There is a lot of sadness in this story, and a lot of difficult things that have to be addressed, including homophobia. Let this be a content warning for those who would need one, and for Dodger fans—some of this will be tough to swallow.
Glenn Burke's MLB Career
The talented Glenn Burke grew up in Northern California and was an elite all-around athlete. Baseball opened up financial doors faster, so Burke understandably chose baseball. He played for the Dodgers starting in 1976, and the indignities started there. This excerpt says it all.
"In 1975, Burke made it to squeaky-clean Los Angeles Dodgers, where he played behind outfielder Rick Monday. He was popular in the team’s otherwise tense clubhouse, but coach Tommy Lasorda disapproved of Burke’s friendship with his son, whom Lasorda strenuously denied was gay. When Burke’s sexuality became an open secret, the front office offered him $75,000 to marry a woman. The offer was delivered by general manager Al Campanis, who would later be fired for claiming on national television that African Americans lacked the skills to manage baseball teams."
Al Campanis' moment where he claimed on national TV that African Americans lacked the skills was ugly, but this story with Burke only shows how foul the culture in baseball was at the time, specifically around Tommy Lasorda's team. Lasorda's treatment of his son could be a separate novel, but Lasorda's quote about Burke is in contrast with the story.
"Why wouldn't he come out? Why keep that inside? Glenn had a lot of talent. He could have been an outstanding basketball or baseball player. He sure was good in the clubhouse. What happened? I don't know what happened. He just wasn't happy here?"
That sounds a lot like a manager trying to avoid casting aspersions about a situation that makes him look bad. I can't know for sure of this, obviously, but it's not a good look. When he was traded to Oakland, A's manager Billy Martin introduced him to other teammates as a slur for a gay person that I won't be writing here. Nobody deserves this type of treatment. Burke was put through this by two different teams, two different cultures, and two different managers. It's no wonder his last year in MLB was in 1979. Who could blame Burke for wanting to escape this type of treatment?
A fun little side note, Glenn Burke and his teammate Dusty Baker are credited with inventing the high-five. Yes, the thing we all teach children from birth and we all do when good things happen. Talk about cool.
Dodgers Honoring Glenn Burke In 2022
This is not only a great idea, but it's also about time. The jersey is terrific (feel free to message me for my jersey size if you're a season ticket holder) and it speaks loud and clear about what it represents. The question a lot of people might be asking about this is: why now?
Timing and Last Thoughts
The timing isn't that hard to figure out. Tommy Lasorda passed away early in 2021, and his wife Jo also passed later that year. I'm not here saying what anyone should feel about the late Tommy Lasorda. It's a complicated thing, people's legacies, and however, you feel about the man is your right. The Dodgers probably seemed to avoid any confrontational or issues or anything awkward, and so doing this after his passing makes sense in that regard.
As for Burke, it's truly wonderful to see him get his honor. We're sorry the world didn't accept you as you were, Glenn.
"It's harder to be a gay in sports than anywhere else, except maybe president," Burke said in 1982. "Baseball is probably the hardest sport of all. Every man in America wants his son to be a baseball player. The first thing every father buys for his son is a ball and glove. It's all-American. Only a superstar could come out and admit he was gay and hope to stay around, and still the fans probably would call the stadium and say they weren't going to bring their kids. Instead of understanding, they blackball you."