Glenn Burke only spent four years in the majors, but he made an impact not only on the game, but in daily life as well. He was the first openly gay player in Major League history, a fact that may not have been known outside of the clubhouse, but was an open secret around the game. Burke is also credited with inventing the high five, something that has become a part of the day-to-day virtually everywhere.
Burke’s place as the first openly gay player in the majors, and Major League Baseball teams hosting Pride Night, were a perfect combination. The Oakland A’s are finally honoring their former outfielder, as they have renamed their annual Pride Night after him.
Oakland A’s finally honoring Glenn Burke
Burke only spent four years in the majors as a knee injury ended his career. He posted a .237/.270/.291 batting line in 556 plate appearances as a fourth outfielder, with 18 doubles and 35 steals. A decent outfielder with solid range, Burke found himself a niche in the majors due to his speed and glove.
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But his sexual orientation caused problems for others. Several teammates made Burke’s life difficult because he was gay, and was traded from the Dodgers due to his relationship with Tommy LaSorda’s son. Then, in Oakland, Billy Martin greeted him with a homophobic slur upon taking over the reins of the club.
Burke’s story does not have a happy ending. He ended up having substance abuse problems and found himself in prison. He was eventually homeless and destitute, passing away due to complications from AIDS in 1995. The A’s supported Burke financially in his final years, trying to help him get back on his feet before he passed away.
These days, Burke’s orientation would not be as much of an issue. Society is evolving, albeit slowly, to the point where a gay professional athlete is not as strange of a concept. Burke had helped usher in this era, making it fitting that he be honored by the A’s on their Pride Night.
The Oakland A’s are renaming Pride Night in honor of Glenn Burke. It is a tribute that is long overdue and will shine a spotlight on his legacy.