Out In Major Leagues

Versus Television showed a fascinating documentary on Glenn Burke, the Los Angeles Dodger and Oakland A who was out of the closet while on these teams.

As a gay man and a huge sports fan I already knew Burke’s story. When I played gay softball in Boston there were other people who played minor league professional baseball who were on teams. Burke played semi-professional gay softball after leaving professional baseball in the early 1980s.

The documentary asks tons of people to discuss Glenn’s story and is a great look at his childhood through the days in the Castro as its sports king. Burke certainly faced prejudice from several managers, including Tommy Lasorda and Billy Martin. I had no idea that Lasorda had a gay son and that he was not reconciled with that fact, which is very sad.

The documentary does a good job of asking how Glenn Burke’s homosexuality hurt him among the team leaders.

The documentary misses an important question and focus: how did Burke’s homosexuality affect his baseball playing.

Burke is a four-tool man: run, hit with power, great arm and great defense: lacking hitting for average. What happened when he reached the show is that much of the talent remained unrealized.

When Burke was traded from the Dodgers, probably through Lasorda’s machinations, a person in the documentary asserted he was hitting .250. Actually, Burke played in sixteen games, scored two runs, drove in two runs, had no home runs and was hitting .211.  Not a valuable utility player’s statistics.  His average barely rose in the 1979 season in Oakland. My question is did Burke put in the work necessary to make himself a better ballplayer? We heard he spent a lot of time in the Castro District having a ball. No problem except you have to do your job well or it is possible that you will lose it. This is called work ethic and gay or not, it is vital.

We hear from players on the Dodgers and the Athletics that Burke would frequently not ride on the buses or sleep in the same hotel as the team. This is bad for team morale and chemistry. The documentary did not ask the players if heterosexual players did something similar. Did big stars do this? Did they have women and groupies waiting for them to drive them away as Burke did? If they did, how did the other players’ on the team react?

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