Rumor has it baseball’s most eligible bachelor is gay.
Mike Piazza says he’s not.

That should be the end of it.

Now, if some player came out and said he was gay, he wouldn’t be the first gay baseball player. He probably wouldn’t be the most prominent either. I’ve been told from a reliable source that a baseball superstar who retired in the 1980s and is now in the Hall of Fame is gay. The same source cited another player, not of the same caliber but who played during the same time period, as gay. He’s dropped hints in interviews, but never come out and said he is.

Don’t bother asking me who these players are. I have no reason to out them. I also don’t have three sources, which is the semi-unwritten rule that separates gossip from fact.

We’ve come a long, long way since 1984, when a magazine published an article titled “Reggie Jackson speaks out about his sex life,” and Mike Royko pointed out the absurdity. He’d never thought about Reggie Jackson’s sex life, so he went around asking other people if they’d ever thought of it. One guy asked if he wore his uniform and fielder’s mitt. A woman said no, then asked if he wanted to ask her about Ryne Sandberg. And Royko eventually came to the conclusion that Reggie Jackson’s personal life was Reggie Jackson’s business, and if anyone else cared, well, that was just pathetic.

Brendan Lemon, editor of Out magazine, sparked Piazza rumor by claiming last summer that he was having an affair with a pro baseball player who played on the east coast. He knew when he wrote it that people would think of Piazza, because everyone thinks anyone with his looks and his money ought to be married by now, and if he’s not, it must be because he’s gay.

Has it ever occurred to anybody that maybe Piazza just doesn’t want to be married?

Rumors about my sexuality have followed me my entire life. Well, since puberty. It came to a head in seventh grade. The playground talk that year was at least as bad as anything on South Park and frankly, it bordered on sexual harassment. I was in a combined 7th and 8th grade class, and there was one 8th grader who was as bad as the rest of ’em all put together, but collectively, to these guys, a girl was a collection of pleasure-bearing receptacles. That’s it. Well, that and a pretty decoration to be seen around, hopefully.

I didn’t participate in that. Yeah, I thought about sex as much as the next guy… probably. But someone, somewhere along the way, taught me to keep those thoughts to myself. But since I didn’t hit on or at least gawk at every reasonably attractive female carbon-based being that walked upright and was capable of verbal communication, I didn’t talk about what I wanted to do to them in bed, and since I didn’t boast of having a huge collection of Playboy and Penthouse and Hustler magazines at home, there was only one logical conclusion: Dave’s gay.

(And you thought I was going to say I was the nicest guy in my class. You’re so silly.)

One day the talk turned to one of the prettiest girls in the class. She was a year older than me, blonde, and the object of that biggest loudmouth’s every desire. Actually I think he would have died happy if she’d ever said more than two words to him. Rumor was that she had a thing for me. I’ve never really given any thought to the idea of whether she did or not. Looking back now, maybe she started the rumor just to make the jerk mad, because he hated me more than Roger Clemens hates Mike Piazza. Who knows. But I didn’t give any thought to it. I wasn’t interested. Why? Lots of reasons.

“You’re missing out on a chance of a lifetime,” one of the 8th graders said.

“A chance of a lifetime would be to buy IBM,” I said. (Scout’s honor. That was how I thought in those days. It didn’t make me popular.)

No, I didn’t see it as a chance of a lifetime. And yeah, she was really cute, but not really my type. I had a thing about girls who were taller than me. I got over it, about 10 years later. And she was blonde. I’ve always preferred dark hair and a past. So her hair was the wrong color and she wasn’t old enough to have a past. But even if she’d been the 5’1″ brunette of my dreams, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to date her, because I wasn’t about to date anyone from that town. I knew I was moving that summer, and I didn’t want to miss her.

If those former classmates get together on Friday nights and drink beer and talk about old times, they probably still think I’m gay.

In high school I was supposedly gay. The truth was, I hadn’t figured out how to talk to girls yet. By the time I was 17, I had started to figure out that you’re not supposed to talk to girls, you’re supposed to listen to them. So I dated a little as a senior. But mostly I was interested in getting out of there with as many accolades as I could so I could get into the college I wanted. One of my coworkers told me I could have girls then, or I could go to college and then get a real job and get rich and then have one of the girls really worth having. And he told me he respected my priorities.

Within a couple of months he was in prison but I took what he said to heart anyway. It sounded good. Just because he did all the wrong things didn’t mean he didn’t know what the right things were.

In college I forgot about that whole listen-to-girls thing, and the result was I had a whole lot more success getting my ramblings published than I had getting dates. There were girls I was interested in. Usually the feeling wasn’t mutual. There were girls who were interested in me. It wasn’t until after I’d graduated that I figured out what they were trying to tell me. Not that it mattered. I don’t think I would have known how to respond anyway. I knew a lot more about writing than I knew about starting relationships with girls.

I know at least once someone questioned whether I was gay during that timeframe, but that was a guy who thought The X-Files was a true story, so I didn’t let that bother me.

I’ve had a couple of post-college relationships. It’s been a while since the last of those. I don’t always understand women. I do understand guys. I understand them really well. I understand them so well that I know one thing for certain: I’ll never live with another guy for any extended length of time, unless that guy happens to be my son.

I live alone right now. A longtime friend who I don’t see very often anymore came to visit back in January, and he observed that I was content with that, but he questioned whether I was happy. He was right on both counts. But I’m picky about women. I don’t want another relationship like either of the last two. So I’m deliberately being a lot more picky this time around. And if the rumors want to fly, let them fly. I doubt they will.

So, what’s this have to do with Mike Piazza?

Well, there are a few differences between Mike Piazza and me. Mike Piazza hits a baseball a lot better than I do. I’m nowhere near as big of a crybaby about my annual salary as Mike Piazza was earlier in his career. But the biggest difference between Mike Piazza and me, as far as today’s headlines are concerned, is that gay activists don’t really have anything to gain by having me wear their badge. Yeah, I can write a little, but there are lots of gay guys who know how to write. Mike Piazza has money and notoriety and prestige.

But having walked one of the same roads Piazza walks, I have to offer up another, far less chic possibility or series of possibilities.

Maybe Mike Piazza knows a lot more about hitting a baseball than he knows about maintaining lasting, serious relationships with women.

Maybe Mike Piazza doesn’t want the distraction of a lasting, serious relationship with a woman while he’s trying to concentrate on hitting baseballs and winning a World Series and getting into the Hall of Fame. Like him or hate him, you have to admit Piazza has a lot of drive. And–gasp–some guys’ drive for success is stronger than their sex drive.

Or maybe Mike Piazza’s just being picky. All too many people marry the first person they suspect will say yes. And often, the result of that is that at some point after saying “I do,” they have to take those words back and get lawyers involved and it gets really messy. It affects every aspect of your life and turns you upside down. It would happen a whole lot less frequently if people would just be more picky.

I’ll tell you something else. None of what I’ve written about me was anybody’s business until I decided to write about it.

Likewise, none of what goes on in Mike Piazza’s relationships is anybody’s business until he decides to talk about it. And there’s every possibility that he never will.