Professional team sports have lagged behind society in LGBT acceptance, for sure, and baseball has been especially reluctant to step up to the plate and evolve already. But a number of ballplayers have gone for that ultimate grand slam and come out to their fans and teammates. Here’s a list of those in the professional and college baseball world proud enough to wear a rainbow pin with their pinstripes and come out as gay.
An outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A's between 1976 and 1979, Glenn Burke became the first Major League Baseball player to come out as gay to teammates and owners while still active, though the team asked that he keep his sexuality secret from the public and he complied. An injury sent him to the minors for his last few years of pro ball, and he retired in 1980. Two years later, he told Inside Sports that he believed he’d been let go from the Dodgers because he was gay. He became one of few prominent gay athletes of the era after that, playing in the Gay Games in 1982 and 1986. But he later suffered from a drug problem and contracted HIV, dying of complications with AIDS in 1995. He said in one of his final interviews that he hoped his life would be remembered for breaking ground. “They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The only living Major League Baseball veteran who has come out as gay, outfielder Billy Bean played for the Tigers, Dodgers, and Padres over a career that spanned from 1987 to 1995. He came out four years after retiring from the field, and wrote in his 2003 book Going the Other Way: Lessons From a Life in and Out of Major League Baseball that the bullying and homophobic world of baseball led him to walk away from pro ball. Major League Baseball in 2014 named him as the first ambassador for Inclusion.
A pitcher for the independent Sonoma Stompers, Sean Conroy became the first professional baseball player to come out publicly while still active, in June 2015. “Being gay doesn't change anything about the way I play or interact with teammates,” he said in a team statement released for Pride Month. He’s now been included in an exhibit at the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the first active pro to take the field without being closeted.
A first baseman for the Helena Brewers, rhe Milwaukee Brewers’ rookie affiliate team in Montana, David Denson in 2015 became the first player affiliated with Major League Baseball to come out as gay. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that teammates received the news with encouragement. “Talking with my teammates, they gave me the confidence I needed, coming out to them,” he said. After moving to the Brevard County Manatees in 2016, he retired from professional baseball in 2017.
A pitcher for rookie and Class A teams affiliated with the Cardinals in 2014, Dunnington told Outsports he left pro ball because of homophobia. “I experienced both coaches and players make remarks on killing gay people during my time in baseball, and each comment felt like a knife to my heart,” he said. “I was miserable in a sport that used to give me life.” He quit in 2015 after one season and came out afterward.
While Jason Burch first came out to a teammate on the minor league Bowie Baysox in 2008, he did not publicly reveal his sexuality until 2015, in an interview with Outsports. “Looking back, I wish I had told the whole world that I'm gay from day one,” he said.
During an 11-year minor league career, John Dillinger would visit bear gatherings on the road but kept his gay sexuality secret up until his retirement in 2005. But he came out in 2012 to Outsports after being inspired by Kevin McClatchy, a former Pittsburgh Pirates owner who did the same.
Previously a star for Azusa Pacific University in California who in his final year on the team picked up one PacWest Conference Player of the Week award, Ryan Jordan Santana, a pro player for the Golden Grove Dodgers in Australia, made headlines by coming out to teammates during filming for the TLC documentary series This Is Life in April. He later spoke at a Pride Night panel hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Ben Larison played his last two years of ball at Coe College out, and wrote publicly about his relationship with tennis player Mark Kroll. He talked about pursuing pro ball but in 2016 instead went to work at the Denver Colorado AIDS Project.
A player with Drew University in New Jersey, Matt Kaplon decided after three and a half years to come out to teammates and play his final season with pride, according to the Daily Mail. Now an LGBT advocate, he works at Indeed.com.
When Mark Johnson and teammates won a championship for the University of Tampa in 1998, he still was in denial about his gay sexuality, he told Outsports, but he became more confident over his adult life. Now a coach at his alma mater, Johnson came out to his team and the public this year.
Days after boyfriend Conner Mertens became the first active college football player to come out, Chandler Whitney came out to his teammates on the Walla Walla Community College baseball team in 2014, according to Outsports. “Seeing the reaction to Conner's story calmed me down,” he acknowledged.
A promising high school pitcher in 2000, Matt Barker got drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the 46th round, but the team wanted him to go to college. But he eventually got booted from his college team and was not drafted again. He credits some of his personal problems at the time to “self-loathing,” according to an interview he gave to SBNation. He decided to talk about being gay and its impact on his game at age 35. He now plays second base for the Denver Browns in the National Adult Baseball League.
When Tyson Lusk, director of baseball operations at the University of South Carolina, decided on National Coming Out Day in 2016 to publicly reveal he was gay, he became the first person in Division I college baseball to ever come out as LGBT.
The former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates came out to The New York Times. So why did a man who once claimed the title of youngest owner in Major League Baseball feel trapped in the closet. “I was more paranoid, for sure, about people,” he said. “And suspicious, definitely. And angry.”
An umpire for Major League Baseball most notable for a rather famous row with Pete Rose, Dave Pallone would eventually be inducted into the first class of the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Pallone umped MLB games from 1979 through 1988, the year he was outed by the New York Post and fired for a minor sex scandal. He later wrote in his 1990 memoir Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball that he believed he was fired because he was gay. “They didn’t want the publicity surrounding that to tarnish baseball’s macho image,” he wrote.
A Major League Baseball umpire from 1986 to 1999, Dale Scott came out as gay to Referee Magazine in 2014. He did so by sending a picture with his longtime partner, Michael Rausch, whom he had dated since his first year in the big leagues.
In 2021, minor league baseball player, Bryan Ruby came out as gay. At the time he was the only active baseball player to come out as gay. He was 25 and played for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in Oregon. He also was a country music songwriter.
He counts Billy Bean as a mentor and friend.
In October 2021, Kieran Lovegrove came out as bisexual in a harrowing interview with ESPN. The 27-year-old played for the Los Angeles Angles Double A affiliate Rocket City Trash Pandas in Madison, Alabama. He said he had previously come out to teammates in 2019 but wanted to come out publicly as well.