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Burke, Glenn (1952-1995)  
 
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Glenn Burke was the first major league baseball player to acknowledge his homosexuality publicly. Although the general public did not learn of his orientation until after his retirement, some people in professional baseball knew or suspected it during his playing days. Burke believed that in the culture of professional baseball impeded his chances for a more successful career in the game. "Prejudice just won out," he said.

Burke was born on November 16, 1952 in Oakland, California, where he grew up. His father, Luther Burke, a sawmill worker, left the family when Glenn Burke was less than a year old. The senior Burke continued to have sporadic contact with his eight children, but it was his wife, Alice Burke, who took responsibility for supporting the family on her income as a nursing-home aide.

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Burke's athletic ability made him a star on the Berkeley (California) High School baseball and basketball teams. It was basketball that was Burke's primary interest at the time, and he dreamed of a career in that sport. His performance in high school won him an athletic scholarship to the University of Denver in 1970. He left the school after only a few months, however, saying that he could not abide the cold Colorado winter.

Back home in the Bay area, Burke enrolled in Merritt Junior College and played on its baseball team. Still hoping for a career in professional basketball, Burke considered going to the Golden State Warriors' training camp for a try-out; but in 1971, before the camp opened, Burke signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose scout had been impressed by his play on the junior college team.

Burke spent the next five years on various minor-league teams in the Dodgers organization, preparing for a career in the majors. During this period he also came to realize that he was gay, and he had his first sexual experience with a man who had been his teacher in junior high school. He began frequenting gay bars both in the cities where he played and, when he returned home, in the Castro section of San Francisco, but he tried to keep his orientation secret from his teammates, fearing that such a revelation would be "baseball suicide."

In 1976 Burke was called up to the Dodgers. Expectations for him were high. He was nicknamed "King Kong" because of his size (6'2", 220 pounds) and strength. Dodger coach Jim Gilliam speculated that Burke might become "another Willie Mays."

Burke played his first major-league game at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Afterward, friends in the San Francisco gay athletic community threw a party for him at the Pendulum, a bar in the Castro.

Burke's manager on the Los Angeles Dodgers was Tommy Lasorda, whose son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr., was openly gay and befriended Burke. According to Burke, the senior Lasorda could not accept his son's sexual orientation. (When Lasorda, Jr. died in 1991, his father said that the cause was simple pneumonia, not AIDS-related as many of the son's friends have claimed. Lasorda has consistently refused to comment publicly on the topic.) Burke believed that the manager pressured his son to end the friendship. He even went so far as to allege that the Dodgers had paid Lasorda, Jr. to stay away from him.

Burke also claimed that Dodgers general manager Al Campanis pushed him to get married and said that the ball club would pay for the honeymoon if he did. Campanis would later deny that the suggestion was due to any suspicion that Burke was gay, saying that the organization liked young players to get married "because it tended to make them more serious about baseball."

In 1977 the Dodgers reached the World Series. Michael J. Smith, Burke's lover and the man who would write the 1982 Inside Sports article in which he officially came out, urged Burke to reveal his homosexuality during the series, but Burke feared that he would be ostracized by the baseball establishment if he did.

His apprehension was probably well-founded; in 1975 when The Advocate sent a request to all major-league teams for interviews with "players living gay lifestyles," the publicity director for the Minnesota Twins condemned the "colossal gall in attempting to extend your perversion to an area of total manhood."

Burke did not become famous for coming out in 1977, but he did secure himself a niche in baseball lore by originating the "high five" when he and teammate Dusty Baker exchanged an exuberant hand-slap after Baker hit his thirtieth home run of the year in his last regular-season at-bat.

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