King Kaufman's Sports Daily

"Queer Eye" in the clubhouse: The Red Sox have never been so boring, but Kevin Millar happily shouting, "I am now gay" can only be a good thing.

By Salon Staff
Published June 8, 2005 7:00PM (EDT)

I watched five members of the Boston Red Sox get makeovers on the season premiere of "Queer Eye" Tuesday night and it was shocking.

They got facials, manicures, pedicures and back waxes. They joked with the show's "Fab Five" stylists about sharing soap in the shower. They wore big white fluffy robes and allowed themselves to be dressed in egregiously Eurotrashy fashions.

I was appalled. I never thought the Boston Red Sox could be this boring.

"Queer Eye," has had "For the Straight Guy" trimmed from its name, by the way. Just another sign that us straight guys can't get a fair shake in prime time. Realizing this, Jai Rodriguez, one of the show's stars, has been battling rumors lately that he's straight.

I have to admit "Queer Eye" has never done much for me because it's seemed that the show has had two major appeals: Look! There's queeny gay guys on TV! And: Look! There's schlubby straight guys in various states of embarrassment as the gay guys dress them up, teach them how to use moisturizer and flirt mildly with them.

Harmless fun, but not my cup of chai. Watching gay guys "act gay" has about as much entertainment value for me as watching straight guys "act straight." The Fab Five's wisecracks, on their own, are only mildly amusing, and the show's pace is snail-like.

A new element this year, slowing things down even more, is shameless shilling for some company, in Monday's case Dunkin' Donuts.

Right. These fellows are going to teach us straight boys how to live fabulously. First stop? Dunkin' Donuts!

Tuesday's episode also had a cloying subplot in which the Fab Five and the Red Sox visited with some Little League kids and raised money for them to repair their field, which had been damaged by Hurricane Charlie. At one point, a check for $100,000 was presented, which seems like an awful lot to rebuild a Little League field, especially since the lights were already being donated by a local company.

But -- and I can't say this strongly enough -- who cares.

The Red Sox players brought their fame, their macho credentials -- two of the five who participated were catchers, the grunts of baseball -- and their famously lovable shagginess to this party, which was filmed in Florida during spring training.

They also brought their wives. Oh, yes, the wives. They got more screen time than the players. Please don't miss the message there: They may have changed the name of the show, but WE ARE STRAIGHT. Did you see our wives? Some of them are pregnant. Get it?

But except for backup backstop Doug Mirabelli, who looked uncomfortable, the players -- first baseman Kevin Millar, catcher Jason Varitek, pitcher Tim Wakefield and center fielder Johnny Damon were the others -- went along with their makeovers cheerfully and graciously. Millar, his feet being caressed in a rose-petal bath, even happily shouted, "Who said gay was bad? I am now gay."

The answer, of course, is that a lot of people said gay was bad, including, lately, some of Millar's teammates. Pitcher Mike Timlin has said on several occasions that he wouldn't have participated in the show because his Christian beliefs tell him gay people are "doing something wrong." Outfielder Trot Nixon has expressed similar sentiments.

And when the Fab Five showed up at Fenway Park Sunday as a part of Pride Week festivities, the Boston papers found some grumbling fans in the stands who didn't like the idea.

Millar, Varitek and Damon are, along with slugger David Ortiz -- apparently ineligible to participate because he's already displayed Creative Facial Hair -- clubhouse leaders for the Sox.

Varitek is widely acknowledged as the heart and soul of the World Series champions. Millar is the most colorful character, the lead "idiot," to use his immortal term. Damon is the offensive catalyst and charismatic poster boy. He told San Francisco Chronicle columnist Gwen Knapp last month, "If there's a gay guy in baseball, we have to help him out."

I'd have loved to have been there when Timlin, interchangeable middle reliever extraordinaire, brought his concerns to any of those three face to face. If he did.

The good thing about this "Queer Eye" episode is that it happened at all. Writing on the Web site Outsports, Jim Buzinski called the show "another sign that we have turned some sort of cultural corner."

It's hard to imagine it happening even three years ago, when Mets star Mike Piazza felt compelled to call an impromptu news conference to declare his heterosexuality in response to a blind gossip item that suggested a Mets player might be thinking about coming out as gay.

Piazza might still call that news conference today if the New York papers bothered to gossip about a guy hitting .253. But the tide is turning away from the attitudes of people like Timlin and the fans who turned their backs as three of the Fab Five, including Carson Kressley in a pink, sequined Red Sox jersey, threw out the first pitch in Boston Sunday.

The Web site lists six gay and lesbian "days" being held by major league teams this year, and reports that half of the 30 big-league teams have held such events or AIDS awareness days.

Surveys show that major league players are easing ever closer to the idea that a gay teammate wouldn't be the end of the world. Tuesday's "Queer Eye" suggests that the clubhouse has reached the stage of joshing, arm's length acknowledgment. That's not good enough, but it's a way station on the road to acceptance.

And it's a long way from blatant, slur-slinging homophobia. And look who's doing the accepting: At least in the case of the Red Sox, it's the leaders.

Rose-petal foot baths and paraffin wax treatments are probably not coming to a major league clubhouse near you. But some gay players are. In fact, as I write this, they'll be showing up for work in a few hours. And one of these days, one of them is going to take Johnny Damon up on his offer.

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