“Take me out to the ballgame,” holds a special place in the sports lexicon and the lore of Americana. It conjures up images of fathers and sons together, hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, and of course the “Boys of Summer.” Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, you can probably name a few of the most important players of all time, yet it’s doubtful among them would be Glenn Burke.
Glenn Burke was an African American who was the first openly gay, Major League Baseball player and is widely credited with creating the “high five.”
Born in 1952 in Oakland, California, Glenn Burke made his MLB debut on April 9, 1976 with the LA Dodger and never made a secret of his sexuality with management or teammates. Dodger management was so concerned the Press would find out Burke was gay, they offered him $75K and a lavish honeymoon if he’d get married. He responded by saying, “I guess you mean to a woman?” and refused their offer.
It was during his playing time with the Dodgers that Burke created the High-five. From TodayIFoundOut.com
“Besides being the first MLB player to come out during his playing career, at least with teammates and management, Glenn Burke is also often credited with being the guy who invented the high-five. To be clear, “low-fives” had been around for several decades at this point, particularly within the African American community, and there are a few people who claim to have “invented” the high-five. Perhaps they really did perform a high-five first at some point- it being not exactly a complicated extension of the already popular low-five. The reason Burke is so often given credit is there is substantial documented evidence of his first high-five, unlike so many other claimants. Further, after he started doing this, it caught on with the Dodgers and later throughout baseball and the world. So even if he was not really the first person to have the bright idea to convert the low-five to a high-five (which seems likely), he at least was integral in popularizing the switch.”
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Despite being referred to as “the life of the team,” Burke was abruptly traded to the Oakland A’s in 1979 where homophobic manager, Billy Martin introduced him in the clubhouse to his new team as the “faggot.” With a batting average of .237, he was released from his contract a year later.
“Prejudice drove me out of baseball sooner than I should have. But I wasn’t changing.”- Glenn Burke
Burke spent his retirement living in San Francisco. He suffered from drug addiction; a car accident in 1987 crushed his leg and foot; years of homeless; and in 1995 he died of AIDS. Glenn Burke was 42 years old.
“They can’t say that a gay man can’t play in the Majors, because I’m a gay man and I made it.”– Glenn Burke
(Main Photo Credit: Mark Hundley/AP)