Tags: Al Campanis, Billy Martin, Davey Lopes, Dodgers, Dusty Baker, First Gay Games, First Openly Gay Baseball Player, Glenn Burke, Invented the High Five, Los Angeles, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oakland, Oakland A's, Out: The Glenn Burke Story, San Francisco, Tommy Lasorda, Tommy Lasorda Jr dated Glenn Burke, Tommy Lasorda's son was gay
It was the last game of the 1977 baseball season when the Dodgers’ Dusty Baker hit a homerun and Glenn Burke ran to the field to congratulate him by giving him a “high five.” It was that moment where people credit Glenn Burke for inventing the “high five” that is used in the major sports of America. It is reported that when Glenn Burke hit his first major league homerun in that same game, Dusty Baker congratulated Glenn Burke for hitting his first homerun in the Majors by high fiving him. From that moment on, the trend just carried on.
Glenn Burke was an amazing athlete. He was once referred by a Dodgers coach as the “next Willie Mays.” Glenn Burke had all the tools to be one of the greatest baseball players in Major League history but there was one obstacle. Glenn Burke was a gay baseball player. He was the first gay baseball player to play in the major leagues.
Glenn Burke was a pioneer for gay baseball athletes. The sad part is that no other player has had the courage to “come out” while being an active baseball player. Maybe its because they recognized that doing so will be “baseball suicide” as some people have stated is what happened to Glenn Burke. By becoming the first gay baseball player to play in the major leagues, Glenn had it rough. Al Campanis, the General Manage of the Los Angeles Dodgers at one point offered Glenn Burke to pay for an excessive honeymoon if Glenn agreed to get married. Glenn refused. Tommy Lasorda the manager of the Dodgers at the time was bothered by the fact that Glenn Burke was openly dating his son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr. When Lasorda’s son passed away in 1991, Tommy issued a statement stating his son died of pneumonia and not of AIDS. Many people feel that it was Tommy Lasorda who pressured the front office to trade away Glenn Burke because he was dating his son.
Glenn’s Dodger teammates embraced him for who he was. Davey Lopes, the Dodgers current 1st base coach and the team captain of the 1977 season stated, “no one cared about his lifestyle.” While some players had no issues with Glenn’s lifestyle, it was the Dodgers management who felt uncomfortable having a gay athlete in their roster. Glenn Burke was eventually traded to the Oakland Athletics after the 1977 season, returning back to the bay area where he had excelled as a basketball player in high school. In Oakland, rather than feeling at home, he was harrassed by his own manager, Billy Martin. When introducing Glenn Burke to his new team in spring training, Billy Martin is quoted as saying, “and by the way…he’s a faggot!”
Glenn Burke ended playing two seasons with the Oakland A’s after suffering a knee injury that forced him to be demoted to the minor leagues and being release in 1979. His short major league career was cut short after 4 seasons and at the young age of 27.
Glenn Burke mentioned that “[In] 1978, I think everybody knew [and I’m] sure [my] teammates didn’t care.” He went on to say, “Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have. But I wasn’t changing…Prejudice just won out.” One of Glenn Burke’s famous quotes goes on to say, “They can’t ever say now that a gay man can’t play in the majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.”
Glenn Burke had a difficult life after baseball. He participated in the first Gay Games in 1982 winning medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprints. He ended becoming homeless in San Francisco and falling into drugs. He died on AIDS complications on May 30, 1995.
I believe the story of Glenn Burke exposes the homophobia culture that exist in major league sports. It showed how Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin were two of the biggest homophobic managers in the game of baseball. Shame on Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin. Glenn Burke is the Jackie Robinson of gay athletes. He enters the same realm as that of Harvey Milk. Glenn Burke was a man of integrity and courage. A great baseball player and a great human being. His story is one that I hope will inspire gay athletes to embrace who they are and play the game they love. As a sports fan, I long for the day when gay athletes can be comfortable for who they are and not have to think about ruining their careers simply by being themselves. I will stand by those gay athletes who realize that we are living in the 21st century and no longer must they continue to live their lives hiding their sexual preference.
I think the Dodgers owes a lot to Glenn Burke. Just the same way they retired Jackie Robinson’s number 42, they should retired his number 3. Glenn Burke didn’t accomplish a lot in baseball not because he couldn’t but because he was forced out of the game. His contributions of becoming the first gay baseball player and a great human being should be taken into consideration.
Here is a trailer on the documentary on the life of Glenn Burke.