How Billy Bean has made MLB's inclusion initiative a success

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: NBA player Jason Collins and former Major League Baseball player Billy Beane throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on September 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: NBA player Jason Collins and former Major League Baseball player Billy Beane throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Colorado Rockies and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on September 27, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Dan Halem initially would forward the emails to his boss, Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The emails come from general managers, owners and others in baseball. Halem, the sport's chief legal officer, receives them virtually every week, messages praising baseball for welcoming back Billy Bean, an openly gay former major leaguer, as its ambassador for inclusion.

After a while, Halem stopped forwarding the messages, knowing that Manfred could not possibly read every one.

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The response to Bean within the sport -- the impact he has made in just over 14 months in his new position -- has been that pronounced, that stunning.

"This is by far the biggest reaction we've ever had to any initiative we've undertaken," Manfred says.

To Manfred, Halem and everyone else involved in baseball's quest for greater inclusion, there is no question: Bean's work is moving the sport to a better place.

"When he speaks, people relate to him," Halem says. "He's not dogmatic. He's not threatening, trying to change people's views. He's very effective at breaking down barriers just because of his personality."

Bean, who was named to his position on July 15, 2014, says baseball first asked him to consider speaking at three events in his first year, then shelved that plan after four months.

He spoke too well -- and his message was too important.

Bean first addressed groups in the commissioner's office and other internal divisions within baseball, starting with a nine-minute video of his own story (Bean retired in 1995, unable to continue as a closeted gay player, and made his sexual orientation public in 1999).

He since has spoken to players in 16 major-league clubhouses and the employees of 26 teams, talked to the sport's general managers and owners, even accompanied top New York Yankees officials to a social services agency that helps at-risk lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.

Bean says that out of the 26 clubs, he has met only four or five team employees who are "out." But during his visit to the Tampa Bay Rays, a male employee stood up during a staff meeting and revealed that he was gay. Last month, with Bean's counsel, Milwaukee Brewers minor-league first baseman David Denson became the first active player in affiliated professional baseball to reveal that he is gay (see accompanying story).

"Do you think David Denson would have done what he did were it not for the activity that had gone on largely under Billy's leadership in the prior 12 months?" Manfred asks. "He wouldn't have."

It is inevitable that an active major leaguer will come out, following the lead of Jason Collins in basketball and Michael Sam in football. Yet, making such history is not Bean's goal.

"When I started this job, I said that I don't want to rely on one player to carry the entire message or rely on the presence of an active openly gay player to define if we are making a difference," Bean says.

"It's my job to introduce the message in a relatable way to our sport. I am confident that we are creating a culture of acceptance across baseball. The ultimate goal is to make inclusion second nature."

Manfred says baseball's efforts on inclusion are not simply a matter of social responsibility, consistent with a mission that began when Jackie Robinson broke the sport's color barrier in 1947.

A welcoming environment also makes good business sense.

Baseball wants to attract the best athletes, regardless of their race, religion or sexual orientation, Manfred says. Baseball also needs to sell tickets and wants every segment of the population engaged with its product.

Bean, then, is a necessary agent of change.

"We roll out a lot of programs; you never know if they're having an impact," Halem says. "But on this one, just because he's an incredible communicator, I really do think he's made a difference."

Here's how:


Most baseball fans either love the Yankees or hate them. But the team, as the nation's most successful sports franchise, continues to hold special appeal for outsiders seeking to identify with the American dream.

Immigrants are one example. So are the LGBTQ youth at the Hetrick-Martin Institute in New York's East Village.

"Every time you go into Hetrick-Martin, every kid has got a Yankee cap on backwards," Bean says. "It's the craziest thing, whether they're transgender, lesbian, gay.

"These are all kids whose parents and families have thrown them into the street because they don't accept them. I thought, 'How cool would it be to try to empower these kids?'"

Bean had been on the job only one month when he, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and assistant GM Jean Afterman visited Hetrick-Martin, which serves LGBTQ youth, ages 13 to 24.

Cashman says initially he wasn't even aware of the institute, but he serves on the board of directors of a related organization -- Covenant House, a charity that assists homeless youth. Covenant House sometimes refers kids to Hetrick-Martin, so Cashman quickly developed a basic understanding of the institute's mission.

Or so he thought.

"It was an incredible experience to get exposure to some of the challenges facing people who you're passing on the street," Cashman says. "It was just an eye-opener. You had no idea what was going on."

Cashman and Afterman brought Yankees T-shirts and hats for the kids and passed around their 2009 World Series championship rings. But this was no "photo op," in the words of Thomas Krever, the institute's CEO. Cashman, Afterman and Bean each spoke for about 15 minutes, and the subject turned to careers in baseball.

Cashman and Afterman explained to the kids that the Yankees embraced diversity and inclusion.

"To have young people hear that from that the winningest team in baseball ... it's not a message that they usually hear out in society," Krever says.

A little more than two months later, 30 of the institute's older, most job-ready students took the next step, visiting Yankee Stadium for a career day. They learned about internships, entry-level positions and the commitment necessary to work in baseball. Cashman, after all, had started with the Yankees as an intern.

The kids, just as Bean envisioned, were empowered.

"Talk about validation," Krever says. "This was America embracing them.

"When you're constantly told or feeling like you're an outsider, to have one of those institutions as American as apple pie telling you that you matter, and that you could have a career and be welcomed, loved and respected for who you are ...

"That's life-altering when you're a young person."


Cashman and Bean used the same word to describe Bean's emotional state as he prepared for one of his first appearances outside of MLB's inner circle.


