On a recent Saturday night at Citi Field, the Mets rolled out the red (and orange, yellow, green, blue and violet) carpet for the gay community. The Coca-Cola sign in the outfield was lit up in rainbow colors. The Kiss Cam was filled with same-sex couples smooching. The color guard carried a rainbow flag. And gay officers from the New York and Nassau County Police Departments were honored, as was a gay war veteran.
The Mets are hardly alone in offering such welcoming gestures. The N.B.A. had its own float, with Commissioner Adam Silver aboard, in the Pride March in Manhattan last month. That same day, the Cubs’ World Series trophy — draped in a rainbow flag — rode on a float in Chicago’s parade. And many sports teams, including a large majority in baseball, have hosted gay-themed events.
But one team that has not done so is the Yankees, even though their city helped give birth to the modern gay rights movement.
That most teams have chosen to stage a pride day or night at their ballparks is not surprising, because thematic promotions to draw fans have long been part of baseball’s culture. Those events have ranged from the infamous Disco Demolition Night once staged by the Chicago White Sox to the Mets’ Jewish and Irish heritage nights. The San Francisco Giants will host an African-American heritage night in September. The Yankees have in recent years largely shied away from promotions with an ethnic or cultural flavor, although there are regular instances when they honor a cause with a brief pregame ceremony, such as last year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade.
And while the Yankees have chosen to refrain from holding a gay pride event at Yankee Stadium, a team spokesman, Jason Zillo, said there had been involvement behind the scenes.
Among the examples he cited: the work by General Manager Brian Cashman and the assistant general manager Jean Afterman with organizations that assist lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths; a pregame ceremony last year to acknowledge those killed in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.; and an invitation to Billy Bean, the gay Major League Baseball executive who promotes inclusion, to speak with Yankees players on the major and minor league levels.
“Everyone of every nationality, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation and/or preference is welcome at Yankee Stadium every day,” Zillo said in a statement. “We are a long-term believer in diversity and inclusion, and have always looked to create a safe and supportive environment for all fans to enjoy their experience here.”
Years ago, the doors of the old Yankee Stadium were opened for the closing ceremony of the 1994 Gay Games, and 40,000 people showed up. Nevertheless, in an era when Major League Baseball has taken steps to promote inclusiveness, most notably with the hiring of Bean in 2014, the Yankees have shown no inclination to hold a night for L.G.B.T. fans.
The Cubs are believed to be the first team to have had such an event, in 2001, and by the end of this season, only three teams besides the Yankees — the Los Angeles Angels, the Cincinnati Reds and the Milwaukee Brewers — will apparently not have had one, according to the website Outsports.com and news reports.
(In addition to the Yankees, the Angels confirmed that they had not had a pride event. The Brewers and the Reds did not respond to requests for comment.)
“If big-market teams like the Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals can do it, it begs the question: Why aren’t the Yankees doing it?” said Bill Gubrud, who helped organize the initial event at Wrigley Field.
The Yankees, not unlike their uniforms, which look essentially the same on Aaron Judge as they did on Joe DiMaggio, are often not quick to change. They have been steadfast in their decades-old grooming policy, which keeps players from having long hair or beards. And while the Mets and other teams have extended netting down the foul lines this season in an effort to further protect fans from foul balls and shattered bats, the Yankees have not taken that step.
Most pride days, or nights, are not generated by a major league team itself, but by an outside organization. Gubrud was selling ads for a gay newspaper in Chicago when he called the Cubs years ago about buying an ad. When they agreed, he asked how many tickets would have to be sold to have a gay-themed event at Wrigley Field. He was told 2,000.
“I’ll take them all,” Gubrud said.
The Philadelphia Phillies began hosting their pride night soon after, when Larry Felzer, a lawyer, organized what would become an annual event. The Phillies took it over last year, but the event’s infrastructure had been established by Felzer. The Dodgers’ pride night, begun four years ago, has become so popular that promoters are bidding to host it.
David Kilmnick, the chief executive of the L.G.B.T. Network, was the person who spurred the Mets to resume their pride night last season (the team had one more than a decade earlier), and he also approached the Yankees. He met with Yankees representatives at a diversity meeting sponsored by Major League Baseball during spring training in 2016 and pitched them for 15 minutes on the idea of a pride event as well as workplace-sensitivity training.
It was the last he heard from the team, he said. “I haven’t received any interest,” he added.
Though Bean has worked closely with the Yankees in other areas of inclusiveness, the team has not spoken with him about a pride event.
“If the Yankees approached me, I’d be front and center in getting it done or putting it out there,” Bean said. “This is a process. I don’t want teams to feel like they’re pressured. It has to be organic.”
Bean, who spoke at the Yankees’ major league and minor league camps in spring training, said that the team had been supportive and that the conversation about pride events was relatively new.
“The idea of a team not hosting a pride night is not a complete assessment of its stance on inclusion, especially where baseball’s responsibility lies,” he said.
Still, Bean cited the importance of having such events, especially in a place like New York. Too many L.G.B.T. baseball fans, he said, have memories of being ostracized in Little League or hearing disparaging comments while sitting in the stands at a major league game.
When teams host pride events, Bean said: “It’s part of us getting better and understanding the value of being inclusive. There’s a massive significance to that message.”
To some, like Kilmnick, pride nights are an opportunity to further a conversation and to extend engagement with teams beyond a night at the ballpark. He noted that there had still not been an openly gay major leaguer. (David Denson, a low-level minor league player for the Milwaukee Brewers, came out as gay two years ago; he has since retired.)
“Pride night was more than about ticket sales and it’s more than just another theme night or promotion night,” Kilmnick said. “It was about having a place at the ballpark for the L.G.B.T. community to come down and feel safe, and believe — especially for the younger people — that they could be a major leaguer and not hide.”
Kilmnick said his organization, which does antibullying work with Long Island and New York City schools, had plans to do a pride night with the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League in September.
He was surprised to learn that the Yankees had never had such an event, but then the lifelong Mets fan in him emerged.
“The Mets have been the underdog and the Yankees have been the elite,’’ he said. “In that way it doesn’t surprise me. You’d think the Mets would come out for those underdogs in society, but I think it’s time the Yankees stand up and do something for the L.G.B.T. fans and the Bronx.”
The New York Times
The New York Times