Richard Greenberg’s play Take Me Out is as much about the role of the athlete, particularly the baseball “star,” as it is about what makes a team function—and what threatens the unity of a team. The play confronts the disturbing truth that baseball has never been an equal opportunity employer. African-Americans were shut out from the big leagues for decades. Gay Americans can play, but in our post-don’t ask, don’t tell world, the player usually needs to shut up if he’s gay. Play. Be great. Be a star. But if you’re gay, you’re trouble, a threat. You may be as good, or better, than any other player, but your sexuality bars you from getting the lucrative advertising contracts, and worse, you become defined completely by your sexuality. It is as if no other part of the player exists—the press’s and the public’s lazar beam focuses on his dick and who he has sex with. Management knows this and, desiring a so-called “family” picture of the team, contributes to the player’s separation from the other players over this one element.
Take Me Out resembles what happens to water when a drop of food coloring falls into it. The look of the water is changed forever. There is no “purity” that the water can return to. Everything stems on an open admission. Had Darren stayed in the closet, there would be no play. However, by publicly admitting who he is, and to some extent shielded by his excellence at what he does, he kicks the door open and the nasty attitudes of many players and fans, even well-meaning ones, becomes clear. Greenberg says that Billy Bean’s autobiography “gave me the germ of the play” (Provenzano 2). Bean had been a Major League player who didn’t reveal his orientation until he retired. Bean believes that only a superstar could, perhaps, get away with speaking openly.
A letter from a William Danziger to Darren suggests that Danziger wouldn’t be averse to knowing Darren, to showering with him—but that Darren plays baseball, that his son admires him, Danziger can’t accept this. The baseball athlete, by definition, has to be straight. He has to be a straight man among other straight men—or else the fantasy falls apart. Yet Mike Mussina, a former starting pitcher for the Yankees, when asked how he would feel being on a team with a gay player, responded with “I might already have” (Provenzano 3).
Darren is hardly a poster guy for gay rights. It’s hard to feel empathy for him as he seems brimming with self-confidence. As is often the case with many celebrated figures, in baseball or in any other endeavor, fame can lead to a supersizing of the ego. His prowess as a player makes him feel invincible. It isn’t the same thing for a left-fielder with a lifetime batting average of .250 to come out as it is for someone who excels. While it is courageous and laudable for Darren to come out, he does so at the expense of team unity (even if it is a phony unity based on prejudice and ignorance) and his new freedom doesn’t bring him satisfaction.
Baseball, like most professional sports, remains a stinky closet. The baseball player, for many, particularly male fans, represents an everyman who succeeds. The player becomes for the male fan an “I could have been him had I had more talent” fantasy. If the fantasy is gay, the fan gets nervous. The everyman, by definition, has to be straight—or else he’s not an “everyman.” Everyman gets married and has kids. The open gay player turns the fantasy on its ear. If he is an everyman too, then the fan might be “tainted” with this everyman’s lavender blood.
While Darren’s coming out acts as the catalyst for the plot, he is not the main character. Two other characters, both strongly affected by Darren’s “confession,” focus the play. Mason Marzak starts out as a blank slate regarding baseball. Mason is gay too but has no connection with the sport until he meets Darren and is hired to handle Darren’s money. Both men do not feel connected with the gay “community” and appear unclear about what the gay “community” really is. Mason admits that he has started to watch baseball, a switch from his previous experience, but he doesn’t want to define himself in terms of this one community either.
Shane Mungitt, the relief pitcher with a tragic childhood, faces the upheaval that surfaces when he makes denigrating comments—to the press—about people of color and gays. It is hard to hate Shane despite his attitudes. His ignorance has never been challenged, and had he kept his comments to himself, nothing would have happened. Also, publicly calling Darren a faggot breaks the fantasy of a unified team. While many fans may agree with Shane, they may also depend on Darren to get the key hits and not want to see him put at risk over this upset.
Perhaps the real central character isn’t Darren, Mason, or Shane—but the press. As reporters scribble down every word they can get, they help create personae which may only dimly suggest the real person about whom they are reporting. Darren gets shorthanded as gay. Shane gets shorthanded as bigot. The real lives don’t seem to matter as much as propping up an epithet.
