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The Glenn Burke documentary airs tonight

Nov 10, 2010, 5:34 PM EDT

Glenn Burke was the first and, as far as we know, the only gay player to be out of the closet to his teammates and team ownership during his major league career.  Burke and many believed that he was run out of the league because of it.  It’s also possible that he was pushed out for the simple fact that his performance didn’t justify a place for him on a major league roster. Or it could have been a combination of the two. As Bouton and many others pointed out, you can be unique in a major league clubhouse and no one will care as long as you’re good. But if you’re unique and you stink, however, you probably will get way less slack than equally-stinky players.

But whatever the circumstances of Burke’s departure from the league, his place in history is undeniable. Regretfully so, to the extent that he’s famous for being one of a kind.  There have been over 6,000 players who have cycled through the big leagues since Burke left. The odds that none of them save Bill Bean (who came out after his career was over) were gay are more or less impossible.  Gay ballplayers besides those two have won and lost games, hit home runs and made dumbass errors, have spouted cliches to sportswriters and have reported to camp “in the best shape of their lives.”  It’s a pity that society is such that they have not felt free to step out of the closet and be themselves like every other ballplayer is allowed to be. We’re not going to get over that hump any time soon, I fear.

But we can examine the life of Glenn Burke, as a documentary about him — “Out. The Glenn Burke Story” — airs tonight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area at 8 P.M. Pacific.  If you’re not in the Bay Area you can watch it on DirecTV (Sports Pack Channel 696) and the Dish Network (Multi-Sports Package Channel 419).

I don’t know if the documentary will be any good, but the story is an important and a compelling one, however told.

  1. schlom - Nov 10, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    I’d like to know who exactly is saying that he was forced out of the majors because he was gay. Isn’t it more likely that he was just a terrible hitter? Why do people always have to make a big deal out of something that is more likely to be nothing?

    • tomemos - Nov 10, 2010 at 7:40 PM

      “I’d like to know who exactly is saying that he was forced out of the majors because he was gay.”

      Well, schlom, if you sincerely want an answer to that the obvious thing to do is to watch the documentary. But somehow I don’t think you’re going to do that. I do know that Dusty Baker has flat-out said that the Dodgers traded him because he was gay.

      Anyway, you asked a question, and now I have one for you: what makes you qualified to talk about what’s “more likely” and what people “always make a big deal out of,” if you don’t know anything about the case? The career of the only known out ballplayer is by definition not “likely to be nothing.”

      • schlom - Nov 10, 2010 at 8:22 PM

        Well I say he was traded because he couldn’t hit, you say he was traded because he was gay. What do you think is the more likely explanation? And perhaps he had it tougher in the clubhouse because he was gay, but then again maybe he didn’t.

        Also, just because Dusty “Black and Hispanic players are better suited to playing in the sun and heat than white players” Baker says something doesn’t make it true.

      • tomemos - Nov 10, 2010 at 8:40 PM

        Not sure if you’re getting it: *I* am not saying he was run out because he was gay. *People who were close to the situation* are saying that. I don’t automatically credit everything Dusty Baker says, but I sure give him more credit than I do Schlom of the Internet.

        As for whether he had it tougher: well, Billy Martin apparently introduced him to his fellow A’s players as “a f**got.” So you tell me if you think he had it tougher. Or perhaps that’s also under dispute? Why should we believe Jackie Robinson was the target of racial slurs–what, just because he and his fellow players said so??

