Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Glenn Lawrence Burke (1952-1995) - Invented "High FIve"

[From Wikipedia]

Glenn Burke was a Major League Baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 to 1979. Burke was the first Major League Baseball player to be out to his teammates and team owners during his professional career. He died from AIDS-related causes in 1995.

“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

Burke was named Northern California's High School Basketball Player of the Year in 1970, and could run the 100 yard dash in 9.7 seconds. He was able to dunk a basketball using both hands - a remarkable accomplishment for someone who was just over six feet tall. He was considered capable of being a professional basketball player, but his first offer came from Major League Baseball. When he started his baseball career, many of the scouts described him as the next Willie Mays.

He is recognized as the player who invented the high five. In 1977 he ran out onto the field to congratulate his Los Angeles Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker for hitting a home run in the last game of the regular season. His celebration has since been imitated by athletes and fans in virtually every sport around the world. The second recorded "high five" came moments later when Baker returned the favor in celebration of Burke's first major league home run.

Glenn was also an accomplished 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 to the Tournament of Champions (TOC) and received a Northern California MVP award. After high school, Burke was a highly touted baseball star in the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system hitting well over .300 before being called up to the major league club.

As a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland A's Burke had 523 at-bats over his four seasons in the big leagues and had a career batting average of .237. He stole 35 bases.

Burke's association with the Dodgers was a difficult one. According to his autobiography Out at Home, the Los Angeles Dodgers offered to pay for a lavish honeymoon if Burke agreed to get married. Burke refused to participate in the sham. He also angered Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda by befriending the manager's estranged gay son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr. The Dodgers eventually dealt Burke to the Oakland A's.
Faced with mounting difficulties, Burke eventually quit baseball. He stated in his autobiography that "prejudice just won out." He returned for spring training with Oakland in 1980. Billy Martin, the newly hired manager of the Athletics made public statements about not wanting a gay man in his clubhouse. When Burke injured his knee before the season began, the A's sent him to the minors in Utah. Burke then left professional sports for good at age 27.

In his 225 games in the majors, Burke batted .237 with two home runs, 38 RBI and 35 stolen bases.

"My mission as a gay ballplayer was to break a stereotype . . . I think it worked." Glenn Burke in People ~ November 1994

Burke continued his athletic endeavors after retiring from baseball. He competed in the 1986 Gay Games in basketball, and won medals in the 100 and 220 meter sprints in the first Gay Games in 1982. His jersey number at Berkeley High School was retired in his honor.

Burke's homosexuality became public knowledge in a 1982 article published by "Inside Sports" magazine. Although he remained active in amateur competition, 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 for a time was homeless. His final months were spent with his sister in Oakland. He died of AIDS complications at age 42.

When news of his battle with AIDS became public knowledge in 1994, he received the support of his former teammates and the Oakland Athletics organization. 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.

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