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Baseball's Gay Trailblazer Billy Bean Finally Appreciates His Impact

Billie Bean

Now employed by the MLB, Bean remains a gay anomaly in professional sports.

Billy Bean now understands he's more than just another former pro baseball player who turned a short-lived career into a front office job (officially, he's the senior vice president, diversity, equity, and inclusion, and special assistant to the commissioner of Major League Baseball), but it wasn't always that way. Along with the late Glenn Burke, the 58-year-old former outfielder is one of only two out current or former MLB players and the only one alive today. It's a historic distinction but one he didn't fully comprehend when he came out publicly in 1999.

"I was living in a tiny little world of my own," Bean says, adding he "didn't understand how important representation was at that time."

Burke played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's from 1976 to 1979. Bean played in the big leagues from 1987 to 1995. He came out publicly after his playing career ended. And it wasn't until he connected with his peers in the LGBTQ+ community that he understood his place in history in the game he loves and how that knowledge would bring him back to it. He's now using his platform to change baseball's clubhouse culture and prepare the game for its first active out player.

"Every player wants to be respected when they walk into that clubhouse," Bean says. "It takes a lot...for that athlete to be invited in there, and that has nothing to do with your sexual orientation but has everything to do with your ability to hit or throw, pitch, coach, manage, whatever. Whatever it is, it's about baseball."

That's a far cry from what Bean and Burke experienced.

"It was a different time and place when I played, when Glenn Burke played," Bean recalls. "Culturally, it was acceptable to perpetuate all those stereotypes that other people were defining our community by. We never had a chance to author our own biographies, and now we do because we have fought and persevered. And so I feel great responsibility and pride to be an example of my community to baseball."

"I just think that each and every year, each and every day I'm in this seat, I am more humbled by the opportunity to bring people together," Bean says.

This story is part of The Advocate's 2022 History issue, which is out on newsstands August 30. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe -- or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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