      • tomemos - Nov 10, 2010 at 8:46 PM

        For the record, I genuinely have no idea how much being gay affected his being traded. It might not have at all; the Dodgers are mum about it. I’m not saying his fellow players would know for sure why he was traded; they wouldn’t. But it has to be part of the discussion. And when his fellow players say that he was *treated badly* for being gay, I don’t have any reason to question that, and neither do you.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Nov 10, 2010 at 8:19 PM

      And you can read this if you’d like more info:

      http://espn.go.com/blog/los-angeles/dodger-thoughts/post/_/id/9292/glenn-burke-story-aims-to-strike-out-intolerance

  2. Old Gator - Nov 10, 2010 at 9:02 PM

    This is a truly juvenile civilization. Forget whether you believe in an omniscient being for the moment. Our religiosity is by and large juvenile, riddled with fairy tale literalism, riddled with manipulative shame and cursed with body horror. We have as a culture an awfully long way to go to grow up despite some of the substantial strides we have undeniably made during the last fifty years or so, and the further into a corner popular acceptance or tolerance of difference drives the knuckledragging religious right, the louder their hyenas howl and the more viciously they try to bite.

    Given the long and, sadly, recent history of continued abuse of gay people, it’s amazing that anyone would question whether in general an out-of-the-closet gay ballplayer would be abused while inhabiting the jock subculture. It would be great to see gay professional athletes in team sports come out en masse, so that their straight colleagues would have to come to terms with how long and how harmlessly these queer friends and acquaintances have been among them. I’m hoping that once the US Military gets over its idiotic homophobia, the sports world will find its own nerve and start dealing with the issue like adults.

    • mtner77 - Nov 11, 2010 at 2:20 AM

      Since people have such strong feelings on this subject, both ways, I will not comment on the substance of the story.

      But I will admit that I quit reading the comments once the “Old Gator” name came up. To attempt to read this guy’s comments is the same as to buy stock in Ibuprofen….

      • Old Gator - Nov 11, 2010 at 8:01 AM

        You might be better off with Tylenol, especially if the seal appears to have been violated.

      • BC - Nov 11, 2010 at 9:51 AM

        Or Nardil. Makes everything groovy.

    • wonkypenguin - Nov 11, 2010 at 8:36 AM

      Agreed wholeheartedly. And for anyone who says it isn’t important, it most certainly is. Invisible minorities are a subculture of people who need to “out” themselves in order to gain respect and to reconcile their self with all parts of their lives.

      Oh, and it’s always nice for younger people in that culture to have healthy role models who aren’t afraid of themselves. But I hesitate on that one, lest I get jumped for the “athletes aren’t role models!” argument. It’s not about the athlete; it’s about the gay athlete.

  3. mrfloydpink - Nov 11, 2010 at 3:59 AM

    Interesing, mtner. I find Old Gator’s comments to be–in general–both interesting and thoughtful. Unlike, for example, yours.

    • supersnappy - Nov 11, 2010 at 7:47 AM

      I don’t post much, but I too like reading what Old Gator has to say.

  4. BC - Nov 11, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    If you go by the stats, and figure that baseball players equate to societal norms, 5 to 10% of major league players are gay. And that effects how I think about the game exactly how?
    I’ve never been in a professional locker room or part of a professional team, but I think even at that point, if the guy kept to himself and was a good player and teammate and stayed out of trouble, what do I care about his personal life. Why should I?

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 11, 2010 at 9:59 AM

      It’s a long read, but he’s a great story about Rugby’s first openly gay player, and all the issues surrounding it. The fear of what would happen when everyone found out, how he’d be treated, etc. I often wonder if the lack of people outing themselves has more to do with perceived backlash than the actual backlash itself.

      http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1168953/index.htm

  5. Utley's Hair - Nov 11, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    If the environment itself was open so that players didn’t feel the need to hide it, maybe things wouldn’t get to the point where the perceived backlash would be so harsh. It’s a totally idiotic and unnecessary vicious circle.

    • tomemos - Nov 11, 2010 at 2:25 PM

      Very good point. I think there’s also no ideal time to come out: as a rookie you don’t want to risk your future career, as a marginal player you don’t want to give them an excuse to not play you, as a star you don’t want to risk your reputation and endorsements, and as an ex-player you don’t want to “tarnish your legacy.” There’s no incentive to come out aside from the uncertain promise of social progress.

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