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By the way, Mike Piazza still isn't gay

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Jim McIsaac

Uniwatch's Paul Lukas is a Mets fan, and when Mike Piazza retired some years ago, Lukas departed from his usual uni-related fare to list the six reasons why he hoped Piazza wouldn't enter the Hall of Fame as a Met. Here's just one of them:

4. When the New York Post implied that Piazza was gay, he held that little press conference where he declared his heterosexuality. OK, fine. But he missed a huge opportunity to say, "But what if it was true? What if I was gay? So what? What if one of my teammates is gay? What if one of YOU is gay? It's no big deal. Listen, I'm straight, but this whole thing is really a nonissue." In a city with a huge gay population, that was an opportunity to show some real community leadership, and he totally spit the bit.

That little press conference happened on the 22nd of May, 2002. This was in the wake of a Post gossip columnist making a (very) thinly veiled suggestion that the Mets' roster included a homosexual superstar, probably Piazza. For some reason, Piazza and the Mets felt compelled to defend his "reputation", so (according to Piazza) they asked then-Newark Star-Ledger reporter David Waldstein to simply ask Piazza, with the other reporters around, if he was gay. Piazza's response:

I'm not gay. I'm heterosexual. I can't control what people think. I can say I'm heterosexual. I date women. That's pretty much it. I don't see a need to address it any further. I deny those rumors. I don't know how they got started. I don't know why. I don't know where. But obviously, these things do not apply to me at all.

I can't control what people think. I can only say what I know and what the truth is, and that's that I'm heterosexual and I date women. That's it. End of story.

As Piazza ruefully notes in his new book, "Yeah, I wish that had been the end of the story."

It wasn't. There were ramifications. Piazza's father was distraught, and Letterman made fun of him on TV, and reporter Wallace Matthews quit or got fired because he publicly criticized his colleague at the Post. My favorite part, though, is the transformation that came over Piazza himself. Trust him ...

The experience changed me almost immediately. I'd never strayed far from my Catholicism, but at that point I reaffirmed my faith. I became more inward and philosophical, lower-key. I realized that the life of the playboy sports star wasn't fulfilling me or even making me superficially happy...

What offended me most about the whole to-do was not the charge of being homosexual. It was the general insinuation that, if I were gay, I wouldn't want everyone knowing about it. That I'd perpetuate a lie in the interest of some personal agenda. I found it hugely insulting that people believed I'd go so far out of my way -- living with Playmates, vacationing with actresses, showing up at nightclubs -- to act out a lifestyle that would amount to a charade. If I was gay, I'd be gay all the way.

Well. Playmates. Actresses. That is so not gay. But if Piazza were gay, boy, he would absolutely have become THE FIRST PLAYER IN BASEBALL HISTORY TO COME OUT OF THE CLOSET WHILE STILL PLAYING.

That's right, sports fans: Mike Piazza was just that much more brave and honest than EVERY GAY BASEBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME.

Sorry about all those caps. One of my least-favorite character traits is public self-righteousness. It's also annoying that now, more than a decade after that silly press conference, Piazza doesn't have room anywhere in this 374-page book to mention that while he's not a homosexual, there's nothing wrong with that. He might also have mentioned that he's played with homosexuals (he has) and it wasn't really an issue (it probably wasn't).

Oh, but wait! Piazza does tip his cap to the LGBT community. Really. It's good. Look:

I should point out that the gay community itself hasn't really stoked the rumors or gotten involved in any perpetuating way. For that matter, I can think of only one occasion when I felt I was being checked out by another man. It was a year or two later, when I was buying a CD in Union Square. A guy came up to me in a manner that was unusually friendly. He definitely had the gay-dar up, as they call it. But all he said was "I thought you handled that situation very well." I appreciated that.

Check and mate. Nothing to see here, folks. Mike Piazza dated Playmates -- oh, and now he's married to one, according to the book -- and he handles these situations well. Next? Oh, right: the Vin Scully thing. Let me catch my breath. It's a long book.