Billy Bean, gay MLB executive, announces leukemia diagnosis

Billy Bean accepts an award from Callen-Lorde in November of 2023.
Billy Bean accepts an award from Callen-Lorde in November of 2023.
Donna Aceto

Billy Bean, an out gay Major League Baseball (MLB) executive and former player who came out after his playing days were over, announced he has been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and is in need of a donor for a bone marrow transplant. 

Bean, who serves as a special assistant to the commissioner and senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion, opened up about the diagnosis in an interview with USA Today.

“Mentally, it’s a new challenge,” Bean said. “I’ve been fit my whole life, but there have been some nights where I can not recognize how my body feels. I still can not enjoy food.”

The former MLB player spoke out about his diagnosis days before he was honored during MLB’s 10th annual Stand Up to Cancer charity auction this month. After feeling fatigued and losing 22 pounds, Bean visited a doctor one morning and found himself in an emergency room that afternoon, he told USA Today. 

“I didn’t even realize that I lost that much weight,” Bean said, “But I just wasn’t feeling well. I figured, I’ll just go for a run, drink some water, and I’d be fine. But I was going through night sweats. I finally went in, saw the doctor and nurse practitioner, and they said, ‘There’s something going on here.’”

By the following day, he was receiving chemotherapy. Bean said he was first diagnosed on Aug. 28 and endured a total of 28 days in a hospital, during which time he was barred from having visitors due to his compromised immune system. 

“It was a very isolating experience, especially when you don’t know what the outcome is,” Bean said.

He described the diagnosis as a “total shock.”

MLB executive Billy Bean during an interview with Gay City News in December of 2019.
MLB executive Billy Bean during an interview with Gay City News in December of 2019.Matt Tracy

“You need support, because you don’t feel whole,” Bean said. “You don’t feel strong. You don’t have energy. It’s like, I’m not interested in watching TV. I’m not into reading books. When I have the energy, I just focus on work.”

Bean could not immediately be reached for comment on Dec. 8. Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting inclusion in sports, voiced support for Bean on X and called on people to visit to learn about how to help in his quest for a donor.

“Holding Billy Bean and his loved ones close in our hearts,” Athlete Ally wrote.

Bean’s playing days included stints with the Padres, Dodgers, and Tigers from 1987 to 1995. His coming out story in the Miami Herald in 1999 was historic due to the lack of out gay players in baseball. He was only the second MLB player, retired or not, to come out, following the late Glenn Burke, once a star athlete who played in the big leagues in the mid-to-late 1970s and died of complications from AIDS in 1995.

Nearly two decades after retiring, Bean returned to MLB in a much different capacity — as ambassador of inclusion, a new role that involved working with clubs on bolstering diversity efforts. He made numerous appearances with different squads at spring training camps, where he would suit up and practice with players while also guiding organizations on inclusion and acceptance.

“In the 150 years of major league baseball, [Burke] and I are the only former major leaguers who ever disclosed they’re gay,” Bean told Gay City News during a 2019 interview at MLB headquarters. “That’s really hard to believe in a way that constantly reminds me that we have a lot of work to do.”