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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Why have the Dodgers been so slow to honor Glenn Burke, MLB’s first openly gay player?

The first openly gay major leaguer was a charismatic reserve on a great Dodgers team, and yet the franchise rarely acknowledges him. Searching Twitter, I can find only one time they’ve mentioned his name, an Oct. 2012 Tweet about the historic high-five. A search of his name on the Dodgers website turns up blank. When Burke was experiencing homelessness while dying of AIDS in the early 1990s, it was the A’s, and not the Dodgers, who offered assistance.

In researching my biography of Burke, “Singled Out,” I got the sense that this was a subject many Dodgers players and executives, past and present, preferred not to touch. The team’s marketing department acknowledged receiving but did not respond to several questions for this column, including questions asking for any examples of the team’s acknowledgment of Burke that I may have missed.

Even looking at the team’s long history of well-executed Pride Nights and support for LGBTQ organizations and causes, there has been something conspicuously missing: a meaningful connection to Glenn Burke and the team’s place in gay history. The A’s invited Glenn’s brother, Sidney, to throw out a first pitch six years ago, and their Pride event tonight will raise money for the Glenn Burke Wellness Clinic at the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center. (The Dodgers said they had “nothing special planned” to recognize Burke at their Pride Night tonight, “but that doesn’t rule out something in more in future years.”) I don’t know why the Dodgers haven’t made more of their connection to Burke, but there are elements of his experience the team might rather forget.

Following the 1977 season, Dodger Vice President Al Campanis offered Burke a hefty bonus if he’d get married.

“To a woman?” Burke replied, declining the bribe and setting the wheels in motion for his trade to Oakland in May 1978.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: June 12, 2021 at 12:03 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dodgers, glenn burke, lgbt

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   1. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: June 12, 2021 at 12:47 PM (#6023898)
Why have the Dodgers been so slow to honor Glenn Burke?

Uhhhhh....... I'm going to guess it's because he hit all of .248/.279/.303 in a half-season worth of play spread over three seasons.
   2. PeteF3 Posted: June 12, 2021 at 01:26 PM (#6023908)
Uhhhhh....... I'm going to guess it's because he hit all of .248/.279/.303 in a half-season worth of play spread over three seasons.


"Uhhhhh...." yeah, that's the real story here.
   3. Rough Carrigan Posted: June 12, 2021 at 02:16 PM (#6023912)
Don't baseball teams typically only honor the players who were great at playing baseball for them?
   4. GregD Posted: June 12, 2021 at 02:58 PM (#6023917)
Was at the game last night in Oakland and Burke’s brother was there and they showed photos of Burke and had a presentation about the center. Given that it seems like the family is very receptive to teams saying you know we failed your brother, what can we do now? (Burke unretired to play for Billy Martin on the As because he had lots of connections with Billy’s family and friends—exact same neighborhood park—and Martin unsurprisingly treated him particularly like ####.

That said the Burkes are an Oakland/south Berkeley family and so the connection to the As and the Oakland center is different than it would be to the dodgers. But it does seem like something they could fix if they cared to.

Teams honor players who are “firsts” who have unimpressive careers all the time.

A couple of NBA teams honored Wat Misaka, the first Asian American NBA player, and he played like six games in the league or something. It isn’t hard to pull that kind of honor off for teams that want to
   5. Walt Davis Posted: June 12, 2021 at 06:02 PM (#6023930)
#1, #3: The wrtier isn't calling for his number to be retired or for him to be inducted into the Dodger HoF (or whatever). We're talking run a short video on pride night, have his brother toss out the first pitch, donate pride night's proceeds to the center in his name. It strikes me as really weird that a team with the first openly gay player wouldn't mention that on their pride night. It leads me to suspect they are more concerned about the image of Campanis and LaSorda.
   6. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 12, 2021 at 07:18 PM (#6023938)
Uhhhhh....... I'm going to guess it's because he hit all of .248/.279/.303 in a half-season worth of play spread over three seasons.


Is this what they call burying the lede? I think you are missing the point in epic fashion...

Also, Al Campanis made Archie Bunker look like Mike Stivic.
   7. Captain Joe Bivens, Elderly Northeastern Jew Posted: June 12, 2021 at 07:24 PM (#6023939)
Also, Al Campanis made Archie Bunker look like Mike Stivic.


