February 8, 2012

Queer Issue: Why the Baseball Hall of Fame should honor the legacy of Glenn Burke.

I have to confess that I am not the best person when it comes to publicity as I tend to feel that if an idea is good enough one should not have to polish said idea and make it shiny in order for people to realise that, yes, a good idea is a good idea and a great idea is a great idea. Of course, such idealism rarely survives for very long in the real world. Hence this post.

With regards to Glenn Burke, I came up with the idea that the Baseball Hall of Fame should honor the legacy of Glenn Burke, who was the first openly gay major league baseball player because it seemed like obviously a good idea, nay, a great idea.

This past year, I proposed to Pflag Oneonta/Otsego, the chapter that I am president of, to make petitioning the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor the legacy of Glenn Burke one of our goals. The group agreed, so here we are now. (For those not aware, the village of Cooperstown, NY which is the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, is in Otsego County.)

To date only two individuals who played Major League Baseball have come out, the other being Billy Bean, who unfortunately did not get to be played by Brad Pitt in Moneyball. Glenn Burke came out while he was playing for the Los Angelos Dodgers, and while accepted by most of his teammates, Tommy LaSorda, the Dodger Team Manager was unhappy knowing of Glenn Burkes' sexuality (along with Glenn Burke befriending LaSordas' son, Tommy LaSorda Jr.). The season immediately following his coming out, LaSorda traded Glenn Burke to the Oakland Athletics.

While entering professional baseball with great promise, Glenn Burke left it with a whimper, rather then the proverbial bang. After playing with the Oakland Athletics for a brief period, Glenn Burke suffered a knee injury and was eventually let go in 1979.

To many straight people, this story may not seem remarkable. Yet those who have had to face the choice between remaining closeted about our sexuality/gender identity or coming out, will know the difficulties inherent to Glenn Burke's situation.

In short, what I am getting at, is that it takes courage, even under the best of circumstances, to come out, even outside of the sort of macho cultures where homophobia thrives. To date, only two baseball players have come out, Glenn Burke and Billy Bean and Glenn Burke was the first, as well as the only one to come out while still playing professionally. One can only imagine, that for Glenn Burke to come out in the locker-room as he did, took extraordinary bravery.

Furthermore, Glenn Burke was instrumental in popularizing the now ubiquitous high-five greeting, used within Baseball as a means of congratulating players who just scored a home-run. In other words, it should be known that Glenn Burke, in spite of his short tenure in Baseball, was also instrumental in subtly altering the culture of Major League Baseball.

Therefore, as President of Pflag Oneonta/Otsego, I am calling on the Baseball Hall of Fame to honor the legacy of Glenn Burke by creating a permanent exhibit to memorialise his accomplishments.

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