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Sun, 11.16.1952

Glenn Burke, Baseball Player born

Glenn Burke

*Glenn Burke was born on this date in 1952. He was a Black, gay professional baseball player.

Glenn Lawrence Burke was born in Oakland, California. He was a high school basketball star, leading the Berkeley High School, California, Yellow Jackets to an undefeated season and the 1970 Northern California championships. He was voted onto the all-tournament team at the Tournament of Champions (TOC) and received a Northern California MVP award. Burke was named Northern California's High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1970. Burke could dunk a basketball with both hands, rare for anyone under 6 feet tall. He attended Merritt College after high school.  Burke was a highly scouted star in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system before being called up to their major league club, (MLB). 

He played for the Dodgers from 1976 until 1978.  On October 2, 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, an event detailed in the ESPN 30 for 30 films The High Five. The high five is now widely universal. After retiring from baseball, Burke used the high five with other LGBTQ residents of the Castro district of San Francisco, where it became a symbol of gay pride and identification.

As a gay man, Burke's association with the Dodgers was difficult. 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. Burke refused to do so and is said to have responded: "to a woman?" He also angered Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda by befriending the manager's gay son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr. 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?"  

The Dodgers eventually traded Burke to the Oakland Athletics for Billy North, claiming that they needed an experienced player who could contribute right away. In Oakland, Burke received little playing time in the 1978 and 1979 seasons. Some teammates avoided showering with Burke. Burke suffered a knee injury 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. 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. 

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." Burke told The New York Times that "Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have. But I wasn't changing".  He wrote in his autobiography that "prejudice just won out." 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". He was the first MLB player to come out as gay to teammates and team owners during his professional career and the first to publicly acknowledge it, stating, "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."  

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. Burke played for many years in the SFGSL (San Francisco Gay Softball League), playing third base for Uncle Bert's Bombers. 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. A cocaine addiction 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 several years, often in the same neighborhood that once embraced him. When news of his battle with AIDS became public knowledge in 1994, the Oakland Athletics organization helped to support him financially. 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. He spent his final months with his sister in Oakland. Glenn Burke died May 30, 1995, of AIDS complications at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, California, at age 42. He was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California.

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. On August 2, 2013, Burke was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame. In July 2014, Major League Baseball announced plans to honor Burke at the 2014 All-Star Game, doing so as part of a pregame press conference on July 15, 2014. The Fox broadcast in the United States did not mention Burke. On June 17, 2015, the Oakland Athletics honored Burke as part of Athletics Pride Night. Burke's brother, Sydney, threw the ceremonial first pitch at the game. Burke was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 2015.

To become a Professional Athlete

Reference:

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