Bean, who had been an outfielder and occasional first baseman with the Tigers, Dodgers and Padres from 1987 to '95, already knew who many of the GMs were.

"There were a lot of men in that room who were in baseball when I was a player," Bean says. "I literally felt all of the fears that I used to think of when I first stopped playing, just being looked at for being gay."

Cashman introduced him. Bean showed his video, gave his talk.

The reaction stunned him.

"I had Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, Walt Jocketty, Ben Cherington, John Mozeliak, literally standing in line waiting to talk to me. It blew me away," Bean says.

The GMs were not merely introducing themselves, Cashman recalls. They were lining up to hand Bean their business cards and invite him to address their clubs.

"They got a glimpse of how I felt, what the importance of the message was. It certainly wasn't about, 'Poor Billy Bean.' It wasn't, 'You need to empower the gay players on your team,' " Bean says.

"I told them right out of the chute, 'There might not be a gay player come out for 10 years.' But there might be. And then some organizations conveyed to me that they wanted to make sure that their clubhouse knew exactly how (their club) felt about it because they were pretty sure they might have a (gay) player or two. It was moving so much faster than I expected."

Halem says that baseball never required clubs to meet with Bean, never gave them a directive to clear out a block of time for him to speak at spring training. Instead, the clubs wanted Bean to speak with their players.

"The presentation was really effective in making you step outside your normal perspective and see things with more understanding, more empathy," says Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations.

For Bean, the moment was a turning point.

He references Matthew Shepard and Tyler Clementi, two gay college students who suffered tragic deaths. Shepard's murder led to expanded federal hate-crime legislation. Clementi committed suicide after he was outed on the Internet.

Bean is working to honor their memory, and the lives of others. The response of the GMs encouraged him to press forward.

"I got tremendous self-confidence from that day," Bean says. "I said, 'If these guys are buying into me and understand that I have no agenda except to try to broaden the greatness of baseball, then I can walk into a clubhouse and be the only gay person in the room with 40 young guys who think their whole life is ahead of them ... I can do it for the Matthew Shepards, the Tyler Clementis, all of these kids who didn't have that chance."


The Rays long have been one of baseball's most progressive clubs on LGBTQ issues. But not until an appearance by Bean at a staff meeting did one of their employees feel comfortable revealing that he was gay.

The employee, who asked not to be identified, made his revelation in the middle of a question-and-answer session. He had not planned to make any announcement. It just sort of happened.

"To be honest, I wasn't even totally thinking through the whole thing," the employee says. "Afterwards, I was like, 'Oh, I think I just said something I probably should have been quiet about.' But it is what it is. I'm not ashamed of who I am."

As Bean recalls, another Rays employee had asked him, "When do you think a major-league player would come out?" Bean was about to answer when the gay employee interjected from his seat, "Billy, why don't you tell him why it's so hard for a player to come out?"

Just as Bean began to explain, the employee stood up.

"I could tell he wanted to share something by the look in his face," Bean says.

And that is when the moment happened.

Brian Auld, the Rays' club president, says that the room initially went silent, then burst into applause. Bean recalls that a few women, longtime employees of the club, were in tears.

"I felt more than anything just a sense of great pride in our organization, that we had created an environment where someone felt comfortable announcing it," Auld says.

"Even though I thought it was pretty clear that it was a safe place, there is one thing to think it is and another thing to have it actually happen."

The club's position was indeed clear; the Rays had been one of three professional sports franchises, along with the San Francisco Giants and New England Patriots, to sign an amicus brief urging the United States Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage. The team previously had extended benefits to couples who were not allowed to marry.

Bean, though, helped take the conversation to another level.

"What Billy did was lend such an impressive and commanding presence to what a gay person could be like in the game of baseball," Auld says. "Without him, a room full of people, none of whom is gay, sort of sitting around talking about how important it is to be inclusive of gays, feels strange. Billy gave us a respectful way for us to do that."


If the GMs, in the words of the Cubs' Epstein, are "not an easy audience," then the owners are the very definition of a tough crowd.

Anyone who fails to hold the owners' attention at their meetings will end up staring out at a bunch of people reading USA Today or fiddling with their phones, according to a longtime attendee.

"That was one I was ready for," Bean says.

Rays owner Stu Sternberg, chairman of baseball's diversity task force, introduced Bean, then sat down with a full view of the audience.

"I was one of the few people who had the opportunity to look at all the faces of the owners and team presidents," Sternberg recalls. "Almost to a person, they were really watching him and reacting to what he was saying.

"I've been at meetings in the past. People are generally interested in things that affect them. While this didn't necessarily affect everyone in the room directly, or maybe anyone in the room directly, it really held their attention.

"He got a tremendous ovation. It wasn't just polite applause. People were really affected by it."

Manfred, too, could see out into the crowd as Bean related his story.

"I'm looking at their faces and the overwhelming reaction in the room was, 'Oh my God. This was one of our guys. And we had no idea what he was going through,'" the commissioner recalls.

Bean, during his playing career, feared that as a hitter with modest ability, a mere injury might lead to his release. Owners today are more caring, he says. They won't necessarily get rid of a talented player if something is distracting the player off the field -- something like a player's struggle with his sexual orientation.

In Bean's view, "sharing my experience allowed the conversation to move into, 'Let's not let any other players go through any of these bad times. Let's be there.'"

For baseball, that shift represents a major step forward, the acknowledgment of an issue that the sport neglected for too long.

"Billy's title is so accurate -- director of inclusion," Cashman says. "There are so many different inequities that take place, some small, some large. In a real genuine, sensitive way, he shines a light on it, exposes it to a lot of people who might be unaware.

"It forces people to catch up to a reality of a better world."