June 24, 2002
Striking out intolerance
Once 'most hated,' former umpire speaks to advocate
Rosemary Harris The Gazette
|Jerilee Bennett The Gazette |
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.
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
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
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
"It might sound trite," said local gay activist Frank
"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
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."