Get to Know Pro Baseball's Gay Pioneers
BY Michelle Garcia
March 21 2014 5:00 AM ET
By the 1970s, professional baseball clubs had been around for over a century in America, but it wasn't until Glenn Burke came around that there were any known gay players in the MLB. Burke signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1976 and was out to his teammates. He later became known as the soul of the Dodger clubhouse, even while possibly carrying on a relationship with the son of baseball legend and then-Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda. But Lasorda Sr. was not pleased by such rumors. He often chewed Burke out and continuously denied that his son was gay. Eventually Burke was traded to the Oakland A's, where he faced discrimination and harassment from teammates, especially under manager Billy Martin, according to ESPN. He was demoted to Triple-A ball in 1980 and soon retired, at age 27.
Still, Burke is credited as possibly being the co-inventor of the high five with Dusty Baker, October 2, 1977. Burke was on deck, when Baker hit a home run, putting the Dodgers ahead of the Astros and into the playoffs. As his teammate arrived at home plate after rounding the bases, Burke thrust his hand in the air. Baker felt the instinct to slap palms, and so he did.
In 1982, Burke came out in Inside Sports magazine, where writer Michael J. Smith called the high five a "defiant symbol of gay pride." The former outfielder struggled with drug addiction, and in 1993 he tested positive for HIV. Two years later, he died after a rapid decline. His obituary read that at the end of his life, the man who invented the high five "could barely lift his arm."