For Pride, we’ve updated this letter with a new video by Billy Bean from Major League Baseball:
May 28, 2020
I was thinking of you this week. Working at Major League Baseball makes it inevitable that you weave in and out of my thoughts. We are forever linked, as we are the only two Major League Baseball players in the 151-year history of MLB to ever publicly disclose that we are gay.
It hurts that I never got to meet you because your career ended long before mine began. Our paths didn’t intersect, but I do know many people who played alongside you. Because of you, I’ve had the good fortune to become friends with your amazing sister, Lutha Davis.
On June 17, 2015, the Oakland A’s celebrated your career at their first ever LGBT Pride game. Before the game, your niece Alice Rose introduced me to almost 60 members of your extended family. It was easy to see the impact you had made on every one of them, which had nothing to do with your baseball talent and everything to do with the kind of person you were.
I stood right next to your brother, Sidney, as he threw out the first pitch of that game. Then I watched the Oakland A’s donate $23,250 to AIDS Project East Bay in your name.
I know how much this moment would have meant to you. It broke my heart that you weren’t there to see it. Coming full circle has helped me let go of much of my personal disappointment, and you were robbed of that opportunity.
Sadly, this week will mark 25 years since you passed away much too young. I often think how my life and career might have been different had we known each other. I believe we would have become great friends. We lived the same isolation and fears while playing a sport we love and doing so during a time that was much different and less accepting.
I can only imagine what it would have been like to listen to stories of baseball in the 1970’s, and how many mistakes your advice would have saved me from making.
I would have told you about one season of winter ball in Venezuela. While on a long bus ride, one of your former teammates talked about the greatest athlete he ever saw in the minor leagues, “a guy named Glenn Burke.” There was no mention of your sexual orientation, only that you could have easily played in the NBA or NFL as well.
Most importantly, I wish I could sit down with you and tell you all about the ways that baseball has changed for the better, and how we would have never arrived at where we are without you.
In 2014 at the MLB All-Star Game in Minneapolis, I was announced as MLB’s very first Ambassador for Inclusion. As the commissioner announced my name, Lutha was sitting right next to me, holding my hand as I got up to address the media on live TV.
Since that time, I’ve watched baseball transform itself into a leader for LGBTQ education and acceptance. Our former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, continue to blaze a progressive trail of acceptance for all fans and professional sports. Since my return to baseball, I’ve personally worked with every MLB club to broaden education that fosters an inclusive and accepting clubhouse, workplace, and fan experience in all MLB ballparks.
Over the past three years, MLB’s ‘Shred Hate’ Bullying prevention education program has reached almost 200,000 students across 13 MLB cities and hundreds of thousands of people online. Many of our most dynamic superstars have supported its message and proclaim that everyone is a part of “this” team.
This past winter, I was introduced to a writer named Phil Bildner. He shared that he had just written a book called, “A High Five for Glenn Burke.” He told me that it was a children’s book. It stopped me in my tracks. I realized this was another moment of progress that caught even me off guard.
The book celebrates your first “high five” to Dodger teammate Dusty Baker, providing a positive narrative for a young baseball player hoping your story will help him come out to his middle school classmates. Progressive to be sure, but for many of us reading this article, I can only imagine how a book like that would have impacted our lives when we were younger.
Glenn, if we were able to talk, there are so many things I would want to share with you. But most importantly, I would want to say thank you. In my heart we are family, and I will continue to honor your memory in my fight for equality and acceptance for everyone.
Rest in peace.
Billy Bean is VP & Special Assistant to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @billybeanball.