Bean continues to inspire in speech to Bucs 

October 21st, 2021

As part of an ongoing effort to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are increasingly emphasized within their culture and business practices, the Pirates welcomed Billy Bean to PNC Park as their guest on Wednesday.

The current vice president and special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred is a former outfielder who spent six years in the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers (1987-89), Los Angeles Dodgers ('89) and San Diego Padres ('93-95). By his own admission, Bean’s accomplishments on the field were not commensurate with his physical skills. He believes that was, in large part, because he was carrying around a secret that he went great lengths to hide.

Bean, 57, is a gay man, and back then he didn’t believe his teammates, the sport or society in general was ready to accept a gay baseball player.

“I’m a living, walking example of someone who thought I didn’t belong in my own sport," Bean told an afternoon audience that included personnel who work for the Pirates in Pittsburgh, Bradenton, Fla., and internationally. "One of the greatest regrets of my life is not trusting this sport to be supportive. The hardest part was when I tried to manage the secret of having a man for a partner, instead of woman, and playing in the Major Leagues. I created a very isolated existence for myself by trying to live in both worlds. I was even hiding the relationship from my family. It was a recipe for disaster.”

Bean’s partner died of HIV-related causes the night before Opening Day in 1995 without ever being introduced to his friends and family.

“I was playing for San Diego at the time, and I skipped his funeral because we had a day game that day,” Bean said. “That’s probably the lowest I ever got. You can imagine how much you love your partner and how much you love your family, but I thought that baseball would never have been able to understand where I wanted to be. I somehow navigated that last year in 1995 without telling anyone about my partner.”

Bean came out in 1999, although not intentionally. He had moved from his native Southern California to Miami Beach, where he opened a restaurant. As part of the publicity surrounding his new venture it came to light that Bean was gay.

When that happened, his story went coast to coast. Bean made the cover of the Sunday edition of the New York Times and appeared on CNN. He was also interviewed by Diane Sawyer on the nationally televised TV program "20/20."

His secret was out.

“That was my first understanding of how important Major League Baseball is to people,” Bean shared. “I had been a marginal player. I never made an All-Star team, and I didn’t make a lot of money. But being associated with Major League Baseball changed the dynamic. Because of that everyone wanted to talk to me. I wanted no part of it. I wasn’t looking for attention, but the fact that someone who had been in the Major Leagues was gay was salacious. It was interesting to a lot of people.”

Bean’s memoir, titled "Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life in and Out of Major League Baseball," was published in 2003 and went on to become a best-seller. During the summer of '14, he accepted an appointment to become MLB’s first Ambassador for Inclusion, a role that put him at the forefront of efforts to create a fair and equitable workplace for everyone in baseball. Bean has worked for the Commissioner’s Office ever since then, and his story is an incredibly inspiring one.

“We work really hard here in Pittsburgh to make an impact through Pirates Charities, our community relations efforts and more recently through our [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] task-force projects to make sure we’re promoting a positive and inclusive culture where every person is valued and encouraged to do their best work,” Pirates Chairman Bob Nutting said. “Billy has really been one of the voices to help us keep our moral compass pointed in the right direction. We have a pathway. We have direction, but we also know that we need to get better.”

One of Bean’s final messages to his Pirate audience was this: “The reason you’re here is because your ownership and your senior leadership have the goal of everyone feeling welcome when they walk into a meeting. They feel represented. They feel listened to. Am I seen? Am I seeing others? Am I listening to others? I’m not an expert. I'm just an expert on what I’ve experienced in my life, but that’s valuable.”

During his hour-long session with Pirate employees, Bean shared his story in a way that was heartfelt. It wasn’t a slick, rehearsed presentation. It was genuine.

“Yes, its raw. It’s personal. It’s real,” said Nayli Russo-Long, Pirates vice president for people & strategy. “Billy doesn’t put up a wall. He tells you exactly how he feels. He went through what he did, and now he’s letting us in. Not everyone would do that. The way he expresses his story is impactful.

“Instead of choosing to feel victimized by what happened to him, he acted on it. He’s worked to bring awareness to situations that are out there for people who identify in different ways than we do or come from different backgrounds. He was really a pioneer in saying: ‘It’s OK to be you.’ That’s what I appreciate and love about meeting Billy and getting to know him.”