That's a good one. In the proper context, I like "(Blank) makes Oscar Madison look like Felix Unger." You know, when someone is a real slob.
   8. Howie Menckel Posted: June 12, 2021 at 08:01 PM (#6023944)
now I have to look for the very special "All in the Family" episode where Archie describes having had a black roommate as a young adult who became famous - and then, years later, brought the ex-roommate in to Gloria's middle-school class, to the delight of all the children. Mike must have been totally flummoxed by the news - was that part of the storyline?

and was Archie's roommate also named Robinson? that would be amazing. actually, just finding out that he had a black roommate at all really surprises me. I guess I didn't watch enough episodes - I didn't notice that much nuance in the character.
   9. winnipegwhip Posted: June 13, 2021 at 02:24 AM (#6023970)
Probably best to do it when the team from Kansas is visiting.
   10. Tom Goes to the Ballpark Posted: June 13, 2021 at 01:21 PM (#6023997)
Why are the Dodgers not eager to celebrate a player who briefly played poorly for the team decades ago and was likely traded for embarrassing reasons by an executive with regressive social views? It is a mystery!
   11. Steve Balboni's Personal Trainer Posted: June 14, 2021 at 05:30 PM (#6024163)
Totally different context, obvious, but when the Red Sox brought back Bill Buckner to throw out the first pitch in 2008, on the day the team got their 2007 World Series rings. I remember it distinctly, and it was so odd. The fans went apesh*t like I've rarely seen ever in sports - they just wouldn't stop cheering for Buckner.

The story is here - Buckner did a press conference after the game, and was really emotional. And when he walked out from the outfield to the mound before the game? He got all red-eyed trying to keep it together, and I started crying. How do you properly honor a former player that you treated like sh*t when he was here decades earlier? His family's personality security was threatened for a while, and they had to move to the middle of nowhere as part of that protection. As a Red Sox fan who was 12 years old in 1986, and couldn't say his name for the 18 years after that until they finally won it all in 2004, I (like most Boston fans) felt a small part responsible for making Buckner's life defined by one missed grounder. But Buckner seemed genuinely touched by the reaction of the fans and the organization, and it gave a lot of us a chance to say - as we all got 22 years older and wiser in the interim - that we were sorry, and that he will always be a part of our fandom going forward. (Some fans brought signs that said stuff like, "Billy, you are forgiven." I hated that - we were the ones that should be asking for forgiveness, rather than seeking it. Luckily, most fans seemed to understand this.)

Anyway, my point for bringing all this up? The Dodgers definitely handled this wrong back in the day, but it is never too late, even posthumously, to start doing the right thing.
   12. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 14, 2021 at 06:07 PM (#6024167)

Was Burke ever really "out" as a player? I thought he only came out publicly after he left the game, although it seems like a number of his teammates "knew".

It would be nice for the Dodgers to honor Burke, but it's not something I would expect the team to do by default.
   13. GregD Posted: June 14, 2021 at 08:05 PM (#6024176)
Think it depends on "out." He told at least some of his teammates (Dusty Baker certainly knew from him directly) and the management knew, though perhaps more by rumor. He never told the press while he was active.

The magazine article outing him came later and did cause him concern. Baker said he called worried that he'd be cold shouldered by people who knew and were friendly with him when he was not publicly known.

More like circles of in-ness and out-ness, than a binary.
   14. cardsfanboy Posted: June 14, 2021 at 08:45 PM (#6024182)
Think it depends on "out." He told at least some of his teammates (Dusty Baker certainly knew from him directly) and the management knew, though perhaps more by rumor. He never told the press while he was active.

The magazine article outing him came later and did cause him concern. Baker said he called worried that he'd be cold shouldered by people who knew and were friendly with him when he was not publicly known.

More like circles of in-ness and out-ness, than a binary.


In the Marines I had a roommate who was gay, some people knew, most didn't, those who knew, didn't care, but obviously this was even before don't ask, don't tell, so of course nobody could "Know". But he didn't hide it so much as he didn't tell people about it.(and he did have a wife at the time, but she lived out of country, so he did have a cover of sorts) We have reunions, he brings his husband and it's a thing like "ehh". But at the same time there is this thought process that only the "right" people knew at the time, if the wrong ones did, his life would have been hell, or more accurately he would have been dishonorably discharged... heck some of those who go "ehh" now, are the ones who would have caused problems 30 years ago.

So in that way he was "out", but yes, as you pointed out, he (Burke) was not openly out.
   15. 57i66135 right now is attacking rest Posted: June 14, 2021 at 09:06 PM (#6024187)
i don't know that this could be a 30 for 30, but it could easily be an FX miniseries, produced by ryan murphy:
“My son wasn’t gay,” Lasorda told Peter Richmond, who wrote about the duo’s complicated relationship for GQ magazine in 1992, in some of his few public comments about his son.

“No way,” he continued, with some expletives sprinkled in. “No way. I read that in a paper. I also read in that paper that a lady gave birth to a monkey, too. That’s not the truth.”

