Glenn Burke

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Glenn Burke
Glenn Burke.jpg
Outfielder
Born: (1952-11-16)November 16, 1952
Oakland, California
Died: May 30, 1995(1995-05-30) (aged 42)
San Leandro, California
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 9, 1976 for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Last MLB appearance
June 4, 1979 for the Oakland Athletics
Career statistics
Batting average .237
Home runs 2
Runs batted in 38
Teams

Glenn Lawrence Burke (November 16, 1952 – May 30, 1995) was a Major League Baseball (MLB) player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 to 1979.

Burke was the first and only MLB player to come out as gay to teammates and team owners during his professional career and the first to publicly acknowledge it.[1][2] He died from AIDS-related causes in 1995.[3][4]

"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[5][6]

Early athletic career[edit]

Burke was an accomplished high school basketball star, leading the Berkeley High School, California, Yellow Jackets to an undefeated season and the 1970 Northern California championships.[citation needed] He was voted into the Tournament of Champions (TOC) and received a Northern California MVP award.[citation needed] Burke was named Northern California's High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1970.

Major League career[edit]

Toward the beginning of his career, an assistant coach described him as the next Willie Mays.[7] Burke was a highly touted star in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system before being called up to the major league club.

As a gay man, Burke's association with the Dodgers was a difficult one. According to his 1995 autobiography Out at Home, Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis offered to pay for a lavish honeymoon if Burke agreed to marry.[7] Burke refused to do so,[5] and is said to have responded "to a woman?"[8] He also angered Dodgers' manager Tommy Lasorda by befriending the manager's gay son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr.[9] Lasorda has disputed that but says he does not understand Burke's behavior at the time: "Why wouldn't he come out? Why keep that inside? Glenn had a lot of talent. He could have been an outstanding basketball or baseball player. He sure was good in the clubhouse. What happened? I don't know what happened. He just wasn't happy here?"[10] The Dodgers eventually traded Burke to the Oakland Athletics for Billy North, claiming that they needed an experienced player who could contribute right away. North did have more experience and better statistics, but some would argue he was less talented, and there have been suggestions that homophobia was behind the trade.[7] The trade was unpopular with Dodger players. The day after the trade was announced, teammate Davey Lopes said: "He was the life of the team, on the buses, in the clubhouse, everywhere."[11] In Oakland Burke received little playing time in the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Billy Martin used the word "faggot" in the clubhouse when he became an Athletics's manager in 1980, and some teammates avoided showering with Burke.[8] Burke suffered a knee injury[12] before the 1980 season began, and the Athletics sent him to the minors in Utah and then released him from his contract before the season ended.[3]

In his four seasons and 225 games in the majors playing for the Dodgers and Athletics, Burke had 523 at-bats, batted .237 with two home runs, 38 RBIs and 35 stolen bases.[1]

Sexuality[edit]

Burke said "By 1978 I think everybody knew" and he was "sure his teammates didn't care." Former Dodgers team captain Davey Lopes said "No one cared about his lifestyle."[13] He told The New York Times that "Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have. But I wasn't changing".[1] He wrote in his autobiography that "prejudice just won out."[5] Burke left professional sports at the age of 27. He told People magazine in 1994 that his "mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype" and that he thought "it worked".[14][15]

The high five[edit]

In 1977, Burke ran onto the field to congratulate his Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker after Baker hit his 30th home run in the last game of the regular season. Burke raised his hand over his head as Baker jogged home from third base. Not knowing what to do about the upraised hand, Baker slapped it. They have been credited with inventing the high five.[9] After retiring from baseball, Burke used the high five with other homosexual residents of the Castro district of San Francisco, where it became a symbol of gay pride and identification.[9]

Life after Major League Baseball[edit]

Burke continued his athletic endeavors after retiring from baseball. He won medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprints in the first Gay Games in 1982 and competed in the 1986 Gay Games in basketball. His jersey number at Berkeley High School was retired in his honor.[16]

