BEHIND THE MASK-MY DOUBLE LIFE IN BASEBALL
by Alan Steinberg & Dave Pallone
In the recent months, there had been talk of baseball and homosexuality. First there were the rumors that Mike Piazza of the Mets was going to come out of the closet, but Piazza denied any of it, and the matter was dropped for the most part, except for the opinions of several players on the subject, pro and con. Then the Sandy Koufax biography was released, and rumors of his supposed homosexuality began to emerge, but that was soon found to be false as all engaged parties denied anything of the sort. And recently, a Broadway play called Coming Out (which is about a star baseball player admitting his homosexuality) has become a critically acclaimed success in its run.
However, few people involved in the National Pastime has stepped forward to admit "the love that dares not speak its name". Utility outfielders Bill Bean and Glenn Burke (who sadly died of AIDS several years ago) have been the only players to date who have admitted to being gay, and they have recounted stories of being held back because of this. The fact that their batting averages may have held them back even further might have something to do with it, but nonetheless they were faced with a daunting task by admitting their sexual nature. The only other person in baseball to do this was umpire Dave Pallone, who was in the National League from 1979 to 1988, and he told his entire story in this book.
Dave Pallone had a very rocky career in baseball. He also had three strikes against him. For starters, he had an explosive temper, which landed him in trouble with several players and managers (with Pete Rose being the biggest case on file). Secondly, he joined the major league umpiring ranks in Ď79 by crossing picket lines during the umpireís strike that season when Chub Feeney hired scab umpires to start the season. And third, he was gay at a time when knowledge of this sort could ruin a personís career.
This book is an interesting story on several levels. First of all, it gives insight on the career of an umpire, from umpire school to making the majors. It also gives a first-person account of the umpire strike of Ď79, and the impact it had on him
and the other arbiters who had to face the wrath of the union by making it to the big time in what they thought was the easy way in. It turned out to be quite opposite as the scab umpires were ostracized for years in the league. Dave is not kind to several well known umpires, including Bruce Froemming, Steve Palermo, and John McSherry, as he recounts the tales of the punishment he received at their hands on and off the field. It also tells of the run-ins he had with player Dave Concepcion, and manager Pete Rose a few years later when Rose pushed him during an argument (an argument that landed Rose a 30-day suspension). Reds fans may loathe Pallone after reading this book.
It also details his homosexuality, from his first encounter in spring training as a minor league umpire, to his first steady boyfriend (who would die tragically a short time later in a car crash), to his encounters with a well-know movie star, and a "rising National League infield star" in 1984. He describes the great details he went to for keeping his private life very private. He keeps the names anonymous to protect their reputation, but the book still drifts into tabloid territory with his often vivid descriptions of his seductions. Many may find these paragraphs unsettling: Iíve had a hard time imagining umpires having ANY kind of sex life myself. Dave has gone as far as admitting in the book that there were and are quite a few gay ballplayers in the majors.
One thing did emerge from this book: the fact that Dave Pallone is in denial. Not of his homosexuality (which he finally came out with after the National League let him go after the Ď88 season for something he didnít do), but of his temper. He describes in his book of his arguments, and sometimes destructive behavior when dealing with his problems. Mind you, he had plenty to deal with from a horrible work atmosphere, tragic losses of people close to him, false accusations of being involved in a teenage prostitute ring, and finally to his hidden double life, but Dave did not handle it well. He went as far as blaming his blowouts on and off the field to his lack of finding sex. Life really isnít that simple. He should have realized that crossing picket lines in a strike wasnít going to be a walk in the park, and he simply could not understand why several staunch union men in the umpireís ranks were still treating him like dirt several years later. Iím sure Dave could have avoided several career-ending situations (like the Rose incident) by acting rational on the field, instead of asserting his authority in a stubborn manor. He comes across as a man who didnít want to be accountable for his actions.
Nonetheless, you had to admire his courage for doing what he did (right or wrong), and having some admiration for him in what would be a precarious situation for any man to be involved in. It is at times an almost inspirational story. --Al Arthurs