The title can be read in many ways. On a date, people can take each other out. To take someone out can also be to kill them. It can also be a plea to be removed from an unpleasant situation. A starting pitcher gets taken out and replaced by a reliever. Of course, it is also the opening three words of the old baseball song classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” a song which extols a relaxing time watching the game, suggesting relief from a world of stress and moral uncertainty. The play challenges the sentiments in the song—baseball becomes a confrontation with stress and moral uncertainty, not an escape from them. The real me in these characters gets taken out—extracted—and what gets reported replaces the reality of the player’s life. The real me isn’t there, is irrelevant. The stories and “controversies” may sell papers and draw ratings on sports radio shows, but those stories may be little more than bite-sized myths for the public.
The Empires, while suggesting the New York Yankees, should be like a diverse neighborhood where everyone gets along and forms a single unit. While some neighborhoods may come closer to this idyll than others, diversity is often more of a threat than a solution. Many fans, with good reason, marvel at the execution of a triple play or a bottom-of-the-ninth-come-from-behind rally. The team seems to be working together so smoothly, helping each other, in sinc with what each player can do, that losing would indeed feel bitter. When the team functions well, it “deserves” to win. Fans may feel they themselves are “winning” too by virtue of their support of the team they have remained “loyal” to. Darren’s words challenge this unity. Darren speaks and the Empires slide into a tailspin, that is, until Shane Mungitt rescues them, even if temporarily.
Darren’s “confession” is, to some of his teammates, a betrayal. Toddy says, “So now I gotta go around worrying that every time I’m naked or dressed or whatever, you’re checking out my ass (Greenberg 16). Of course, Toddy assumes his ass is worth checking out. Yet Toddy does get to the center of the unease over Darren’s confession. Straight males can be naked together without “worrying” that one of them is checking them out.
In performances, audience members who sit near the stage often end up rather wet. By splashing the audience, it is as if they too are in the showers with the players, not partitioned off from them in the theater. Moreover, straight males check out women all the time, expected behavior from the onset of puberty when “having a girlfriend” is proof of traditional masculinity. When the sexual attention might turn to them, from one of their own team members, the notions of masculinity, and how men work together as a single group, come under scrutiny.
Masculinity, for the team, essentially means heterosexual marriage and kids. One may be a great shortstop but that’s not quite enough. Davey, Darren’s best friend, a religious man, and a player on an opposing team, says that he is “well rounded” because he has his wife and the three (children) (24). Without them, presumably he can be a good player but the picture is incomplete. Something is missing. Davey’s description almost makes his wife and children sound more like items bought at a mall more than people around whom he centers his life.
Darren doesn’t express interest in being well rounded in Davey’s terms. Nor does he express interest in finding a partner with whom he can share his life. He is more interested in playing baseball. Kippy discloses to Darren that he imagined Darren and some guy having dinner with Kippy and his wife and kids. This suggests that not all members of the team feel as Toddy does regarding Darren’s confession. Darren brushes off Kippy’s comments. As is often the case with Darren, he reacts with sarcasm, often assuming that others are blind. Yet for all his fame and good looks, he is pretty much alone. There may be moments when the walls around him seem more penetrable, but they are fleeting.
For a man who is so “open” by “confessing” his true sexuality, Darren comes across as pretty closed. Mason, however, who was uninformed about baseball before meeting Darren, learns to see baseball as a metaphor for other parts of American life including the nature of justice and democracy. Mason claims,
And baseball is better than democracy—or at least than democracy as it’s practiced in this country—because, unlike democracy, baseball acknowledges loss. While conservatives tell you, “Leave things alone and no one will lose,” and liberals tell you, “Interfere a lot and no one will lose,” baseball says “Someone will lose.” (36)
As much as we may want government to be able to prevent loss, no government can do this. Someone has to lose.
In addition, Mason admires the rituals he sees in baseball, particularly that of the home-run trot where play essentially stops while the team celebrates the home run and shows admiration for the big hit. Respect for the players isn’t celebrated only before or after the game—but during it. Acknowledging someone’s contribution to the success of the group gets an immediate during-the-game response. When one succeeds, all succeed.
While Mason may be enjoying his new enjoyment of baseball and its place in American life, Shane does not see life in terms of metaphor. He isn’t looking for a larger framework for the game. He wants to pitch and to do it with all the power and skill that he has. When the Empires slump, Shane’s arm stands between the team and defeat. His story is perhaps the most tragic, even more so than Davey Battle’s, the man who Shane kills with a pitch. An orphan, Shane grew up in various places. His father shot and killed his mother and then killed himself. He hasn’t had adults who were able to nurture him or provide him with opportunities for bettering his life in any way. The attitudes about African-Americans and gays which he espouses on television are not spoken with malice as much as they are spoken from ignorance. Given the world he was given as a child, it would be hard to imagine him thinking in any other way.
