Glenn Burke was one of a kind - the only openly gay man in major league history.
Teammates with the Los Angeles Dodgers in the late '70s - Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, Davey Lopes - knew who Burke was and didn't mind, but lots of others apparently weren't as open-minded, including manager Tommy Lasorda. Burke was traded to the Oakland Athletics, where teammates like Shooty Babbit and Mike Norris happily remember Burke wearing a bright red jock strap.
Then-manager Billy Martin couldn't stand Burke and berated him constantly. At age 27, Burke retired.
There hasn't been an openly gay player since, and a new documentary - Out: the Glenn Burke Story - helps explain why. To come out as a gay player is to invite pressures no player needs, and they drove Burke out of baseball. It wasn't so much his teammates as managers and front office types who had issues with Burke.
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The documentary begins playing around the country today, and here's a review of the film - and a trailer.
Are there gay players today? Of course. In 30 years covering the game, I've known two of them - fine players, good teammates and not crazy enough to come out of the closet on the record. There are others, as there are in the NFL and NBA. We can argue all we want on the unfairness of it, but major sports don't create an environment of acceptance for gay men, any more than the Pentagon.
Burke's story is fascinating and ultimately tragic. Sadly, 30 years later, the risks he faced living openly in baseball haven't changed.
Now, a few thoughts and some links:
- It's not as sexy as the big-league market, but Baseball America has the list of minor-leaugue free agents, position-by-position. You might want to take a look at it - the Seattle Mariners certainly are.
- For all the predictions coming out of Japan - and Seattle - that the Mariners were frontrunners to land negotiating rights with right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, reporter John Hickey writes that major league sources said the Mariners never submitted a bid. Oakland did, and will now have 30 days in which to sign Iwakuma.
- The next big thing out of Japan is infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a switch-hitter who batted .346 last season. The Los Angeles Times says 'sources' tell it Nishioka's preference is to play for the Dodgers.
- San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said during a radio interview that after shoulder surgry he won't so much as swing a bat for four to five months. That could mean March 20 - 11 days before the season opens. For a team that likely will have to trade their star, that could mean a slow start while they still have him - and impact the Padres leverage in any deal.
- Jamie Moyer underwent an MRI on his ailing left elbow Tuesday in Los Angeles and will get the results today. His winter ball general manager, Moises Alou, suspects the 47-year-old lefty will need to surgically rebuild the elbow.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman apparently told catcher Jorge Posada his days behind the plate are over and that he'll be the Yankees designated hitter in 2011.