1974 Topps baseball card of Glenn Burke.
1974 Topps baseball card of Glenn Burke.

The New York Times is reporting that Major League Baseball has invited the family of Glenn Burke, a gay player for the Dodgers and A’s, to attend Tuesday’s All-Star Game. Burke died in 1995 at the age of 42 from complications from AIDS.

From the Times:

As part of a concerted effort to demonstrate an atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion, the league invited Burke’s family to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis — its first official recognition of Burke’s early role in a movement just now gaining traction across the sports landscape.

“He was a pioneer, and should be recognized,” Pat Courtney, a Major League Baseball spokesman, said.

Attending the game will be Lutha Burke, one of Glenn Burke’s five surviving siblings, who cared for Burke in his final months as he withered and died from the effects of AIDs, and her daughter Alice Rose. Burke died in 1995.

“It was overdue, and Glenn has a story that needs to be told,” Lutha Burke, 66, said over a cup of coffee, sitting beside Rose. “Glenn wouldn’t be upset

The Times is also reporting that MLB will announce ex-major leaguer Billy Bean (not to be confused with current Oakland A’s exec Billy Beane) will work with the league on inclusion issues. Bean announced he was gay in 1999, four years after retiring.

Burke had deep Bay Area roots; he was raised in Oakland, starred athletically at Berkeley High School, and played two years for the A’s, where he suffered the vocal homophobia of manager Billy Martin. He was known to frequent the Castro and played in the San Francisco Gay Softball League.

In 1982, the magazine Inside Sports published a profile of Burke called “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.” The article reported that L.A. players had seen Burke as a club catalyst and an enlivening, if volatile, influence on the team.

On a team preoccupied with presenting the clean-shaven, Dodger-blue front, the street kid from Oakland became one of the behind-the-scenes catalysts. “He always had the music blasting and was saying something silly to keep the team laughing,” said (Dusty) Baker. “He’d be playing cards and all of a sudden you would hear this loud voice scream, ‘Rack ’em, Hoss, the poor boy’s just lost!’ and then there’d be that crazy laugh of his again.”

Burke made them laugh and he made them squirm. In an argument he would swing first and negotiate later. A fastball in a teammate’s ear would bring him out of the dugout first. Everybody wanted to keep “Burkey” giggling because when his eyes clouded you could suddenly sense the violence. He wanted that machismo right out there on his skin; it made him feel safer.

In 2010, a documentary called “Out: The Glenn Burke Story” was released. Here’s the trailer, in which you’ll hear that Burke openly dated Dodger Manager Tommy Lasorda’s son:

Here’s Dodger all-star Reggie Smith talking about how he found out Burke was gay, also from the film:

When the film was released, Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole wrote

America’s historical battlefield is strewn with the bodies of those cut tragically short by weapons loaded by intolerance. Glenn Burke is among them.

He was courageous, a hero. How long before society is mature enough to realize it?

A lot has changed since 2010, and it seems that MLB will formally embrace Burke’s legacy on Tuesday.

MLB to Recognize Gay Former Player Glenn Burke at All-Star Game 14 July,2014Jon Brooks

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