Note: This is the third time I've tried to write this particular blog. What follows may suck worse than anything published in the history of the world, but it'll be done.
I've often thought to myself that if I was a homosexual baseball player who waited until three years after I stopped playing to come out of the closet and another five years to write an autobiography about it, I'd probably title the book 'Going the Other Way.' So when I came across a book by that very title about that very subject in the Books-A-Million bargain bin for two bucks after Christmas, I figured I should probably pick it up to see if it's anything like the book I'd imagined writing were I in that situation. Since the player had a professional writer do the heavy lifting of actually writing the book, I imagine it's a lot better than anything I would have come up with.
Billy Bean (not the General Manager of the Oakland A's and the subject of Michael Lewis's fantastic book Moneyball, that Billy Beane spells his name with an 'e' at the end) spent parts of six seasons playing Major League Baseball for the Tigers, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Padres. Even die hard baseball fans have little, if any, recollection of Bean as a player. He hit a grand total of five homeruns in his career. He does, however, hold a record that only ESPN's Tim Kurkjin could love - he holds the record for most consecutive hits as a pinch hitter (because you're wondering, he got five in a row.). Were that the end of the story, it'd be a book even Kurkjin wouldn't read, and he's the man that once said he's "always been fascinated by the sacrifice fly."
But Bean takes us on his journey of both discovering who he is and then spending years hiding it from his teammates, family, friends and himself. Bean used sports, particularly baseball, to escape a troubled childhood that saw him moving from apartment to apartment in Los Angeles as his mother struggled to make ends meet. On the outside, he had the life every little boy dreams of. He had a college scholarship to play baseball, a beautiful girlfriend and was a top prospect expected to be drafted early in the draft.
He's eventually a top-10 pick and quickly makes his way through the minor leagues to the Big Leagues where he gets four hits in his major league debut. After his initial success, Bean struggles to get regular playing time, which is essential for a baseball player to keep his timing. Timing for a batter is critical in a sport where swinging a fraction of a second late can be the difference between a hit and an out.
One day shortly after his call to the majors, Bean finds himself in the training room where a trainer's hands get a little further up his thigh than he'd expected. Rather than recoiling in horror, Bean finds himself excited by it. He spends the next several months trying to forget about his moment in the training room, but the more he tries to forget, the more it consumes his thoughts. He eventually meets 'Sam' and Bean starts leading a double life - his public life in baseball and his private life as a gay man with a hypermasculine profession. As you would expect, he has difficulty keeping his private life private, including a time when Sam cooked a nice dinner for the two to celebrate Bean's first home run, only to have a couple of Bean's teammates show up for an impromptu celebration. Sam has to scurry to the car where he spends a couple of hours alone in his car in the garage while Bean celebrates with his teammeates.
Without getting bogged down in details, Bean suffers and AIDS scare and eventually tires of leading a life in which he's on pins and needles about someone find out about his sexual orientation, so he retires. He then finds out about the death of one of his best friends that affects him profoundly. Shortly after that he gives an interview about a restaurant he's been running with his business and romantic partner and admits to the reporter that he's gay. He'd been out of baseball for three years and didn't really think it'd be that big of a deal. However, the reporter turns the story from a restaurant profile to a story about a former ballplayer who is gay. Suddenly he's on the front page of the New York Times and being discussed on SportsCenter all for something he'd spent the majority of his life trying to keep hidden from others.