Wooden baseball bat with original design on LGBT rainbow flag background. The symbol of love and tolerance versus the symbol of hatred and intolerance. LGBT Pride Month.

Happy Black History Month! This is the 7th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose life has shaped American history.

The focus of today’s blog is Glenn Burke, the first openly gay man to play in Major League Baseball. He and his teammate Dusty Baker are also known for doing the first documented high five during a 1977 game against the Astros.


Born in 1952 in Oakland, California, Glenn Burke was a natural athlete. According to EPGN, his favorite sports to play growing up were baseball and especially basketball. Playing on his high school basketball team, he was actually named Player of the Year out of all of northern California. Because of this, it surprised his family when he signed to the Major Leagues right out of college instead of the NBA.

Incredible Year For The Rookie

While attending Merritt College, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. EPGN says he started in the minor leagues in 1972 for 4 years. In 1976, he got the chance to play a few games at the beginning and end of the Dodgers season. In 1977, the team wanted him for the whole season. According to Out, that year, he started two games in the National League Championship Series, and Game 1 in the World Series for the Dodgers. In the last regular game of the season, he and teammate Dusty Baker are known for doing the first documented high five.

Facing Homophobia

Although the Dodgers didn’t win the World Series that year, it was still an incredible year for Burke as a rookie. Shortly after, however, his career ended because of homophobia. EPGN says when the team’s general manager found out, he tried to convince Burke to get married to a woman, essentially as a cover-up. When he said no, Burke was traded to the Oakland Athletics. On that team, he faced homophobic slurs being thrown constantly from manager Billy Martin. On top of that, after a knee injury not too long after, Out says he retired from baseball completely.

Life After Pro-Sports

After that, he lived in San Francisco as an openly gay man and played on the local softball teams. However, his life took a downturn after 1987 when he was injured after being hit by a speeding car. He could no longer play softball, and while his body became ravaged by AIDS, his mind became ravaged by drug addiction (EPGN). Eventually, he moved in with his older sister Lutha, and he passed away from AIDS complications on May 30, 1995.

Recently, the Oakland A’s renamed their Pride Night celebration after Burke (OUT). The team’s President Dave Kaval said at the event, “Glenn Burke was a trailblazer, and we are excited and honored to recognize his legacy and impact on the game of baseball by naming our annual Pride Night after him. Glenn Burke Pride Night will continue to be a time of celebration and inclusion at our ballpark as we come together with friends and allies.”

Learn more about Glenn Burke at these sources: Out, EPGN, MLB

READ NEXT: Black History Month Heroes You Should Know: Jerry Lawson

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