An article published in Inside Sports magazine in 1982 made Burke's homosexuality public knowledge. Although he remained active in amateur competitions, Burke turned to drugs to fill the void in his life when his career ended. An addiction to cocaine destroyed him both physically and financially. In 1987, his leg and foot were crushed when he was hit by a car in San Francisco. After the accident, his life went into physical and financial decline. He was arrested and jailed for drugs and lived on the streets of San Francisco for a number of years, often congregating in the same neighborhood that once embraced him.[17] He spent his final months with his sister in Oakland. He died May 30, 1995, of AIDS complications at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, California, at age 42.[1] He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

When news of his battle with AIDS became public knowledge in 1994, the Oakland Athletics organization helped to support him financially.[11] In interviews given while he was fighting AIDS, he expressed little in the way of grudges, and only one big regret – that he never had the opportunity to pursue a second professional sports career in basketball.[citation needed]

Burke's name was mentioned in the "Thin Ice" episode of the fifth season of Crossing Jordan where the plot involved a star professional baseball player falsely accused of raping a woman who chooses to risk imprisonment and the end of his career rather than reveal his homosexuality. Comparing his situation to that of two star athletes who were accused of rape in real life, the characters say:[citation needed]

Quentin Baker: "Do you know what a locker room's like? You know what they say about faggots? What they do to 'em?"
Jordan Cavanaugh: "What do they say about rapists?"
Baker: "Mike Tyson got past it. Kobe was accused; he's still going strong. But Glenn Burke came out and he was run out of baseball!!"

In 1999, Major League Baseball player Bill Bean revealed his homosexuality, only the second Major League player to do so. Unlike Burke, who came out to teammates while he was still an active player, Bean revealed himself four years after his retirement in 1995, the year Burke died.[18]

On August 2, 2013, Burke was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.[19]

In July 2014, Major League Baseball announced plans to honor Burke at the 2014 All-Star Game.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d "Glenn Burke, 42, A Major League Baseball Player". New York Times. June 2, 1995. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ Barra, Allen (May 12, 2013). "Actually, Jason Collins Isn't the First Openly Gay Man in a Major Pro Sport". The Atlantic. 
  3. ^ a b The Advocate: 14. Aug 18, 1998. 
  4. ^ Luca Prono (2008). Encyclopedia of gay and lesbian popular culture. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 44. 
  5. ^ a b c Keith Stern (2009). Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays. Jennifer Canzoneri. p. 78. 
  6. ^ Vox, Dylan (December 11, 2006). "A High Five to Baseball Great Glenn Burke". This Week in Texas. Retrieved August 21, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c "Inner Strength, Inner Peace". The Milwaukee Sentinel. November 2, 1994. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Patient Zero", RadioLab, May 30, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Mooallem, Jon (April 12, 2013). "History of the high five". ESPN. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  10. ^ Pucin, Diane (August 22, 2013). "Glenn Burke was ideal Dodger teammate whose sexuality wasn't an issue". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  11. ^ a b c Branch, John (July 14, 2014). "M.L.B. to Honor Glenn Burke as a Gay Pioneer in Baseball". New York Times. Retrieved July 14, 2014. 
  12. ^ Matthew Silverman; Greg Spira (2005). USA Today/Sports Weekly Best Baseball Writing 2005. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 95. 
  13. ^ Jet: 48. Oct 4, 1982. 
  14. ^ Barra, Allen (May 2, 2013). "Actually, Jason Collins Isn't the First Openly Gay Man in a Major Pro Sport". The Atlantic. Retrieved August 21, 2013. 
  15. ^ Barra, Allen (April 19, 2013). "The Jackie Robinson of Gay Rights". Village Voice. Retrieved August 21, 2013. 
  16. ^ Grossberg, Adam (September 15, 2011). "Oakland honors late, openly gay MLB player Glenn Burke". OaklandNorth. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  17. ^ Crowe, Jerry (September 11, 1994). "Ex-Dodger Battles Aids, Lives On Streets—'I Hurt Every Day,' Says Glenn Burke". Seattle Times. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  18. ^ Lipsyte, Robert (September 6, 1999). "A Major League Player's Life Of Isolation and Secret Fear". New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  19. ^ Breen, Matthew (June 18, 2013). "National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame’s Inaugural Class Announced". Out Magazine. Retrieved August 21, 2013. 

Further information[edit]

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