Monday Memories: Behind the Mask - My Double Life in Baseball


This is the sixteenth of my Monday Memories series of posts. In these posts, I pull a book off my shelf, somewhat randomly, and tell you a bit about it. It's not a review of the book so much as a memory of the book, a bit about what might have been going on in my life when I read it, and my thoughts on who might like this book. 

The Book

Behind the Mask - My Double Life in Baseball by Dave Pallone with Alan Steinberg. Published by Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA, Inc. Copyright 1990 by Dave Pallone and Alan Steinberg.
Published in 1990. Printed in the United States of America.

Why This Book?

This past week Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. It seems a good time to look back at the experience of a prior sports figure who was forced out of the closet in a way that brought his career to an end. 

What's This Book About?

From memory:
Dave Pallone was a controversial umpire in Major League baseball who came out as gay at the end of his career.

From perusing the book after I pulled it off the shelf:
There is so much more in this book than I remembered, which makes sense because I read it twenty eight years ago. I know that's the case because there is a letter dated in 1993 inside the book that I apparently used as a bookmark when reading it.

In the book Pallone tells the story of his rise as an umpire through baseball's minor leagues. He got his big break into the Majors as one of a handful of umpires brought up to replace striking umpires in 1979 - a "scab" to many of his fellow umpires for years afterwards. 

While serving as an umpire Pallone hid the fact that he was gay because that is what he had to do if he wanted a career in baseball. During that time he had a closeted three year long relationship, which ended when his partner Scott died in an automobile accident. Neither he nor his partner were out to their family or friends. But after Scott's death Pallone slowly started to become more confident in his own sexuality and began to go out into "the gay world" and make gay friends. 

After almost ten years in the Major Leagues Pallone was at the point where his fellow umpires had begun to accept him and forget, if not forgive, his "scab" background. In 1988 two things happened that tarnished his reputation and led to the end of his career. First, in a Mets-Reds game Pallone and Reds manager Pete Rose got into a screaming match over a call Pallone made. Rose became so irate he twice shoved Pallone, leading Pallone to throw him from the game. Rose was eventually fined $10,000 but Reds fans blamed Pallone for a bad call and there were demands from fans and some in the sporting press for him to be fired.

The second thing that happened was an investigation into allegations of underage sex in a party among acquaintances of Pallone's. Pallone himself had visited the home where the party took place, and was accused of partaking in sex with a minor. No charges were filed, as the story fell apart after others at the party agreed with Pallone's version of events - that he'd stopped briefly in with a friend and then he and his friend left for lunch. Nevertheless, the allegations themselves were enough for Major League Baseball to fire him.

What Was Going On In My Life When I Read This?

In 1993 I was in a very similar place as Dave Pallone. I was not out to my family or at work. The man I'd been in a three year relationship with had left me and I was hurt and not sure what to do next. It would be another year before I met "the one", but I'm happy to say that I did, and that we fell in love and have been together ever since.

Why Would Someone Like This Book?

If you are interested in stories of gay men in professional baseball, here are three recommendations:
  • Billy Bean's Going the Other Way would be my first recommendation, as Bean was a player rather than an umpire. 
  • This book - Behind the Mask by Dave Pallone
  • There is a relatively new book out called Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke that I have not yet had a chance to read, but is on my TBR. The author credits Burke as the first openly gay baseball player. Though Burke did not hide his sexuality from his teammates, it was kept hidden from baseball fans for years.

So that's my "Monday Memories" book post for this week. Are you a baseball fan old enough to remember the controversial call that resulted in Rose's fine? Do you have your own story of coming out in sport? Leave a comment below.