My friend Martha Henderson connected me with Billy Bean to talk about the Angels first ever Pride Night. It was a great conversation and Billy certainly is very exciting about this event as well as all the initiatives he is involved with in minor and major league baseball.
Before we got going with the questions, we had a bit of back and forth conversation in which Billy talked about how he travels 135-140 days per year. He sandwiched in this interview between arrived at his Boston hotel and a luncheon with Fenway Health, an organization that helps people living with HIV who can’t afford or don’t have the means to access health care.
We also talked about how Billy works with various disability groups and how happy they were when he helped get the Disabled List changed to the Injured List.
In short, Billy Bean is working on A LOT of different stuff so it was great he took some time for this interview.
Okay first of all, can you just give a brief synopsis of how your role came to be?
So I played in the major leagues for 6 years and left baseball really when I was starting to learn how to play baseball pretty well in the big leagues and I was living a secret life. I was
hiding my partner from the world. From my family. I had never told anybody that I was gay and I didn’t think anyone that had ever played in the big leagues tried to do that same situation. So I left baseball for a very long time and was brought back 5 years ago as MLB’s very first Ambassador for Inclusion. Over the last 5 years my job has grown and changed and my current title is Special Assistant to the Commissioner. Commissioner Rob Manfred. I oversee a bully education awareness program called Shred Hate and a minor league education program called Ahead in the count.
I also am the point person for initial sensitivity training for evaluations for players who have posted some disparaging comments or perhaps need a little educational resources provided to them. So it has me moving around. I’m invited to speak to big league clubs. It used to be more about my story and now it’s more about educational resources and really working hard to foster an inclusive and respectful and accepting workplace throughout MLB.
Do you know when and where the first MLB pride night was?
It’s hard to be specific because a lot of the events that started were group events. Philadelphia I think is sometimes considered to have had the first event. It was basically because a very inspired and dedicated LGBTQ community wanted to bring something to a
ballpark. And that started I believe... A gentleman named Larry Felzer was the inspiration behind that and he worked very hard. And then slowly but surely, and this is one of the things I try to explain to our community, is that this message in a broad sense as far as originating from out ballparks is somewhat new and a lot of the progress some ballparks have had versus other ballparks is because of an engaged or inspired few who really felt like that had a wonderful opportunity or great group of fans that were dedicated and they wanted to create an event surrounded around that. So, I think the Phillies, it’s not an official designation of any kind. But I am just super proud of the way, especially in my time in baseball since I’ve been back, we’ve grown from just a couple clubs to basically straight across the league.
You actually have an connection with the Angels, specially Brad Ausmus, right?
Yeah, brad was my roommate when I was on the San Diego Padres. I was on the club when he was traded over from the Rockies and on his first day as a Padre. We remained very good close friends. Him and his wife Liz are very good people and I really admire them. I was elated when he was hired as the manager of the Angels. I was very close with Mike Scioscia as well who was a teammate in Los Angels when I was there. So I feel like I have a great legacy to the managers of the Angels. I know Brad is going to do a great job. Billy Eppler the general manager, they are really aligned well and I think they are going to be a strong team there. I’m pulling for them. So I definitely have a personal connection tot he ball club.
So this is the Angels first pride night. How did it come about?
Well I think that the Angels reached out to me and they had heard from people in the community that were interested. My good friend Martha Henderson I know was integral in initiating that conversion. And to the Angels credit they were very interested and they reached out to me and asked me if I would help them. Which is not really my job description. My job and all of our jobs that work in the Commissioners Office is to support club engagement and club initiatives - not direct them or mandate them.
So when the Angels were ready they had a really really strong group in their front office that
really rolled up their sleeves and reached out throughout southern California to LGBT communities and then I put together a group of people that I thought were strong influencers to be part of the pre-game environment so people could come and not only hear a really diverse group of people talk about their athletic stories but do something that helps support the engagement. I think it’s important to remember that this is just the first year and we look forward to growing it over the years. We are very very excited. Like I said, I’m very proud of the Angels. I grew up in Santa Ana California. I used to ride my bike to watch Angels games when I was a little boy. I was lucky enough to play there a few times when I was with the Detroit Tigers. Very very fond and for me it really hits close to home. The thing I went through and where baseball is now as opposed to where it was when I was a player and I’m going to be, I know I will be moved greatly when I see that acknowledgement of the Angels reaching out to the LGBT community in Orange County. It’s still a big deal for me.
So what local organization did you or the team work with on putting together this pride night?
This was 100% based out of the Angels and my efforts with relationships. There is no specific sponsor. What we are trying to do is an introduction and see what type of response we get. I look forward to the olive branch in reaching out and if there are companies or relationships from one person that want to get their business involved. Perhaps sponsorship of the event down the road. That could be a wonderful possibly to really elevate the game. But this year it’s basically 100% internal and everybody that is part of the panel is being extremely generous with their time and energy and doing it as a visionary sort of gesture about the Angels being a part of something of magnitude and the impact it could have. I’m proud of everybody that’s participating.
