Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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When I got home from the game I watched the "**** Eye for the Straight Guy" episode featuring several Red Sox players. I had never watched the show before (although I had seen the "South Park" episode lampooning it), and I found it fairly entertaining, although a little obvious at points. The pink jersey with the shiny Red Sox logo was overdoing it just a bit.
What struck me about the program is how game Tim Wakefield, Doug Mirabelli, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, and (especially) Johnny Damon were to poke fun at the macho image of the male athlete. They didn't necessarily love dipping their feet in rose petals, matching stripes with stripes, and receiving manicures and pedicures, but they seemed at ease with the flamboyant "Fab Five" and handled jokes about balls, big muscles, and butt-slapping in a good-natured manner. It was a tad weird watching the Five prance around amidst Little League charity cases, but all in all it was good clean fun with a none-too-subtle subtext.
Despite the smiles all around on "**** Eye," baseball and pro sports in general still have a long way to go when it comes to their attitude towards homosexuality. A thoughtful article by the San Francisco Chronicle's Gwen Knapp addresses the subject at length. While Damon is eager to help any player brave enough to come out as ****, many others are not as sanguine. "If I had thought about it some more, I'm not sure I would have done it," Mirabelli says. No active baseball, basketball or football player in the professional ranks has ever revealed that he is ****, Knapp writes. That's amazing.
In much the same way that Jackie Robinson's entry into major league ball presaged the larger accomplishments of the civil rights movement several years later, baseball needs to lead, not follow when it comes to this issue. Even if the NFL has the bigger TV ratings, baseball is inextricably linked with this country in a unique way, and often has pointed the way to a better America. Gays and lesbians have a right to be treated as equals at schools and in the workplace. It shouldn't be any different on the baseball diamond. Trivial as "**** Eye" may be, I hope that the debate raised by this episode doesn't die out until the **** players in the major leagues now (you know there are some) feel safe in coming out.
This goes out to fans too. Hey, if you paid for a ticket, you can heckle. Jeff Kent knows I like to get on a guy's back every now and then myself. But keep it clean, and don't question a player's sexuality. It's none of your business, and it doesn't make any difference in how they play the game besides. Except maybe they have cleaner nails. Jay Witasick (very last item) should take note.
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