In 2014, Referee Magazine was preparing to release a remarkably detailed feature on Dale Scott. The writer had tracked down several of Scott’s childhood friends, colleagues, and even his program director from his long-ago appearance as an AM radio disc jockey. Readers of the limited-edition, subscription-only publication would learn all about the life and career of this longtime Major League referee.
Everything but his sexual identity.
When asked to provide a few photos for the piece, Scott felt torn. Because here was this comprehensive, meticulous account of his personal story, and yet he had not introduced Michael Rausch to either the author or the audience – the man who at that point was his partner for almost 20 years and once his husband.
It didn’t go with Scott.
“I decided to send a picture of him and me on the flight to Australia [for the 2014 D-backs and Dodgers season opener]“Says Scott now. “I sent this picture with a few other things. I wrote: ‘Dale Scott and long-time companion Michael Rausch.’ “
In doing so, Scott became the first openly gay official in one of the four major professional male sports in the United States.
Scott’s decision – and the positive way it was received by the Major League Baseball industry – still resonates here in Pride Month, nearly seven years after the article was published in Referee Magazine. Scott’s experience is an example of how, even in such a traditionally conservative sport, a person can be picked up and judged on the quality of their work rather than their sexual preference. His story will hopefully one day serve as an archetype when – and more likely if – an active Major League player has the guts to come out.
“If a guy can play,” says Scott, “I think nobody cares. Rate me after my work in the field and nothing else. That’s what it’s all about. Straight, gay, bi or whatever. Are you a good person? Are you good at your subject? Do you help the organization? “
In a career that lasted from 1986 to 2017 when concussions forced him to retire, Scott proved an asset to the industry. He was one of the game’s most respected referees, having worked on three World Series, three All-Star Games, six League Championship Series, and 12 Division Series.
But Scott led a double life – his life with the majors and his life at home in Portland, Ore.
“I was out in baseball and actively deceived people because I didn’t want the real me to be known,” he says. “But I was definitely not at home in the closet.”
Scott’s unusual job made it possible to maintain these separate worlds. He didn’t have a company party to attend with a significant other and generally didn’t have to worry about meeting colleagues on the street.
But his secret, which he kept from everyone except for a few friends and family members, carried him over the years.
Scott was just 19 years old when he looked in the mirror one day and, like any good ump, called properly.
“Oh I understand!” he said to himself. “You are gay!”
It really was that simple. Scott had been drawn to other boys in seventh grade. It was a matter of course for him, even if he knew and understood that it would not be taken so naturally by everyone else. And so he made the conscious decision, as he put it, to “play the game” and keep his sexuality a secret. But he also decided not to enter into fraudulent relationships with women just to appease the expectations of others.
And so, for many years, Scott pretended to be the guy too busy to date. His rise into the refereeing world gave him a built-in excuse. When his cousin, a hairdresser, tried to match him with her clients, Scott always refused.
“It’s so hard to be in a relationship,” he told her. “I’ll be back on the road in another month.”
On the other hand, when fellow referees asked him about his relationship status, Scott would say things like, “Oh, I see someone at home.”
That was true, just not as people thought. Scott met Rausch shortly after his first season as a referee in the major leagues and they have been together ever since. But Scott didn’t feel comfortable revealing his relationship to even his closest friends in the game.
Everything started to change in the late 1990s. At this point, Scott had taken his “roommate Mike” on enough rides to be noticed by other referees (after all, a good eye is a prerequisite for the job). On a spring training evening, Scott was out for a drink with his Ump colleague Derryl Cousins, which finally broke the silence.
“Hey Scotty, I know you have a slightly different lifestyle,” said Cousins. “I want you to know that I would go across the field with you at any time.”
That broke Scott’s intricate and carefully constructed barrier. And while Scott Cousins did not confirm anything that night, he had gained important insight into how his revelation would eventually be received by his closest colleagues.
Changes to the umpires’ union contract in 2010 allowed Scott to add intoxication as his life partner on insurance grounds, and so people in the league office were aware of his sexuality for several years before he became publicly known. Scott and Rausch married soon after the 2013 Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
But it wasn’t until the Referee posted this photo that Scott was really ready to tell the world his secret. The journal article was published in late September 2014.
“Barbecue,” says Scott with a laugh.
As big as the moment may have been for Scott, a small caption in a publication with a print run of about 45,000 copies didn’t go over well. But an anonymous, cunning reader discovered the photo and sent it to the LGBT sports news website Outsports. And when Outsports released its own story about two months later – with Scott’s participation and permission – it had a much, much larger audience.
“It seemed like pretty big news for about a day and a half,” says Scott. “But of course it wasn’t during the season so I was curious what kind of reaction I would get when the season started.”
He received his answer the following March. The Reds and Indians played a spring training game in Goodyear, Arizona – Scott’s first openly gay umpire. He was standing near third base when outfielder Marlon Byrd came running towards him between innings as he walked to the dugout. In what could only be described as a highly unusual player-ump interaction, Byrd wrapped Scott in a bear hug.
“You are free, brother, you are free!” Said Byrd. “I’m so proud of you!”
Later that game, Joey Votto shook Scott’s hand and congratulated him. Elsewhere this season, Scott was greeted by another player, an athletic coach, and a third base coach.
That’s it. Scott received supportive emails from around the world when the Outsports article was published, but never heard a word in baseball circles about his sexuality. And for Scott, this mostly inconspicuous reaction was remarkable in itself. Because for the first time he was able to do his job and live his life without fear or confusion.
“The experience I had when I came out,” he says, “was very, very positive.”
Scott, now 61, conducts referee evaluations for various camps and is enjoying his retirement from the rigors of the MLB schedule. Scott will tell his story in greater detail in an upcoming and as yet untitled biography, with the help of author Rob Neyer, which will be published by the University of Nebraska Press next year.
But Scott hopes there will soon be a day when stories like his are no longer extraordinary. He watched with great interest as several active players spoke out against the homophobic slur that led to the resignation of Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman last season because it confirms his belief that the LGBTQ community has many more allies in the clubhouse today the major league has started as a referee all those years ago.
“If someone has a problem with me being gay, it’s really not my problem, it’s their problem,” he says. “I’ve got to the point where I know and am happy for who I am. If not, you will have to deal with it. “
Another correct call from the respected referee.