Baseball’s First Out Player, Glenn Burke, Created the High-Five, Briefly a Symbol of Gay Pride
There’s probably not a human alive who hasn’t either given or received a high-five. At this point we wouldn’t be surprised if the traditional slap-on-the-ass has been replaced with a high-five by doctors welcoming babies into this world. But did you know who invented it? That would be Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was also the sport’s first openly gay player. And in fact, for a while, the high-five was a symbol of gay pride!
The very first high-five happened on Oct. 2, 1977. As ESPN tells it, it was the last day of baseball season, and Glenn Burke’s teammate Dusty Baker had just hit his 30th home run, sending the Dodgers to the playoffs. Burke had been waiting, and raised his hand above his head to greet Baker. Baker said he didn’t really know what to do, “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”
While that was the very first one, the second was right behind. Burke was up to bat next, and he also hit a homer — his first in the major leagues. When he came back to the dugout, Baker high-fived him back. (Sadly, this game wasn’t televised and no video footage exists.)
Unfortunately, Burke’s baseball career was very short lived. While at the time he tried to keep his homosexuality secret, most everyone knew. And, unfortunately, Dodgers management was uncomfortable with him. He started going out with Spunky Lasorda, the son of baseball legend and Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda.
Lasorda was in denial about his son’s homosexuality, and angrily traded Burke to the Oakland A’s.
Things didn’t get better — the A’s manager Billy Martin was also homophobic, repeatedly used the word “faggot” and refused to play Burke. He was demoted to the minor leagues, and, at 27, retired.
But Glenn Burke didn’t leave baseball entirely. He joined a gay softball league and took his team to the world championships. In 1982 he publicly came out in an article in Inside Sports. The article was written by Michael J. Smith, a gay activist, who wrote of the high-five, “There is instead the legacy of two men’s hands touching, high above their heads.”
Unfortunately, Burke passed away in 1995 of AIDS-related complications. He was only 42 years old.
Did you know about Glenn Burke and the secret gay history of the high-five?
This article was originally published on May 30, 2020. It has since been updated.