A Bay Area resident is asking the Oakland A’s to honor Glenn Burke as part of their annual Pride Month celebrations. The team says it’s supportive of the idea.
Sterling Hardaway recently started a Change.org petition requesting the A’s celebrate “Glenn Burke Day” each season to honor the legacy of the first known gay MLB player. Burke was an active player from 1976-79, and though he wasn’t publicly out, his sexuality wasn’t a secret. Burke played two-and-a-half seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers, reaching the World Series in 1977. The following season, he was dealt to the A’s. His teammates have later claimed Dodgers management didn’t want a gay man in the clubhouse. Burke often said the Dodgers once offered him $75,000 to get married. “I guess you mean to a woman?,” he said in response.
Burke played two seasons in Oakland before retiring. The athletic outfielder received little playing time with the A’s. Then-manager Billy Martin was infamously hostile towards Burke, reportedly introducing him to his new teammates as a “faggot.”
After his playing career, Burke found a new life as an openly gay man in San Francisco. He competed twice in the Gay Games and also joined the city’s gay softball league. Sadly, Burke became immersed in drugs and alcohol, and wound up spending time in jail for petty crimes. He shattered his leg in an auto accident, which perpetuated his downward spiral. Short on cash, Burke pawned his 1977 National League Championship ring later in his life. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1994 and died the following year. He was 42 years old.
While the A’s honored Burke’s family at their first Pride Night in 2015, Hardaway says he would like to see the gesture become an annual occurrence. The petition has garnered 926 signatures as of publication. Former Oakland pitcher and LGBTQ ally Brandon McCarthy has shared the petition.
Hardaway says he got the idea for the petition after watching the ESPN “30-for-30” film on Burke and reading his autobiography. In addition to being the first known gay player in MLB history, Burke is credited with inventing the high-five.
“I was just really moved by his story, and really thought on so many levels, this is the first openly gay baseball player to our knowledge — the first one who came out — he invented the high-five, which has become iconic in sports and in just culture,” Hardaway told Outsports in a phone conversation. “He was a Black queer man in the 70’s. I just thought for so many reasons, we should all know his name.”
In a statement, a team spokesperson says the A’s support celebrating Burke, but stopped short of endorsing an official “Glenn Burke Day.”
“Glenn Burke was a trailblazer and we agree his story should be elevated, honored, and celebrated,” the statement reads. “We had the privilege of hosting his family at our first Pride Night in 2015 and have annually supported the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center ever since. Honoring him as part of our Pride celebrations moving forward is a meaningful way to carry on his legacy and we appreciate our fanbase for raising this idea.”
For Pride Month, MLB Ambassador of Inclusion Billy Bean, the only other MLB player to ever come out, penned an emotional essay for Outsports on the 25th anniversary of Burke’s passing.
As a Black queer man himself, Hardaway says he thinks it’s important to elevate Burke’s visibility. He would also like to see the A’s donate proceeds from “Glenn Burke Day” to the Oakland LGBTQ Community Center.
“We don’t have many Black queer athletes and Black queer representation in general,” he said. “I thought this would be a great way to make sure that representation is there for all young athletes across not only the Bay Area, but the country and the world.”