(1952 – 1995) Athlete.
Glenn Burke was a born ballplayer – a “natural” – who spent several years as an outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Oakland A’s before the pressures of living a double life with his teammates forced him into early retirement – and an honored place on San Francisco’s gay softball teams.
Burke once said, “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.” He was dubbed King Kong by his Dodgers teammates for his size and strength. Burke was always open about his sexuality with his family and community, but not with his teammates or team management. When he debuted with the Dodgers he threw a party at the Pendulum, a neighborhood gay bar.
He encountered tremendous prejudice within the baseball community and had to resist pressure from his coach, AL Campanis, to marry. His friendship with manager Tommy Lasorda’s estranged openly gay son, Tommy Lasorda, Jr., caused additional problems for Burke.
When Burke returned for spring training with Oakland in 1980, Billy Martin the newly hired manager of the Athletics, made public statements about not wanting a homosexual in his clubhouse. Burke eventually quit major league baseball. He state in his autobiography that “prejudice just won out.” Burke died from AIDS-related illness in 1995. One of his legacies is the “high five”, which he introduced to baseball.