Nobody wants to see criminals on the sidelines or in big league dugouts. They beat up women or rob banks? Be gone with them. But am I the only one who’s worn out with excessive moralizing on the sports page? If you’re shocked to learn that some of the roughly three dozen professional athletes from a half dozen countries in a major league baseball dugout may not hold the same enlightened political and social views as, say, your friendly neighborhood English Department, here’s my advice: Deal with it or avert your eyes.
The rest of us just want to watch a ballgame.
Shocking, I know. I am moved to these observations by a recent kerfuffle over the Chicago Cubs’ new second baseman, Daniel Murphy. A legendary “Cubs killer,” Murphy led the New York Mets to the 2015 World Series by hitting an astonishing seven home runs during the National League playoffs.
Then he helped deliver the Kansas City Royals to the World Series championship with two catastrophically bad fielding plays in the 8th inning of a decisive Game 4 —”the other part of the Daniel Murphy experience,” one sportswriter quipped.
Among major league second basemen, Murphy ranked dead last in fielding statistics. By a lot. Why they haven’t put him in left field, I have no idea. Maybe he can’t track fly balls either. But the man’s a career .300 hitter with serious power, and a history of coming up big at big times. A gamer.
Also, alas, with a history of running his mouth at the wrong times. After the Mets invited former big league player Billy Bean to spring training as MLB’s official Ambassador for Inclusion in 2014, Murphy sounded off.
“I disagree with his lifestyle,” he said. “I do disagree with the fact he is homosexual. That doesn’t mean I can’t still invest in him and get to know him. … Maybe as a Christian, we haven’t been articulate enough in describing what our actual stance is on homosexuality. We love the people. We disagree with the lifestyle.”
A real groaner, no doubt. As if people had a choice about being gay. This “lifestyle” business is a cheesy way of dressing up bigotry as holy.
It’s also a view shared by millions of baseball fans.
A disclaimer: Like everybody else, I experience sexual desire as I do gravity. Conveniently for me, those desires are conventional — although the day I describe myself with dreadful cant like “cisgendered” will never come.
Also like most people of my generation, I used to feel pretty much like Daniel Murphy about it. Except without the love.
I had a lot to learn.
Anyway, I thought Bean — not to be confused with the Billy Beane of “Moneyball” fame — said something profound about Murphy’s remarks. He called the second baseman’s honesty “brave,” and spoke of mutual respect between them. “It took me 32 years to fully accept my sexual orientation,” he added, “so it would be hypocritical of me to not be patient with others.”
Anybody curious about Bean’s career as a closeted big leaguer should read Robert Lipsyte’s terrific 1999 New York Times profile. A marginal talent in the “hyper-masculinized” world of professional jocks, Bean told Lipsyte how hard he worked to fit in: ”I went to Hooters, laughed at the jokes, lied about dates because I loved baseball. I still do. I’d go back in a minute. I only wish I hadn’t felt so alone.”
Ultimately, the strain became too great. Anybody who ever loved the game of baseball can identify. People only quit when they must.
Murphy’s trade to Chicago stirred the controversy all over again and the garment-rending began. Although Cubs part owner Laura Rickerts, openly gay, tweeted she had no problem with Murphy, lifelong Cubs fan Parker Malloy felt differently. She wrote an agonized column in The Guardian stating that as a gay woman, “Murphy’s addition to the team just felt like a punch to the gut.”
She vowed to shun Wrigley Field until Murphy recanted and apologized. I expect she’ll be missed at the Cubby Bear Lounge. The man’s a second-baseman, not a theologian. He was foolish to say anything to begin with.
Malloy’s column prompted a lengthy screed by New York Magazine’s Will Leitch, “It Might Be Impossible to Be an Ethical Sports Fan.” Leitch argued that “[b]eing a sports fan means signing up for shady capitalist practices, engaging in ugly tribalism, and very often, cheering for many human beings who stand for the opposite of what you believe in every possible way.”
To quote my favorite moral philosopher, “Settle down, Bevis.”
It doesn’t seem to occur to these busy Puritans that many of us seek out ballgames precisely as a refuge: Three or four blessed hours off duty, during which words like “Brett Kavanaugh” or “bipartisanship” won’t be heard.
If that’s escapism, so be it..