Call of a Lifetime: Umpire Dale Scott visits Cooperstown

Part of the HOFVISITS series
Written by: Bill Francis

Umpire Dale Scott had an illustrious career in the big leagues, spending more than three decades enforcing on-field rules and rendering decisions on judgment calls. But it’s possible his larger legacy lies in advancing inclusion in the sport.

The longtime crew chief was at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum on May 17 promoting his recently released memoir, “The Umpire Is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self” and participating in a Museum Author Series program.

In it, the 62-year-old Scott tells stories from his career, but as the title alludes to, he also shares his unique perspective as the only umpire in the history of professional baseball to come out as gay during his career.

“It’s about getting into umpiring and some pretty funny and fun umpire stories about the things that happened in my career,” said Scott, who came out as gay in 2014. “And it’s also about my personal life, being the first active male official to come out as gay in the four major sports. How I actively led a double life for years in the minor leagues and for several years in the big leagues.”

According to Scott, when he started out as a professional umpire in the Northwest League in 1981, his first game was about two weeks after the very beginnings of the AIDS epidemic that was affecting men in San Francisco and New York.

“I was not wanting anyone to know, in my baseball life, about me because I thought it would affect my promotions. I would never get to the big leagues let alone Double-A,” Scott recalled. “But then with the HIV and AIDS crisis going on there would be guys who wouldn’t even want to work with me because there was so much fear and unknown about it.

“I wasn’t a closeted gay man. I was out at home with friends. But certainly in my baseball life I actively tried to hide that for years.”

Asked how baseball is doing with its initiatives, Scott said Billy Bean – named in 2014 the game’s first Ambassador for Inclusion – is doing “an unbelievable job.”

“What a great hire that was by Commissioner Selig. Very forward thinking for baseball. They were the first league to do something like that,” Scott said. “It’s showing that inclusion is in this game for everyone – minor league and major leagues. I think they’re doing a great job.”

As for his own role, Scott doesn’t necessarily consider himself a trailblazer or role model.

“People have said that, but I don’t necessarily look at myself like that. But I have to say that when I did come out, the response I had and the emails that I received, it did affect a lot of people’s lives,” Scott said. “It helped people and gave them some courage to maybe take another step out of that closet door. So that’s one of the reasons I wrote the book. I wasn’t going to originally, but I thought, ‘You know what? Maybe this message and this story needs to be out.’”

Scott retired from umpiring after missing most of the 2017 season due to the effects of his second concussion in nine months and fourth in five years. A big league umpire for 32 years – from 1986 to 2018 – he finished with 3,897 games, spending half his career (16 seasons) as a crew chief.

“It’s remarkable that I was a part of all that, but I am just so thankful that I had such a career,” he said. “If you would have told me in 1975 when I was 15 and I had my first game at Madison Junior High in Eugene, Ore., that, oh, by the way, you’ll have three World Series and three All-Star Games and 32 years in the big leagues, I would have just laughed because there’s no way that would have happened, but it did. And it’s just been remarkable.

“I loved baseball, but obviously I wasn’t going to be playing because I was horrible,” he added with a laugh. “So that’s why I started umpiring. And I fell in love with it. It was a chance to stay involved.”

The Oregon native attended umpire school in 1981 before embarking on a minor league career that included stops in the Northwest League (1981), California League (1982), Arizona Instructional League (1982-83), Texas League (1983-84), American Association (1984-85) and Dominican Winter League (1984-86).

Among Scott’s more memorable games were a 1988 ejection of manager Billy Martin in which the fiery skipper tossed dirt on him, working behind the plate for Scott Erickson’s 1994 no-hitter for the Twins against the Brewers and working the bases for two of Justin Verlander’s no-hitters.

“When you’re working, you’re in it, you’re doing it, that’s just what you do. But I’ve had a chance to reflect after I retired and I think every once in a while, ‘Oh my gosh, I was there, man. I did that.’ It is pretty remarkable,” Scott said. “Certainly among the most memorable was the 2001 World Series after 9/11 and the emotion that was going on in this country and of course in New York. That was such an unbelievable series. So I’m very grateful and thankful for the career I had.”

Remarkably, after such a long career in the game, this was Scott’s first visit to Cooperstown.

“Talk about excited when I found out this was going to happen. It’s something I always wanted to see. It’s a place I’ve heard so much about. I was just really excited and I’m just thrilled to be here,” Scott said. “When you first walk in the Plaque Gallery, I just stopped and looked and tried to take it all in it. To see the plaques at the induction ceremonies on TV is one thing, but to actually see them in person is just really, really moving.

“I am so glad to be here and encourage anybody that has any inkling towards baseball, that loves baseball, to come see this.”

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the HOFVISITS series