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Author Tells of His Onetime ‘Double Life’ as a Gay Baseball Umpire

A former National League umpire, fired in 1988 after his homosexuality was reported in the New York Post, brought a message of dignity and tolerance to Penn’s Inn on Tuesday night.

“Whatever you do in your life, I hope it’s with the gift of inner peace feeling good about yourself, respecting yourself always,” Dave Pallone told his small, but rapt audience. “No, not every day is a good day, but every day is a day that I have a purpose . . . that I’m true to myself.”

It wasn’t always that way.

Pallone, author of the bestselling book, “Behind the Mask,” told of his onetime double life: publicly realizing his dream of being in Major League Baseball while privately fearing exposure.

“Think how tough it is to lead the one life God has given us,” he said. “Then think about living two of them at the same time. My mask protected me from the foul balls and errant throws by pitchers, but I wore an invisible mask, too . . . stay one lie ahead, one step ahead, to protect me from society.”

Pallone’s lecture, like that double life, was a contrast between walking onto floodlit ball fields alongside his childhood idols Willie Stargell, Willie McCovey, Carl Yastrzemski and living in the “deep, dark, lonely closet” of a man with a secret.

“Baseball is like society,” he said. “We’re all made to live in a box. If you don’t conform, they shut it and you’re not part of it. I got in . . . and lied . . . because it was what I had to do to keep my dream alive.”

The realization of that dream allowed him to be behind the plate when Nolan Ryan pitched his 4,000th strikeout (a memorable story that can’t be repeated here), on the field the night Pete Rose tied Ty Cobb’s record for most career hits, and umpiring at the 1983 All-Star Game and at the ’87 divisional playoffs between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.

His love of baseball has transcended his career, as was obvious during the spirited question-and-answer session that concluded his appearance. But Pallone said his greatest satisfaction comes in traveling the country and meeting people whose lives have been changed perhaps, even saved by his ultimate candor.

“That’s my World Series ring,” he said.

“Some 500,000 people between the ages of 15 and 22 attempt suicide each year,” Pallone noted. “Forty percent of those who are successful did so because of their sexual orientation. One is too many. I couldn’t imagine anyone losing his job for who he is; it’s ludicrous that anyone should lose his life for who he is.”

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