You know an athlete has become a transcendent historical figure when he starts getting honored by teams that he never played for.
Glenn Burke — baseball’s first openly gay player — has entered that pantheon of fame and LGBTQ baseball fans are all the better for it.
In a pregame ceremony during their Pride Night celebration yesterday evening, the Chicago Cubs announced they were making a $15,000 contribution to create a monument to Burke on the city’s Legacy Walk.
The Cubs are proud to support the creation of a memorial marker on the Legacy Walk for the late Glenn Burke, the first openly gay MLB player.— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) June 14, 2023
The Legacy Project is a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to researching and promoting the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals. pic.twitter.com/HwfEQqLBAq
Stretching over a half mile down Halsted Street through the heart of Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, the Legacy Walk honors some of the most notable LGBTQ figures in history with bronze plaques describing their lives on giant rainbow pylons.
The walk commemorates a wide range of LGBTQ luminaries. Activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are celebrated alongside authors James Baldwin and Audre Lorde. Composer Cole Porter’s plaque is across the street from a display paying tribute to astronaut Sally Ride.
When Burke is inducted into the Legacy Walk, he will become the first athlete to be so honored. Which makes it especially appropriate that with a design featuring a bronze bust and gold text describing a historical figure’s accomplishments, the Legacy Project plaques have a hint of Cooperstown to them.
It’s especially uplifting to see a figure like Burke being recognized for perpetuity in this way. As biographer Andrew Maraniss described in his book “Singled Out,” Burke’s immense athletic skills weren’t appreciated by homophobes like Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin during his playing days and his major league opportunity collapsed after only four seasons.
Looked at in that context, Burke’s induction into the Legacy Walk validates his baseball career and underscores that his role as a barrier breaker transcends his on-field performance.
Furthermore, it’s especially appropriate that a player brave enough to not hide being gay from his teammates in the 1970s would also become the first baseball player to be inducted into the Legacy Walk.
Even 28 years after his death, Burke continues to be a trailblazer.