Dave Pallone: An Extraordinary Umpire
“Strike!” yells the umpire. Decades ago, this umpire spent his days on the playing field, and his nights living a double life. Today, he is meeting with CEOs, inspiring audiences or receiving recognition for his bravery and cultural importance. He is Dave Pallone, a former Major League Baseball Umpire, and current model of perseverance and self-advocacy.
In 2013, Dave Pallone cemented his place in history as one of the inaugural inductees to the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. Pallone’s fellow inductees in that year included Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Greg Louganis, Renee Richards, and Olympic skater, Johnny Weir. At 67 years of age, he would agree that life is nothing if not a set of events ranging from fabulous to horrific.
Getting Off the Sidelines
Born in Waltham, Massachusetts, Pallone did not grow up with dreams of becoming an umpire. His dream was to play professional baseball. He knew he did not have the talent to make it to the pros, so his dream was sidelined. In the summer of 1970, as he was watching a baseball game on television, he heard an announcement about the Umpire Development Program in St. Petersburg, Florida. Initially, his father was not crazy about signing the permission slip Pallone needed to enroll in the program, but he was able to convince him, pleading, “Dad, it’s a way I can be in baseball and maybe have a future, too.”
When Pallone applied for the program, there were 1,200 applicants. Only 60 were accepted and only 30 got jobs in professional baseball. Pallone was one of them.
Beginning in 1971, Pallone spent eight grueling seasons in the minor leagues, including three winter seasons in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. In addition to gaining a reputation as a top-quality umpire, Pallone was regarded as a “hothead” because he did not tolerate any disrespect on the field. Pallone would throw a player out if he showed the slightest sign of disrespect.
“I learned early that baseball players will take advantage of you if you let them. They will eat you alive,” he said. Pallone admitted to having a temper that was “second to none,” and attributed his temper to “… the turmoil [he] was going through in [his] double life.”
His Personal Struggle
In 1979, opportunity came knocking on Pallone’s door. The major league umpires had gone on strike for the first time ever. When a call came in for Pallone to go into the major leagues, he felt that he would never get the chance again, and so … he accepted.
When the strike ended, Pallone, along with the seven others became fulltime National League umpires. In late 1979, as Pallone was coming to grips with his homosexuality, he met “Scott,” a student with whom he had a long-term affair. Pallone fell in love and Scott gave Pallone great solace while he lived his double life. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1982 when Scott was killed, when a drunk driver struck him. Eventually Pallone recovered and began to date again as he quietly formed friendships with other gay men.
His career continued on an upward path. In 1988, during a Cincinnati Reds – New York Mets game in Cincinnati, Pallone called Mets hitter Mookie Wilson safe at first on a wide throw. The fans went crazy and the manager of the Reds, Pete Rose, “was out of the dugout like a shot to protest the call.”
The fans who worshipped Rose went nuts (and not in a good way). They threw beer bottles to boom boxes on the field. Pallone later wrote, “He feared for his life.” He received hate mail and death threats. The Cincinnati incident left Rose suspended for 30 days, and with a $10,000 fine.
For months after the Rose incident, Pallone endured countless threats on his life from fans whom loved Pete Rose. Years later, Rose’s fans would find out that he did in fact bet on baseball, and had a bet on that infamous game of April 30. In some way, it helped Pallone understand why Rose went so crazy over the call.
Game Not Over
Pallone was “outed” by the NY Post (the world found out he was gay thru that article), and was fired September of 1988. After settling out of court with MLB, the game was not over for the resilient Pallone. He wrote Behind the Mask: My Double Life in Baseball in 1990, and took to the road to promote the book. He received tens of thousands of letters from people who were supportive of him, leading to numerous speaking engagements where he began his new career as a LGBT activist.
Pallone enjoyed the book tour circuit that began the second phase of his groundbreaking career, hosting his own sports radio show in Boston, Massachusetts, and becoming a sought-after motivational speaker. In addition to being inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame, Pallone has been featured on ESPN’s documentary, ‘Homophobia in Sports’, appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, was honored by GENRE Magazine as one of the 100 men of the 20thcentury, and received the Legend Award by Compete Magazine.
Pallone enjoys his public speaking career, both as a baseball insider and a source of inspiration as an advocate for workplace equality. He is heavily involved with advocating for the passage of the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect LGBT employees throughout the USA, and more importantly, Pallone is at peace with his personal life. He and his partner Keith have been together for 22 years. Over the years, he has had one major task when he was not traveling professionally or for pleasure, and that was to give all his attention to their dogs Baci and Dexter! Baci, their 16-year-old black male passed away March 6, 2010, and it left a terrible hole in their hearts… Dexter, their 16 year-old yellow lab missed his buddy terribly, and on March 31, 2012, they said good-bye to Dexter as well. They struggled losing their beloved Dexter, and for the first time, they were without a child to take care of.
They started a new chapter in their lives, with a new ‘child’ Boz, who was born in May of 2012. He is a black labradoodle and he is bringing a lot of joy (and some destruction) into their lives. They are again blessed to have another ‘child’ to take care of.
We all live behind a fragile veil, hiding our true selves from the world. Individuals like Pallone are an acute reminder that through this veil, you cannot see the beautiful details and moments in life.