he got a warm response from MLBers – a hug from Marlon Byrd, a handshake from Joey Votto. He also received plenty of fan mail.

“I got emails from around the world that were extremely positive, from people from all walks of life,” Scott says. “Gay, straight, bisexual. I heard from quite a 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 to growing up in a society where this won’t be news anymore, 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 struck him in the mask. Although Scott was conscious, he was carted off the field and taken by ambulance to a hospital – he knew it was time to retire. Scott still keeps his eye on developments in baseball though. He’s encouraged by minor-league pitcher Solomon Bates, who came out earlier this year. This summer, Scott has participated in eight Pride Night events at MLB ballparks, getting to throw out the first pitch on occasion.

As for the future, he is sure it will not be long before an active player follows in his footsteps.

“We don’t know the situation,” he says. “It could be like the minor league player [Bates] who came out, maybe he makes it to the big leagues … or maybe there’s a player who’s already in the big leagues and someday decides to come out. But it will happen.”