Burke in Stock?

by Jim Provenzano

"They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it." - Glenn Burke

I only wanted one baseball card.

"You have to understand..." The gentleman began what seemed to be a very well-rehearsed speech. "Deeze come in series, and you buy by that. Now which set are you looking for depends on how it's priced, but I don?t got all day..."

By the complete absence of any other customers, I'd say he had all week. The card shop abides out near City College, cloistered between an abundance of Nailcare salons.

The guy who ran the place didn't really care about dead baseball players so much as paying the rent with Sosa/MacGuire drink cups.

But I was just looking for one card, and that confounded him. I was not a true collector, nor he a reputable dealer. His sour expression turned worse when I spoke the name, "Glenn Burke."

He offered me Lou Brocks and Lou Whitakers. He showed me new Oakland As and Dodgers sets. Oh really, autographed by Ken Griffey "Thanks, no. Glenn Burke, please."

I'd gone through my stuff at home. It wouldn't be in any Sports Illustrateds. Maybe Out's sports issue they did for Gay Games 94. I've got about four pictures of Glenn Burke somewhere here. Ah, POZ even included a picture, but it's too small, and wait a minute, they flopped the picture. He swung right-handed, didn't he?

That?s the thing about history. Whoever keeps the stuff defines it. Whoever controls what we'll still be looking at around the millennial ben defines the past.

What, or who, have you thrown out that you?ll never see again? How about the man who invented a new handshake, the universal sign of success, victory, accomplishment, or just something well done?

Search engine: Lycos's Top 5% found 3 documents. The query string sent was "Glenn Burke" AND baseball

The gentleman allowed me to survey some boxes of "old stuff." I discovered some rather funny-looking men. No Glenn.

My search headed Webward. "The Black List," an MIT-based site of African-American gay people, includes the kind of stuff that should be on a trading card:

"Glenn Burke (1952-1995) Athlete. Played professional baseball 1976-78 with the Dodgers. Later traded to the Oakland As 1978-79. Burke hit .237 with two home runs, 38 R-B-I and 35 stolen bases in his 225 major league games. Burke is credited with giving baseball's first 'high five.' He played basketball in the 1986 Gay Games. The November 21, 1994, issue of People magazine updated his life and his struggle with AIDS. Burke died of AIDS-related complications May 30, 1995. An autobiography, Out At Home, co-written with Erik Sherman, is scheduled to be released this summer."

That summer was a few years ago, and unfortunately Burke's book is out of stock wherever I checked. Any updates would be appreciated while I add that to the collector's items.

Once compared to Willie Mays, Burke could have also been a great basketball star, but he stuck with baseball, until it un-stuck him.

Search engine: Mining Co. found 2 documents. The query string sent was "Glenn Burke" AND Oakland AND baseball

A 1995 Philadelphia Inquirer interview, the headline of which noted him as "A Man Once Called 'King Kong' Now in Grip of Disease," described his last days:

"His feet are swollen and covered with purple lesions and his teeth are small yellow triangles, worn down to nubs by relentless nocturnal nervousness. Formerly 220 pounds, he now weighs 150. Although his major league career never lived up to the promise he showed in the minor leagues, he has left his mark in another way."

"They can't ever say now that a gay man can't play in the majors, because I'm a gay man and I made it," said Burke in the interview.

In 1982, two years after he retired, he said that while an injury was the cause of his early retirement at 27, homophobia was the real reason.

Managers Tommy LaSorda and the late Billy Martin were prejudiced against gays, Burke said.

Beset by personal problems and a drug addiction, by early the 1990s Burke was living on streets in the Bay Area. He died of AIDS complications in 1995 at the home of his sister.

Among the magazines I also have is a copy of the National Enquirer. It shows Tommy LaSorda?s very gay son dying of AIDS, and how LaSorda did everything in his life to keep his very gay son out of the public eye.

Contrite acts are always performed best by pros who, after rejecting the different among them, salute them off with a tipped cap and a mention on Red Ribbon Day.

Search engine: Excite Guide Search found 0 documents. The query string sent was "Glenn Burke" AND Oakland AND baseball AND gay

It's that "gay" thing. You don't get history or community. You get TEEN BABES. This is how our culture is being deformed and limited by the real NetForce. Reduce us to our sexuality, and nothing else.

This site admirably has a picture and some gay history, but no stats.

CNN has complete stats, but no gay stuff.

It's always an incomplete. So when you see a pair of macho jocks high five as they shove their way past you on or off the field/court, remember, a gay guy started that.

Ask about the history of The High Five wherever they don't see the point of carrying a card of the only (eventually) openly gay Black baseball player ever. It's one of few baseball cards I'd ever want, and I wouldn't trade it. Not by a long shot.

(Addendum, October 2002: Thanks to a kindly reader and collector, who sent me not one, but two lucite-framed cards of Glenn Burke. I'll treasure them.)