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Former major league outfielder Billy Bean speaks during a news conference at baseball's All-Star game.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

During a stretch of eight years, Billy Bean lost three people close to him.

The first was his father in 1991 from a heart attack, which forced him to confront his sexuality and leave his wife. The third was his college baseball teammate at Loyola Marymount, Tim Layana, who was ejected from his Chevy Blazer in a car crash in 1999. The second? Well, the second was a story of pain, years-long suffering and an inability to come to terms with who exactly Billy Bean was.

Before he was a gay pioneer in America’s Pastime and before he was hired as MLB’s Ambassador for Inclusion in 2014 or became MLB’s Senior Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (a role he serves today), Bean was a closeted Major Leaguer who let his fears dominate his life.

It was the tragic death of his partner in 1995 that made him reevaluate what was really important in life.

Billy Bean’s Partner Tragically Died of AIDS 

Billy Bean, Ambassador for Inclusion, MLB, speaks with press at the Beyond Sport United 2015 event.
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images for Beyond Sport

In the spring of 1995, Bean was secretly dating an Iranian man named Sam, who he had met at a gym two years prior. Bean kept him — and his sexuality — entirely hidden from everyone. Not even Bean’s brothers were allowed to stay at his Del Mar house where he and Sam lived. Worse is that Sam had to hide in the car when Bean’s teammates swung by impromptu.

“I was deeply in love and just very happy. I had gone through a long struggle to get there. In my own tiny little world, I felt like I had things under control,” Bean recalled in an interview.

On April 23, Bean played in an exhibition game against the Anaheim Angels for the San Diego Padres. When he came home that night, he found Sam, who was HIV positive, collapsed on the floor of their place with a 106-degree fever. This was 1995, a year in which by the end of October a total of 501,310 people had AIDS, 62 percent of which died. According to the CDC, 49 percent of all AIDS cases up to that point were reported from 1993 to October 1995.

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Bean was on his way to the local hospital, but he veered from the exit after remembering he had recently made an appearance at the same hospital as a member of the Padres. Word would surely get out that Billy Bean was dating this man, which was his worst fear at the time.

Bean drove an extra half-hour out of the way to a different hospital to avoid this. A calculated move for someone who had been carefully monitoring his every step his entire life. The next morning, Sam died of cardiac arrest from AIDS-related complications.

“I couldn’t tell if it was because he was HIV positive that they started to get a little squeamish. It was 1995. It was a different time than it is now,” Bean said.

“I just felt like he was not being treated equally or with respect as someone who had been in a car accident and it was just a blind medical situation.”

Just like that, Bean’s world was flipped upside down. He was forced to confront so many emotions. So many feelings and thoughts he had buried for so many years. He had left his wife, who he was married to for three years, for Sam.

Bean couldn’t even grieve. He didn’t have time. He had no way to ask the club for some time off from the death, because the relationship was a secret, as was his sexuality.

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Beane Was Out of Baseball By 1996

Former major league outfielder Billy Bean speaks during a news conference at baseball's All-Star game.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File

“I swore to myself I would never again let baseball take precedence over my life,” Bean told the New York Times. “If I ever fell in love again, that relationship would come ahead of my career.”

To make matters worse, Bean showed up to the ballpark that same day and was demoted to the minor leagues.

“Everything was gone,” Bean said in an interview.

By 1996, Bean was out of baseball. He finished his six-year career with a .226 batting average.

Soon after hanging up the cleats, he lived with his new partner he met in Miami, Efrain Veiga. The two were together for 13 years before splitting in 2008, according to Outsports.

In 1999, Bean’s old college teammate and a former Cincinnati Reds pitcher, Tim Layana, died in a car crash. He was one of Bean’s best friends, but he missed the funeral because no one had his number. Bean’s obsession with keeping his privacy was the reason.

“Tim would have understood if I had told him. I began to think, I’m not living some horrible existence, I’m proud of my life. Where do I finally draw the line and just say, ‘Accept me or don’t?'” he told the New York Times.

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Beane Came Out in 1999

That same year, Bean came out when he agreed to let a writer profile him in The Miami Herald. National attention followed, and he shared his story with Diane Sawyer on “20/20” in December of 1999. He published his memoir “Going the Other Way” in 2003, and it became a bestseller.

Today, Bean is the openly gay Major League Baseball player (current or former) still alive. Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, was the only other MLB player to come out. He did so in 1994, a year before dying of AIDS.

The 58-year-old Bean is still a bridge between the LGBTQ+ community and the baseball world. He continues to tell his story — one of tragedy and triumph — in hopes to inspire athletes that felt like he did.

MORE: The 18 Best MLB Uniforms That Don’t Exist Anymore (But Really Should)

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Patrick covered the Florida Gators during the forgettable Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain eras before spending two seasons writing for Major League Baseball. He's an SEC homer and a baseball junkie who spends his days defending the Miami Marlins. When he's not glued to a TV, you can find him ...Read more
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