Can you talk about why pride nights are important and why it’s important for teams to do this?
I think like I said I oversee education. I share my personal story when I’m asked to and baseball has been committed to changing the culture that existed for years and yeasr and years that was you know turned a blind eye toward the LGBTQ community or the way boys talked about other boys when they being disparaging or men talking about other men. And it aligns strongly with out effort to make every person feel welcome. The way we support women in the workplace or provide opportunities in executive positions to run our ball clubs. Those are all initiatives that are internal and don’t get a lot of attention. Pride nights are a celebration of those efforts that not everyone gets to see or talk about that are going on each and every day throughout the year. And I think where baseball in support of Jackie Robinson and in honor of that amazing legacy, our efforts to broaden our efforts to make everyone feel welcome. Our pride nights create an environment that sends that message.
And for all of our fans, for me in my experience around the league, one of the things I really look forward to is to try and create a dialogue that everyone can relate to and everyone can feel a part of and I think you could speak for the same. Once we get to know each other a little better, all of those whatever preconceived notions, good or bad or indifferent, I think it
sort of really melts away and then we all realize that we’re just people and we are all at a ballpark because we have one thing in common - we love baseball. And what’s a better opportunity than to sit and watch at amazing angels stadium and be your best self? Or sit next to your partner or companion or your husband or your wife and be with your kids and absolutely be transparent. I think we’ve had LGBTQ fans all around baseball for hundreds of years. It’s just that those message weren’t loud and clear that everyone is welcome and I think that this is the beginning of the time where it’s not going to matter what we are and who we love or what our gender expression is or sexual orientation or our nationality or what race or religion or what language we speak, that baseball is going to be something we all trust and have in common and tells everybody that if you want to come watch our games, you are welcome.
Do you make it to many of the pride night events?
It’s logistically not possible. Most of the teams still want to do games in June and there’s only so many weekends or weeks and I have been invited to quite a few this year, I’d say probably 10. I’ve had to turn down probably 4 or 5 because they are on the same days as others. My job, like I said, these are an added bonus. Some frosting on the top or whipped creme for the effort we are making. But I certainly love to come to the ballpark and show my support and show the support from the office of commissioner. I purposefully wanted to keep a low profile with this game because I want the Angels to be acknowledged for them really making really an incredibly generous statement this year. And that’s why I think it’s just the beginning of something wonderful. I know that Orange County is not exactly like LA when it comes to our LGBTQ communities but there is a large LGBTQ community in Orange County. I know there is. It’s just not as visible and I think that even if, I hope that we get thousands and thousands of people that learn about the game - that’s why I appreciate you doing this story - and for them to come to the game on June 25th, but even if they don’t, they may see an image through social media or through the local news telecast and I have great great confidence that it’s going to be a really positive day and people are going to be like, man I want to go to that next year. So, just building blocks for the future and that’s something I promised the Angels I would work really really hard for them to try and create an environment where people one they hear about it or learn about it they would want to be a participant in it. And I’m really looking forward to being there.
I’ll make sure to post the schedule of events, but what else can fans expect when they show up for pride night?
Well Jason Collins is throwing out the first pitch. But like I said, this year we went more with an opportunity for the community to meet some really powerful influencers and then we’ll see what type of response we get and I think the voice for the future will be spoken through what type of reaction we get. Then maybe next year we’ll have more opportunities to have more on field activation. But at the end of the day it’s more about the message for the people that come. Obviously on the field activations are wonderful, but believe me some of these nights have started very very small and the angels have created a pride cap they are publicizing through the web site. It’s posted. They are proudly displaying that they want to make a commitment to the community and for me that speaks very very loudly. So I think it’s all positive so far. We’re really trying to engage and Martha, I can’t say enough positive about Martha Henderson. She’s just a dream. She loves baseball and she loves her community and she sees the vision in bringing people in to a space where we can all feel that we are a part of something and once we band together that’s bigger than just ourselves and I have great confidence for the future.
One more fun question to end with. We ask everyone this question when they come to interview at Halos Heaven. Do you prefer Five Guys or In n Out?
(laughs) Wow. Well, I have to say I’m a Santa Ana boy so I have to say In N Out burger 100%
Yea it’s usually an East Coast West Coast answer.
Yeah, yeah yeah, all the way. There is nothing better. I’ll tell you a story, my younger brother Jason when I wrote my book that came out a while back, I could not think of a title and it was driving me crazy. And I remember my brother was like, you know what - and I was sort of on a deadline and I took my brother to In n Out burger just off the 5 freeway and we sat down and it come to me: “Going to the other way”.
Okay, well, I really appreciate your time and all of the effort and work you put in for inclusion in baseball, it’s wonderful. So thanks again for taking the time for this call.
And thank you for helping promote the game and I look forward to meeting you very much.