Everyone now knows that "Moneyball" is one of the nine nominated films for Best Picture In this year's Academy Awards. Brad Pitt played Billy Beane who was General Manager of the Oakland A's baseball team. He took them to the World Series. Seems pretty straight forward doesn't it? Nope, here is the hitch. There is another Billy Bean (without the 'e') who was a professional baseball player who later came out of the closet. Needless to say, there is a lot of confusion not only in the locker rooms but also in the LGBT community.
I’ll never forget “that” Billy Beane. We both played in the outfield. I played center, he played left, and believe it or not, we had a right fielder named Pete Rice. Our outfield was coined “Rice and Bean’s.
Beane struggled terribly through that season in our dismal ballpark on a last place team. On the field he seemed miserable, but in our clubhouse he was The Mayor. He would imitate Axl Rose to perfection when the hit song “Sweet Child of Mine” would play on MTV. He was “the ring leader of anarchy” among the players, and everybody loved him.
He was a smart minor league veteran who could rag players with the best of them. His crowning moment was an epic “soft shoe” performance one night while Frank Sinatra’s “New York New York” blared over the sound system during a rain delay in Buffalo. Our manager, Pat Corrales, seething with anger, seemed ready to release him right then and there (we were losing by at least 10 runs, and in last place), but the entire team was dying with laughter. It was Billy’s way of dealing with the disappointment of another bad season and a career that never happened the way it was supposed to happen for a “can’t miss” prospect drafted in the first round. It was his ninth year in professional baseball and my third. I was still on the rise to the big leagues, full of hope. I hadn’t been damaged (yet) by disappointment, failed expectations and years of leaving my heart and soul on fields where few people were watching, and worse yet, a parent big league club that stopped looking.
After the book “Moneyball” came and went, the questions went away, and the only times I thought about Billy Beane was when I would receive baseball cards in the mail to be signed for card-collecting fans. Inevitably, there would be four or five of my cards, and always one or two of his, even though our names were spelled differently. I was lefty, he was righty, he’s at least 6’3″ and I’m barely 6 feet tall. I would never sign his cards, but I would always send them back with a short note that said, “I’m sorry … this isn’t me, he’s the other one.”
At the time, as I was becoming more and more recognized as a member of the LGBT community, I was sure that Billy was getting the short end of the stick. It was OK for me to be confused with a general manager of a Major League Baseball team, but I wasn’t so sure how he felt about people thinking that he was “the gay baseball player.” He’s a straight Republican, who’s married with kids, and I’m a gay Democrat with two Jack Russell Terriers. To make matters worse for him, my book, “Going the Other Way: Lesson’s From a Life in and out of Major League Baseball” came out in the summer of 2003. It spread through the sports world pretty quickly. It’s the one topic that catches every athlete’s attention, and not always in a good way. However, I have to say that the reaction to my book by players was mostly supportive. I was told that Billy was constantly receiving my cards for him to sign. The LGBT community in San Francisco and Oakland area was hopeful, but ultimately disappointed that I was not him