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June 24, 2002

Striking out intolerance

Once 'most hated,' former umpire speaks to advocate equality

Jerilee Bennett The Gazette

Dave Pallone says he lost his job as an umpire in Major League Baseball because of his sexual orientation. Now a resident of Colorado Springs, Pallone does diversity training around the country. He uses his experience in baseball to inspire others to be true to themselves and accepting of others.
By Rosemary Harris The Gazette

A Bette Davis quote - "You've got to have the guts to be hated" - ushers the reader into Dave Pallone's 1990 autobiography, "Behind the Mask, My Double Life in Baseball."

Pallone was once called the "most hated" person in the major leagues.

He was a "scab" who joined the league during an umpire's strike in 1979. He was subjected to death threats after a highly charged fight with Pete Rose in 1988. Then, even after an investigation into a teen sex ring cleared him of any involvement, he was fired from his dream job.

The National League called his behavior "unprofessional." Pallone said his only crime was being controversial - and gay.

These days, his life is the epitome of quiet. You might see Pallone, walking his labradors downtown, sipping iced tea at a sidewalk cafe on Tejon Street or shopping at the Safeway near his Broadmoor Terrace home.

"Hated" is no longer a word he would use to describe the reaction to him. "At least I don't feel personally hated," said Pallone, who moved to Colorado Springs four years ago with his partner Keith Humble, a hospital financial analyst. "But there are many places to get to before we can say, 'It's OK. Everything is equal for everybody.' "

That's basically what Pallone does. As a diversity trainer, specializing in sexual orientation, he works to get his clients, which include corporations, universities and municipalities, to that equal place where being gay is not a negative. He said he puts a real, even famous, face on discrimination and cushions his message with details of that great equalizer, his storied career in baseball, America's favorite pastime.

He does all that from Colorado Springs - once dubbed "ground zero" because of the 1990s fight over Amendment 2, the failed initiative to deny equal protection based on sexual orientation.

"It might sound trite," said local gay activist Frank Whitworth.

"But having someone of Dave Pallone's prominence choose to live here lifts the stature of Colorado Springs. It says we must have made some movement."

Pallone agrees - though he came here, not to make a statement, but because his partner's profession brought them to Colorado. Still, they decided to stay for the same reasons others stay: quality of life, physical beauty, pleasant weather and a welcoming atmosphere.

"When I walk the street, I don't think people see me as that gay guy. I'm just another white guy they don't know but might seek an opportunity to know. I choose to call attention to being gay in my professional life."

For those who follow baseball, Pallone's face is well known. Hanging in the upstairs office at his tastefully decorated home is the image that has secured him a place in the annals of baseball for all time: the photo, to which he now owns the rights, of Pallone, nose-to-nose and temper-to-temper with Pete Rose.

It was April 30, 1988, New York Mets vs. Cincinnati Reds, 5-5 in the top of the ninth with two out. Pallone called Mets hitter Mookie Wilson safe at first, and Rose, then the manager of the Reds, was out of the dugout like a fastball to protest the call. One temper flare-up led to another, and when Pallone's back was turned, Rose pushed him.

The fans took Rose's side. They pelted Pallone with everything from beer bottles to a boom box.

Rose was suspended for 30 days and fined $10,000. Pallone, the famed hothead ump, was fined, too - $100. But by the end of the year, the league had handed him his walking papers. He took a cash payout and didn't sue.

In a later interview, he was quoted as saying, "I guess I had the guts to be hated. But I didn't have the guts to be true to myself."

If he had stayed in the major leagues, Pallone, 50, would be earning $250,000 a year by now - but it's doubtful he would have been living in Colorado Springs, even in the off-season.

In 1990, after he and writer Alan Steinberg wrote "Behind the Mask," Pallone, a Boston-area native, was asked to speak about his experiences at the University of Massachusetts, which sparked an epiphany about making a difference and crafting a new career at the same time.

His talks have always centered on how discrimination affects the person, then society.

"Not one person ever checks their sexual orientation at the door. Not one."

He often makes use of the concept of being put in a box during his talks. "We are always expected to fit into the box. If you don't, they flip it shut."

In 38 states, he said, it's still legal to fire someone simply because they are gay. But doing that deeply hurts the bottom line, he said. "How is your company affected when employees have to hide? As a company, do you want your employees to be honest? Feel like part of the team?"

Pallone wishes he had outed himself instead of waiting for it to happen to him when he was 36 years old.

Still, he knows good came of it.

"Once a young man waited two hours just to tell me, 'Dave Pallone, it is only because of your book that I'm alive today. Otherwise, I would have taken my own life.'

"Though I'm paid for doing it, if each of my presentations reaches just one person, I've accomplished my personal mission."

Jody Alyn, city of Colorado Springs diversity coordinator, said Pallone's talk before city employees received some of the most positive reviews of any previous training session.

"That Dave lives here now means he can be a positive resource for this community by promoting conversation in ways fresh and new on a topic that has historically been contentious for us."

Quote

"I guess I had the guts to be hated. But I didn't have the guts to be true to myself."
former National League umpire Dave Pallone