30 Day Baseball Card Challenge

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who the heck is Glenn Burke?

Up until a few months ago, I had no idea who the heck Glenn Burke was.  Then one Saturday morning, I started watching a bunch of ESPN documentaries and stumbled across one about the origin of the High-Five:

It dates back to last day of the regular season in 1977.  The Los Angeles Dodgers were facing the Houston Astros and their ace, J.R. Richard.  In the bottom of the 6th, Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run of the season and joined Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Reggie Smith to become the first quartet of 30 home run hitters in MLB history.  Glenn Burke immediately followed Baker by launching a home run himself.  It was the first home run of his career.

1978 Topps #562

But it's what happened between those two home runs where history was written.  As Baker headed back towards the dugout he trotted past Burke who had his hand raised up in the air... and that's when Dusty slapped it... producing the first official high five.

It's amazing how quickly the high-five spread, because I started playing Little League baseball sometime around 1977.  And one of my distinct childhood memories is doing the team chant for the opponent after the game, lining up in a single file line, and meeting them at home plate exchanging high-fives.  Even though it took me almost four decades... it's nice to learn about the celebration that's still widely used today.

Sadly Burke passed away in 1995 from AIDs related pneumonia at the age of forty-two.  He's the first and only MLB player to come out to teammates as being homosexual during his playing career.  According to an article published in Jet magazine (October 4th, 1982), Burke thought "his sexual preference was the reason" his MLB career was short-lived.

After baseball, he competed in the Gay Olympics where he won multiple medals.  In 1987 he was struck by a car while crossing the street in San Francisco.  The accident left him with a broken leg and a changed man.

During the final years of his life, he spent time living on the streets of San Francisco as well as spending a few months in San Quentin State Prison.  But there's no need for me to dwell on the negative.

Who the heck is Glenn Burke?  He's the guy who invented the high-five and was Major League Baseball's LGBT pioneer.

Now the only question that remains to be answered is ... how the heck did I miss all of this growing up and living in the Bay Area my entire life?

Happy Thursday and sayonara!


  1. I collected him for like a half second after reading about his life a few years back...definitely a tragedy in many ways but the high five story is awesome.

  2. Interesting article. I had never heard of him, and that is surprising because Jason Collins was touted as the first gay basketball player and the first pro athlete...although I guess I should not be too surprised because they forgot John Amaechi. (When I was stuck in the hospital, all I had to watch was SportsCenter so I saw the Jason Collins story about once an hour for 4 days in a row, or at least it seems like it!). I'm not gay but I believe it equality for everyone.

    I also had no idea that it was known who invented the high-five. It's so ubiquitous that I never even stopped to think about it.

  3. See what you miss not being a Dodger fan?