For some readers, the presentation of a Shane as little more than a stupid cracker detracts from the play’s power. Elysa Gardner’s review in USA Today of the play’s performance at the Public Theater says that the play would have more impact had Shane “spoken lucidly, so his views couldn’t be dismissed as a lack of intelligence” (Gardner 1). Shane can’t speak “lucidly.” Shane isn’t unintelligent as much as he is ignorant. Darren comes from a racially mixed “triumphant” marriage (Greenberg 5), the opposite of Shane’s world. Both worlds collide in the showers.
What Shane can do is throw—hard. If he has no power in life, he has much power through his pitching. It gets him a contract with The Empires and instant fame comes with that. Microphones get pushed in his face. Without an awareness of the impact of his prejudicial language, he responds to reporters as if they are all in a general store jawin’ about nothing important. Yet this general store, the media, serves millions of people. Shane becomes a problem—for the image of the team—and for the team itself.
When Shane gets permanently expelled from baseball, any power, any sense of self he has, gets blown away. It’s hard not to pity him despite his attitudes. He’s left with nothing; Shane ends up shooting milk out of convenience store bottles and must go to jail. His anger and hurt have to somewhere; if he can’t shoot anyone else, including himself, he can bust up the bottles.
Darren is implicated, too, in Shane’s disgrace. Understandably, Shane’s hate speech on national television angers Darren. Shane takes many showers, as if trying to clean something out of him more lasting than sweat and dirt. When the starting pitcher, Kawabata, almost pitches a perfect game that comes unraveled in the ninth inning, Darren and Shane are both in the shower at the same time. Darren taunts him, purposely making him uncomfortable. When Shane turns his back to Darren, Darren grabs him and kisses him, not out of affection or lust, but to humiliate him, to show he is top dog.
It may not go as far as rape, but it has overtones of rape as Darren uses his power against Shane. Shane had claimed it was terrible to have to shower with a faggot; Darren decides to show him just how terrible it could be. Back on the field, when Shane is chosen to pitch, he constantly repeats “fuck” (80) as Darren looks “like he could murder somebody” (81). In Shane’s fury, the first pitch he throws kills Davey. With that pitch, Darren grows more isolated than before, having lost his best friend (though their friendship was strained by Darren’s admission)—and Shane loses everything.
Shane essentially takes Davey out—as he suggested he would do, according to Jason. The result is that he himself gets taken out by the MLB. Darren had taken himself out of the closet. Yet the freedom he gains from doing so is tempered by some of his fellow players’ reactions. If only Darren had just shut up, put a stopper in the bottle of his identity, kept his sexuality to himself. By taking himself out, by speaking, he becomes a threat to team unity—a unity that is, to some extent, based on people telling lies.
Don Shewey’s review in The Advocate expresses unease with the ending, claiming that it “soothes with a reminder that a new baseball season begins next spring.” (Shewey 1). While the horrible events of Davey’s death and Shane’s expulsion from baseball can’t be “soothed” by a new season, one of the attractions to sports is that there is no final ending. A game will end. A season will end. But another season will also start. The ending isn’t necessarily optimistic. Based on what had happened to The Empires the previous season, even though they won the World Series, why assume that the next will be better?
Teams, like most neighborhoods, have tensions, often not resolvable. Neighbors may choose to know each other well or just wave to each other when taking out the trash or getting the mail from the box. In Take Me Out, Darren is more of the waves-at-you kind of neighbor. Some neighborhoods just don’t work—the residents don’t get along or live lives so vastly different from each other that common ground is hard to find. The Empires are learning that their own team neighborhood is more diverse than they had imagined. Such diversity presents them with challenges—which may—or may not be—worked out in a subsequent season.
Gardner, Elysa. “Despite a few bad hops, Take Me Out looks like a hit.” USA Today.
March 3, 2003. www.usatoday.com/life/theater/reviews/2003-03-03-take-me_x.htm. March 25, 2007.
Greenberg, Richard. Take Me Out. New York: Faber & Faber, 2003.
Provenzano, Jim. “OUTfield: An Interview with Playwright Richard Greenberg.”
Temenos. Apil 9, 2004. www.temenos.net/articles/04-09-04.shtml. March 25, 2007.
Shewey, Don. The Advocate. October 15, 2002.
www.donshewey.com/theater_reviews/take-me_out.html. March 25, 2007.