King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

Baby steps toward acceptance: A survey says 3 of 4 big leaguers would have "no problem" with a gay teammate. Plus: Could Dusty Baker's "game a week" theory really work?

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Whenever the subject of gay professional team athletes comes up, there are always plenty of people around to let us know that such a thing just isn’t going to be accepted in the locker room. We’re a long way away from having an active player who’s out as gay, those in the know tell us.

Did you catch that survey of major league players the Tribune newspapers just conducted? Newsday reported Sunday that three out of four say they wouldn’t be bothered by having a gay teammate.

The chain got answers from about two-thirds of current players on a list of 10 questions on various topics, including “Who’s the best player in the game?” (Barry Bonds was the consensus) “How big a problem is competitive imbalance?” (not a problem) and “Would it bother you to have a gay teammate?”

On the gay question, 476 players answered, and 353 of them — 74.2 percent — said having a gay teammate wouldn’t bother them. Seventy-three players, 15.3 percent, said it would bother them, and 50 players, 10.5 percent, had no comment. I’m pretty comfortable translating that “no comment” as “Yes, I’d have a problem,” aren’t you? That’s still three out of four having no problem.

“I’m sure I’ve had one at some point,” shrugged veteran first baseman Robin Ventura of the Dodgers.

None of this is to suggest that life will be beer and skittles for that first gay big leaguer, or even those first few. It was only last week when an Associated Press story on gays in sports quoted superstar Braves reliever John Smoltz saying about gay marriage, “What’s next? Marrying an animal?” His teammate, catcher Eddie Perez, was quoted saying, “It would be hard to play with someone all year and then find out they’re gay.”

Both players used the Braves P.R. department to say the quotes attributed to them didn’t accurately reflect their views on the subject, but what got missed in the mini-controversy that followed those statements was that they also said they’d just deal with it if a teammate came out.

“Sooner of later, someone is going to do it,” Smoltz said. “I wouldn’t have a problem with it — unless it compromised the team.”

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“If I knew a guy was gay,” Perez said, “then I could work it out. I could be prepared. I could hide when I’m getting disrobed.”

Not exactly open-armed acceptance, but the old chant doesn’t go, “We’re here, we’re queer, be thrilled about it.” The last part is, “Get used to it.” Those 74 percent said no to the question “Would you be bothered?” They didn’t say yes to “Would you support, encourage and be a champion of?” And having one out of four colleagues “bothered” by your existence doesn’t make it easy to go to work.

But it doesn’t make it impossible either.

“A game a week” = surefire victory! [PERMALINK]

Joan Walsh, my boss and an admirer of Dusty Baker, has demanded a correction about Monday’s column, in which I wrote that Baker had uttered the year’s first managerial “We just need to make up a game a week” quote. I claimed that that quote is a white flag in the race for first place and is really code in today’s game for “Stay interested, boys, we can still win the wild card.” The Cubs are seven games back in the National League Central, but just one game back in the wild-card race.

Thanks to research conducted entirely during time she should have spent devising strategies to get Salon writers declared eligible for the Pulitzer Prize, Walsh, my outraged boss, found evidence that Baker “had said the same thing before — and been right! … Please make clear in tomorrow’s column that Dusty’s team made the World Series the last time he made the ‘game a week’ claim.”

Sure enough, on July 1, 2002, Baker was managing the Giants, who were four and a half games behind the Dodgers in the N.L. West and three games behind the Diamondbacks for the wild card. The San Francisco Chronicle published a story that day by David Steele in which Baker “pointed out that gaining a game on the leaders every week would be an admirable pace. ‘And with a game a week now, we’ll be in first place in August,’ he said.”

Well, OK, if you’re going to go all the way back to 2002!

At the risk of my job, or at least of not being invited out for a beer on the company dime next time I’m at headquarters, I stand by Monday’s column. The ’02 Giants did go to the World Series, but they went as the wild card.

Baker was right that the Giants would have been in first place by August if they’d made up a game a week, but they didn’t even make up a game a month, finishing two and a half games behind the Diamondbacks, who, remember, were three games ahead of the Giants on July 1.

The Giants, four and a half behind the Dodgers on July 1, finished three and a half ahead of them in what became a two-team wild-card race. So they made up eight games in about 13 weeks — roughly what the current Cubs need to do to win the N.L. Central, I admit.

But the ’02 Giants didn’t get there by gaining a game a week, as Baker surely knew they wouldn’t. They made up five games, passing the Dodgers, in the week and a half following the All-Star break as the Dodgers lost nine of 11. The teams traded the wild-card lead back and forth for the next two months, each gaining and losing leads of a few games, and arrived at Dodger Stadium for the start of a four-game series on Sept. 16 with the Giants up by a game.

The Dodgers won the opener and the race was tied with 12 games to go. The Giants won the next two and lost the finale to leave town up by a game with nine to go. The Giants won the rest of their games while the Dodgers went 6-3, and that was that.

Game a week my foot. Sorry, boss.

Previous column: Dusty Baker, Futures Game

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