Lasorda also rankled at reports that his son was an AIDS patient. He told Richmond, “I don’t care what people … I know what my son died of. I know what he died of. The doctor put out a report of how he died. He died of pneumonia.”
While his father was the Dodgers’ manager, Lasorda Jr. befriended Glenn Burke, an outfielder on the team, which strained Burke’s relationship with his boss.
...
Burke was traded to the Oakland Athletics in May 1978, an unpopular move in the Dodgers clubhouse. Two of Burke’s teammates, Davey Lopes and Dusty Baker, later said Burke was traded because he was gay. In the 2010 documentary “Out: The Glenn Burke Story,” his former Athletics teammate Claudell Washington said manager Billy Martin introduced Burke to his new team with a homophobic slur.
   16. Lowry Seasoning Salt Posted: June 14, 2021 at 09:27 PM (#6024196)
“My son wasn’t gay,” Lasorda told Peter Richmond, who wrote about the duo’s complicated relationship for GQ magazine in 1992, in some of his few public comments about his son.


Here is that original GQ piece by Peter Richmond: Tangled Up In Blue.
   17. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: June 15, 2021 at 12:58 AM (#6024254)
EDIT: Here's the piece I remembered reading about Burke from a few months ago. It is actually an excerpt from the Burke biography written by the same author as TFA above.

It basically says that Burke never came out to his teammates, but they kind of figured it out (with some help).

On one trip to Houston in 1977, Baker invited Glenn Burke to come to a friend’s house for lunch. As the group sat down to eat, Glenn excused himself to use the bathroom. One of Baker’s wife’s best friends, a lesbian, turned to Dusty.

“Do you have any gays in baseball?” she asked.

“No, not that I know of,” Baker replied.

“You got any on your team?” she inquired.

Baker gave her a look. “If there aren’t any in baseball that I know of, how are there going to be any on my team?”

“That boy in the bathroom is gay,” she said matter-of-factly.

Baker was skeptical. The woman had just met Glenn a few minutes earlier.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Yes, I do,” she insisted.

Baker thought back to a similar conversation, when a woman in Los Angeles saw a photo of Glenn in the newspaper and told him she thought Burke was gay.

The more Baker thought about it, the more it added up. When the team came back to Los Angeles late at night after road trips, Glenn would always say he had a friend picking him up. He’d walk way down to the end of the airport terminal and never let a teammate give him a ride home.

...

In retrospect, the signs were obvious. But the notion of a gay teammate was initially unfathomable to most of the Dodgers. Gay men, they believed, simply did not play major league baseball. But as the Dodgers inched closer to the 1977 National League West title, guys started to figure out Glenn Burke’s secret. Second baseman Davey Lopes remembered hearing about it from another player over dinner. “My fork dropped out of my mouth,” Lopes recalled. “I said, ‘You shouldn’t be saying things like that unless you’re 100% sure. You’ve got to be careful. A rumor like that could end a guy’s career.’ He said, ‘Davey, I’m telling you, Glenn is gay.’ I started thinking about it, and I said, ‘You know what? If he is, I don’t give a s—.’ He was an integral part of the ballclub as far as I was concerned. He added a lot to the chemistry of the team, the way he could make you laugh.”


Not clear they ever talked about it with Burke himself, except for things like the slurs used by Billy Martin. And I wouldn't find it hard to believe that they didn't.

Obviously, after his career he came out quite openly.
   18. Tom Nawrocki Posted: June 15, 2021 at 10:37 AM (#6024269)
Burke was traded to the Oakland Athletics in May 1978, an unpopular move in the Dodgers clubhouse. Two of Burke’s teammates, Davey Lopes and Dusty Baker, later said Burke was traded because he was gay. In the 2010 documentary “Out: The Glenn Burke Story,” his former Athletics teammate Claudell Washington said manager Billy Martin introduced Burke to his new team with a homophobic slur.


It makes a nice story, but in May 1978, Billy Martin was the manager of the Yankees. Glenn Burke played his last game for the A's on June 4, 1979; Billy Martin managed his first game for the A's on April 10, 1980.

Burke spent a little bit of time in the 1980 season playing for Oakland's AAA club, so I suppose this could have happened in spring training.
   19. GregD Posted: June 15, 2021 at 03:08 PM (#6024310)
I believe the story is that Burke was excited to come back and try to play for the As when Martin came back because he knew lots of Martin's friends and family from growing up in same neighborhoods of South Berkeley and playing ball at same park Martin played at in North Oakland. So did come out of retirement, then faced Martin's hatred of him, apparently more frustrating because he had hopes for a bond with Martin.

FYI Claudell Washington was also a Berkeley guy, and went to Berkeley High (as did both Burke and Martin) so it would not surprise me if Washington knew members of Burke's family, beyond just the playing experience. Washington was two years younger than Burke so overlapped with him in high school though Berkeley High is/was very large

   20. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: June 15, 2021 at 04:37 PM (#6024326)
I believe the story is that Burke was excited to come back and try to play for the As when Martin came back because he knew lots of Martin's friends and family from growing up in same neighborhoods of South Berkeley and playing ball at same park Martin played at in North Oakland. So did come out of retirement, then faced Martin's hatred of him, apparently more frustrating because he had hopes for a bond with Martin.

That has to have been one of the biggest cases of wishful thinking I've ever read about anywhere. A gay ballplayer thinking that he could bond with Billy Martin???!!!

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