Former Dodger Glenn Burke To Be Honored Tonight At All-Star Game As Baseball's 'Gay Pioneer'
Former Dodger Glenn Burke, an outfielder who invented the high-five, will be honored by Major League Baseball at the All-Star Game not for his contribution to the world of hand gestures, but for being the sport's gay pioneer.MLB invited Burke's family to Minneapolis' Target Field tonight as part of their first official recognition of Glenn Burke's role for opening the door for gays in professional sports, according to the New York Times. Burke died in 1995 from the complications of AIDS. The move coincides with MLB's partnership with the nonprofit Athlete Ally and the naming of former player Billy Bean as an "ambassador for inclusion." Bean, not to be confused with Oakland A's general manager and Moneyball-subject Billy Beane, came out as gay in 1999 after his playing career ended.
Burke, who played for the Dodgers from 1976-1978 before being traded to the Oakland Athletics, was a speedy outfielder whose lackluster bat kept him out of a full-time role—he only hit two home runs in his career. Burke publicly came out as gay after his short career ended, but his sexuality was an open secret among teammates and may have possibly been the reason why he was traded from the Dodgers in the middle of the 1978 season.
Burke's struggle with living a semi-closeted life was beautifully chronicled in a 1982 story in Inside Sports that has since been reposted on Deadspin. While the article never mentions any outright instances of homophobia or discrimination that got in the way of his playing career, it's clear the undercurrent of fear certainly kept Burke from achieving his full potential. It also insinuates Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, who had his own complicated off-the-field relationship with a gay son, never seemed fully comfortable around Burke and that the Dodgers traded him away because of his sexuality despite his popularity among teammates.
Major League Baseball is finally catching up with the rest of the sports leagues in America, who have already taken their own steps to open the doors for LGBTQ-acceptance. The NHL launched You Can Play back in 2012. Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to play for one of the 'Big Four' North American sports leagues earlier this year, and Michael Sam became the first openly gay player drafted by an NFL team.