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30 Moments of Pride: Glenn Burke unveils the high five

Before he came out as gay following his career, Glenn Burke brought a new way of celebrating to baseball and the world.

Glenn Burke, 1952-1995
Getty Images/Mark Hundley/AP

For Pride month, we’ve dedicated each day of June to an individual athlete or coach whose shining moment changed LGBTQ sports.

Even if he hadn’t been a trailblazer, Glenn Burke would’ve still left an impact on baseball.

While Burke never came out during his playing career, he also made no effort to hide the fact that he was gay from his teammates. Which was quite an act of bravery in Major League Baseball during the 1970s.

It’s also no exaggeration to say that Burke changed the way players celebrated on the field forever and put his stamp on American culture. On October 2, 1977, Burke’s Dodgers teammate Dusty Baker took Houston’s J.R. Richard deep for his 30th home run of the season.

This made the 1977 Dodgers the first team in baseball history to field four players with at least 30 home runs. What’s more, homering off Richard—a 6-foot-8 mountain of badassery who could hit 100 MPH on the radar gun—was a feat in and of itself.

After circling the bases, Baker approached an enthused Burke holding his hand over his head. As Dusty later remembered, “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back. So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”

Indeed it was. Burke and Baker just unveiled the first high five anyone had ever seen. As if to punctuate the moment, Burke then dug in against Richard and proceeded to hit his first major league home run. After which, he and Baker executed the second high five anyone had ever seen. Not a bad day at the office.

Burke’s big league career was short and tumultuous, marked by clashes with homophobic managers Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin. His story was retold in the 2011 documentary Out: The Glenn Burke Story.

Although he died in 1995 shortly after being diagnosed with AIDS, Burke’s legacy has been kept alive by MLB Vice President & Special Assistant to the Commissioner Billy Bean. And it was retold for young readers in Phil Bildner’s excellent middle grade novel, A High Five for Glenn Burke.

The man who invented the high five was a player worth celebrating with one.

We’ll have another Moment of Pride tomorrow and every day in June.