While the mystery in Safe at Home involves the search for a serial killer the more compelling story involves one of the players, Joe Kelsey, who seeks out Henry wanting her to write a story to let the world know that he is gay.
It is a testament to the reluctance of big league ballplayers to make known their sexual orientation that no active major leaguer has yet to make a real life announcement he is gay though 26 years have passed since the book was published.
In Safe at Home there was a mixed reaction to the news among Kelsey’s teammates. A few were very accepting. A few were very negative. Most were unsure of how they felt about Kelsey coming out.
Many in the sports media of the book were uncomfortable with being required to cover the story. It meant they would have to think about a societal issue in their reporting on baseball.
What surprised me were the number of players and media in the book who wished he had not come out as it disturbed their sense of team. They would have preferred he not be a distraction by staying in the closet.
Gordon had personal experiences as a woman that helped her write the story.
As the first woman sports reporter to be a beat writer for a major league ball team she faced many of the same situations as Kelsey.
Too many players and management did not want a woman sports reporter.
Ballplayers were as uncomfortable with a woman in the locker room as they would be with a gay man.
Devout Mormon, Barry Bonnell, a Blue Jays outfielder did not want Gordon in the locker room asserting she was “sick” and was attempting to “spy” on naked ballplayers.
I read Toronto manager, Roy Hartsfield, would not answer her questions for a time and encouraged players not to talk to her.
Gordon gained grudging acceptance. Major Leaguer Manager Earl Weaver calmed one fear by stating that she was not a “pecker checker”.
Considering how Jason Collins of the NBA was treated when he came out some of the more crass comments faced by Gordon would be unlikely today. Still it would take courage for there would be massive media attention and some negative comments.
The immediate media coverage today would be more intense as we live in a very demanding news world. Still I expect the scrutiny would fade quickly. As Collins stated in an article he wrote for The Players Tribune:
After a couple weeks, the media coverage shifted off of me because there are only so many ways you can write a story about having a gay teammate. It went back to being about the team and how we were making a push for the playoffs
Gordon could appreciate how a gay ballplayer would hate his sexual orientation being the story rather than his performance in games. In her first year covering the Blue Jays she was constantly a story as she visited each major league park in the American League. In Safe at Home Gordon, through Henry, alludes to the discomfort produced when you are an actual distraction from the game.
One of these days an active major league ballplayer will come out of the closet. As a sports reporter for 39 years I expect reporters will now be the most accepting group in dealing with a gay big league ballplayer. The primitive attitudes of yet again too many media members in Safe at Home and some of Gordon’s fellow reporters when she started covering the Blue Jays, I cannot call them colleagues, have changed. The reporters of the 21st Century would see a player’s sexual orientation as a personal matter that should not affect an athletic career.