MINNEAPOLIS -- One year after Major League Baseball issued a policy prohibiting players from harassing and discriminating against others players based on their sexual orientation, Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former outfielder Billy Bean as MLB's first Ambassador for Inclusion.
The announcement was made on Tuesday at the T-Mobile All-Star FanFest, following Selig's annual Town Hall Chat on the set of the MLB.com stage at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Selig and Bean were accompanied by Lutha Burke, the sister of the late former Major League outfielder Glenn Burke.
In his new role, Bean, who made public that he is gay in 1999, will provide guidance and training related to efforts to support those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community throughout Major League Baseball. He will work with Major and Minor League Clubs to encourage equal opportunity in accordance with the joint MLB-MLBPA Workplace Code of Conduct.
Bean also will develop educational training initiatives against sexism, homophobia and prejudice, and he will be present at annual industry events, including the Winter Meetings and the MLB-MLBPA Rookie Career Development Program.
"Diversity is a hallmark of our sport, which is fortunate to have an inherent ability to bring people together," Selig said. "The people of our sport have a responsibility to act with a kind of respect and sensitivity that our game's diverse players, employees and fans deserve.
"I wish that our game had someone in place to whom Billy and Glenn could have turned when they played; a friend, listener, a source of support. That's why I am so delighted to make this announcement today."
Bean, who played in the Major Leagues for parts of six seasons from 1987-89 and 1993-95, wrote a book titled "Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball." He works actively to dispel the myth and stereotypes that follow people of diversity.
Now 50, Bean still grapples with his decision nearly two decades ago to walk away from the game rather than continue to play professionally while hiding his sexual orientation. As he begins his new post with MLB, his goal is to give young players resources that he didn't have. Bean acknowledges now that had he had a support system in place back then, he likely wouldn't have quit baseball.
As the oldest of six kids -- five boys -- and the son of a military officer, Bean was afraid to come out to even his own family.
"I had never been around a gay person before," he said. "It was hard to live a life where I did not reach out for help. I learned firsthand that you can't manage everything in your life by yourself."
Bean would like to "shortcut a lot of experience" and make players aware that the actions they take resonate in the outside world.
"I don't want to change baseball. I don't want players to feel uncomfortable," he said. "I don't want them to think that we're trying to force them to say or do or act or be something they're not. It's just a matter of whoever it affects, they are role models. Especially now, it's an instant world. With the way everyone's on Twitter. Just to be more cautious and understanding and maybe once they're exposed to the resources, they'll think differently."
Burke, who played for the Dodgers and Athletics in the 1970s, revealed that he was gay in 1982 in an interview with Inside Sports magazine. He passed away from AIDS in 1995, and he is being recognized posthumously by MLB as the sport's gay pioneer.
"I have no doubt that Glenn would be very happy today and would probably wonder why all the folderol," Lutha Burke said. "Because when you are just busy trying to live a life and be a decent human being, and play the sport as best you can, with all the respect you can, it should be a done deal or an easy deal."
Major League Baseball has been proactive with its efforts to eliminate discrimination of any type. MLB recently made public its partnership with Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization on a mission to educate and activate athletic communities to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sports and to champion LGBT equality.
Yogi Berra, behind the support of his museum and learning center in New Jersey, is an ambassador of Athlete Ally, and former manager and current MLB executive Joe Torre also offered his public endorsement, signing the Athlete Ally pledge to "respect and welcome all persons, regardless of their perceived or actual sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."
And it all begins with education and enlightenment.
"We're not here to change the way people think," Bean said. "We're here to give them the opportunity to make the best decision. There will always be conflict. There will always be people who do not want to vote one way or the other. That's the beauty of our country.
"This is not a desire to find out information about players or encourage them to do something they're not ready to do. It's to protect them and let them make their own decisions and be the best players they can be."