OAKLAND, CA—Homo leagues all-star Tyler Patton shattered baseball's long-standing sexual orientation barrier Monday by signing a four-year, $10.5 million contract with the Oakland A's.
Patton, 23, whose speed, nifty fielding, and dependable hitting made him a homo-league sensation in only three seasons with the Kansas City Gay Royals, is Major League Baseball's first openly gay player.
"I had heard Oakland was interested, but you hear rumors all the time," Patton said in a press conference after his signing. "I was just concentrating on playing baseball, and then last week I got the call. Honestly, I know people think my being gay is a big deal, but I still just want to help the A's past the Angels."
Oakland general manager Billy Beane said Patton's commitment to the sport above and beyond his personal issues is the reason he chose to pursue the second baseman.
"Coming here from the homo leagues, Patton's in for a lot of heat from the fans," Beane said. "And not just the fans. Every time they talk about his open stance, every time he throws a guy out from his knees, every time he goes deep in the hole, there's going to be an uncomfortable silence at the very least. But I believe Patton has the focus to put that aside and just play."
Reactions from MLB have been mixed, with most teams declining any official comment, and commissioner Bud Selig saying in a radio interview Tuesday morning that the historic signing was "fine, if that's what the A's want to do, I guess." However, many insiders say the move to involve gay players has been a long time in coming.
"Though it draws only 10 or 15 percent as many fans as the majors, the Homo Leagues have a history of community, fantastic play, and above all, pride," sportswriter Peter Gammons said when the signing was announced. "The league's faithful have stood by their men from its inception in the '30s, through the so-called 'frisky ball' era of the '50s, past the league-wide amyl nitrate abuse scandal of the '70s, and on to the Log Cabin schism of the '90s. But what so often gets lost in all this is that Homo League players can flat-out play baseball. Now, after decades during which gay fans had nothing in the major leagues to call their own, save for perhaps some of the mustaches, Patton finally gives them someone to root for."
Still, Patton's critics, while stopping well short of bigotry, point to HLB's reputation for fast-paced, high-strung, often flashy baseball, and speculate on whether Patton will hold up. Many say his gaudy .342 batting average, .4353 on-base percentage, and three Gold Lamé Glove awards during three seasons in the homo leagues are meaningless in terms of his future success.
"Sure, Tyler did well against homo-league pitching," Skip Bayless said Tuesday on ESPN's 1st and 10. "But he's not playing against the Boston Pink Sox or the New York Gay Yankees anymore. In fact, the Gay Yankees didn't even pursue him last season when they needed a second baseman. I wish him all the luck in the world, but I think he's a gay bust."
Many baseball insiders, while acknowledging the social value of Patton's signing, struggled to discuss the implications of a homo-league star playing in the majors.
"Er, I, uh, well, I wish Patton good luck, and you know, we'll, um, I guess we'll wait and, uh, wait and see," said Baseball Tonight commentator Jon Kruk, who seemed unable to look directly at his cohosts or into the camera while discussing Patton's signing. "Good luck, Patton. I mean, uh, yeah."
Patton himself, who is scheduled to start next week, says he cannot wait to put the hype behind him.
"Yes, it'll be difficult, not because I'm gay, but because it's Major League Baseball," Patton said. "Plus, let's face it—do you seriously think I'm the first gay major-leaguer ever? Seriously? And before anyone says anything, you are all just so wrong about Mike Piazza."