BASEBALL, LIKE OUR great country itself, has its share of warts. There are the organizational inequities—just about everyone except the grounds crew is overpaid, a situation for which we will almost certainly endure a strike at the end of the year. Then there are the moral uglies—many players chew tobacco like it's bubble gum, drink and fornicate as they would have in ancient Rome, and grab their genitals with alarming frequency.
But perhaps baseball's biggest vice is rampant and remorseless homophobia. Low-life fans label opposing outfielders "faggots" in an attempt to deride their capabilities as ballplayers. The same players who are called "homos" reinforce the epithets with a de facto rejection of homosexuality—never in the history of the game has there been an openly gay player at any level. (The Padres' Billy Bean came out after he retired.)
These prejudices hit national headlines last week when a newspaper gossip columnist outed New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza. Piazza, who has downplayed gay rumors for years, called a press conference to proclaim, once and for all, that he dates women. This declaration apparently was not enough; for days following the announcement, players and general managers alike were quoted hinting that they'd never share a clubhouse with an openly gay man and that a player's sexuality was his business—so long as that player chased chicks.
Here in Seattle, on the airwaves and at family-friendly Safeco Field, the hometown fans were equally intolerant. When asked about the issue, one humanitarian in the right-field box seats exclaimed, "I don't want a fag on my team." Another, a caller to a local radio show, said that "Mariners players are too tough to be gay" and that nobody on the current team "struck" him as "particularly" homosexual.
So much for "Seattle nice." If some unsuspecting Seattleites were to spot a shirtless Bret Boone trading spit with another hunk at the Eagle, would his .240 average suddenly become unacceptable? Perhaps instead of imposing a code of conduct on his customers, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln should spring for some diversity training. Not only would the move set an example of tolerance, but it might also put the Mariners in a position to finally land a catcher who can hit.