It shouldn’t be too much to ask of a baseball front office to ask, “Hey, when the team has the best record in the league, can you avoid doing something that makes me feel awful about rooting for them?”
And yet two years later, here we are again.
After bringing aboard the execrable Aroldis Chapman and asking the fanbase to overlook the scourge of his domestic violence charges, a lot of us hoped that was a one time only violation of “The Cubs Way.” Furthermore, we optimistically rationalized to ourselves, Theo Epstein only decided to bring aboard a player of heinous character because he wanted to go all out and finally break the 108 year championship drought that was the bane of our collective existence. It sure sounded like a good excuse.
Unfortunately, in retrospect, the lesson the front office appeared to learn from 2016 was “Bringing in players with heinous character works.”
Thus: Daniel Murphy.
Murphy, of course, is best known for the moment in 2015 where he attended a session with MLB Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean and listened to him recount his harrowing and heartbreaking story of a baseball career spent in the closet. And then Murphy responded to such an emotionally powerful tale by telling the media, “I disagree with the lifestyle. I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual.”
The lifestyle. As if being gay were a phase we picked up because there was a body glitter sale at Hot Topic.
And now he’s a part of the team I love. It’s doubly disappointing because over the years, there had been small signs that the Cubs were putting forth an effort to be a sports organization that genuinely valued the LGBTQ community. Famously, Laura Ricketts became the first openly gay owner in league history—and the fact that she was able to do so coming from an otherwise staunchly conservative family made her story that much more impressive.
With Laura as a member of ownership, the Cubs made genuine efforts to ally with the community, going so far as to reschedule a June game in 2014 that would have been played on the same day as the Pride Parade in Boystown. The team also made sure it had a visible presence in that parade year after year, sending legends like Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg to represent them on the Cubs Pride float.
(As a personal aside, a quick search of my archives on BP will show you the extent of my Ryno fanboyhood. And seeing my all time favorite player in a position where he was such a visible part of Pride made my heart soar as much as watching him step to the plate against Bruce Sutter. It might have been a small gesture on his part but coming from a player who spent his prime in the hyper-toxically masculine ’80s and ’90s, it meant something.)
And then this year, we got to witness Jon Lester making a genuine effort to engage and listen to LGBTQ Cubs fandom on Twitter in the wake of Josh Hader’s bigoted tweets becoming a national story. I was never going to go overboard and think that all of these actions meant that the Cubs locker room was rededicating itself to helping Armie Hammer patch things up with Timothée Chalamet. But all of these little gestures put together made it seem like I could cheer for them as a gay man and think, “You made the right choice in a baseball team.”
Which is why the Murphy acquisition feels like such a slap in the face. It’s telling the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer members of Cub fandom that “Your dignity matters. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of winning.”
Theo Epstein has many wonderful qualities and I’ve made no secret of my admiration for what he’s done for this franchise and this fanbase. But his sometimes misanthropic pursuit of winning at all costs is far and away his worst feature. And the mental hurdles he’s put this fanbase through as we try to figure out whether it’s worth supporting a team that meant so much before they decided to go all Dallas Cowboys on their roster construction has gotten much more exhausting than rooting for a sports team should be.
As you might have noticed a few paragraphs ago, I’m gay. (Or the fact that I’ve made references to Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name for two pieces in a row might have clued you in. Keep your eyes peeled for next week’s article: “LaStella Mia! Here I Go Again…”) I spent a painfully long time in the closet to get to the point where I could write that sentence without freaking out, but I got there.
And as someone who delayed acknowledging my true self, I can tell you with certainty that when someone of Murphy’s stature is able to spout hateful words with neither repercussion nor anyone calling him out on it, that sends the message that remaining in the closet is the only logical option for your professional and personal well being. Hell, you don’t even have to take my word for it. Just a couple days ago, Dusty Baker told Ken Rosenthal…
“I think more would have changed on the racial front than the gay front… like I said, it’s a microcosm of society. Guess what? There are some gay guys in baseball. They must be tortured inside but they’re blessed with the ability to play baseball.”
You don’t have to think too hard to realize that the acceptance of Murphy and his views within clubhouse culture are a stark reminder to any gay player that they come out at their own peril.
To be fair, through his position with MLB, Bean has made a concerted effort to try and help bring Murphy into the 21st century. His goal has been to win Murphy over through acts of kindness, striking up a friendship with his family and asking him to “consider things from a different perspective.” Which says a lot about the kind of person Billy Bean is.
And, unfortunately, next to nothing at all about Daniel Murphy. To this point, we haven’t heard a thing from him regarding the hateful things he’s said in the past. Not an ounce of genuine contrition nor an acknowledgement of our humanity. He hasn’t even offered up a half-assed “I was a different person back then” excuse.
You know things are bad when your level of contrition can be described as “sub-Hader.” I’ve already taken the precaution of muting literally every single member of Brewers Twitter until after Murphy’s first Wrigley Field at bat.
And unless we hear anything resembling genuine remorse and understanding, we can only assume that Murphy’s views today are the same as they were when he expressed them in 2015. Only now, he’s got a guy to point to and say “I can’t be a bigot… I’ve got a gay friend!”
It sucks that a guy like Daniel Murphy is being thrown into what is once again an incredibly likable and enjoyable team (this past week’s offensive Sahara notwithstanding). It doubly sucks knowing that an otherwise admirable player like Anthony Rizzo or Kyle Schwarber might end up saying something tone deaf because baseball culture demands that guys defend their teammates no matter what.
Some day, I would hope Epstein might realize that his legacy in Chicago is already secure and that he doesn’t need to import the very worst people in baseball to keep chasing ring after ring. Given the core he’s built, it should be a truly difficult feat to make any of his teams unlikable. That’s one challenge I wish he wouldn’t take up.
Lead photo courtesy Winslow Towson—USA Today Sports