The Oakland A’s announced it is renaming its annual Pride Night celebrations after former out player Glenn Burke. The Oakland-native Burke briefly played for the A’s before injuries and his open sexuality chased him from the game in 1979. Burke is generally regarded as the first out player in Major League Baseball, at least to his teammates, coaches, and the press, later coming out to the public in a 1982 story that appeared in Inside Sports. The first annual Glenn Burke Pride Night takes place tonight at the Oakland’s RingCentral Coliseum when the A’s take on the Kansas City Royals.
“Glenn Burke was a trailblazer, and we are excited and honored to recognize his legacy and impact on the game of baseball by naming our annual Pride Night after him,” Dave Kaval, president of the A’s, said in a statement. “Glenn Burke Pride Night will continue to be a time of celebration and inclusion at our ballpark as we come together with friends and allies.”
The A’s will donate $10 of every Field Level ticket sold for the game to the Glenn Burke Wellness Clinic at the Oakland LGBTQ Center. Fans who arrive early will receive a special Pride Rally Towel from Gilead Sciences, and the national anthem will be performed by members of the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. Special Pride flash sale items will be available for purchase at the A’s Community Corner, presented by Kaiser Permanente, inside the stadium in Section 218.
The Oakland-native Burke was a local high school legend in the area, leading Berkeley High School to an undefeated championship season in 1970, but his heart was in baseball where he truly excelled. After a short stint in college, first at the University of Denver and then closer to home at Merritt College, Burke was signed to play with the Dodgers in their famed minor league systems. He made his first major league at bat in 1976, and became a popular player with fans and in the locker room. He started two games in the 1977 National League Championship Series, and also started Game 1 of that year’s World Series for the Dodgers. He’s even credited with developing the famed “high five” hand slap following a homerun by teammate Dusty Baker.
Burke never hid his sexuality from his teammates, but allegedly ran afoul of management when he befriended manager Tommy Lasorda’s gay son. He recalled in his autobiography, Out at Home: The True Story of Glenn Burke, Baseball’s First Openly Gay Player, the organization allegedly offered him $75,000 to get married, to which he claimed he (quite naturally) responded “to a woman?” Burke was traded to the A’s not long after, much to the consternation of fellow players who appreciated his refreshing presence in a locker room beset by tension despite their winning ways.
If Burke had been hoping for greener pastures in his hometown of Oakland, he was soon disabused of that notion by their hot-tempered manager Billy Martin. The A’s of the late ‘70s no longer resembled the dominant team from earlier in the decade which had won three straight World Series with a young Reggie Jackson at the plate and seasoned pitchers Catfish Hunter, Vida Blue, and Rollie Fingers on the mound. He gained little playing time and instead faced open hostility from the apparently homophobic Martin who called him a “f*gg*t” in front of his teammates in the locker room. A knee injury sent him to the minor leagues in Utah, and he later retired without every having returned to the major leagues.
His later years saw him embracing his sexuality in San Francisco’s Castro District, where he was a popular presence in the local bars as well as on their softball teams. He won gold at the original Gay Games (then the Gay Olympics), but serious injuries resulting from getting hit by a car led to a downward spiral of drug abuse, prison, and homelessness. He passed away from complications of HIV in 1995 at the age of 42.
The first pitch for tonight’s Glenn Burke Pride Night Game between the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics at the RingCentral Coliseum will be thrown out at 6:40 p.m. You can purchase tickets at mlb.com/player-programs.