Glenn Burke, the late gay professional baseball player who died from AIDS-related causes in 1995, is receiving an honor from the Baseball Reliquary Inc., a Southern California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering an appreciation of U.S. art and culture through the context of baseball history.
Burke is one of three inducteesin his eighth year on the ballotfor its 17th class of electees to the Shrine of the Eternals, the national organization's equivalent to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Burke will be honored in a public ceremony on July 19, at the Donald R. Wright Auditorium in the Pasadena ( Calif. ) Central Library, along with fellow inductees Sy Berger and Steve Bilko.
Of the 50 eligible candidates on the 2015 ballot, Berger received the highest voting percentage, being named on 33 percent of the ballots returned. Bilko and Burke each received 31 percent. Runners-up in this year's election included Bob Costas ( 30 percent ), Bo Jackson ( 29 percent ), J.R. Richard ( 29 percent ), Lisa Fernandez ( 26 percent ) and Charlie Finley ( 26 percent ).
"It's great to see Glenn Burke not just remembered, but honored," said Chicago-based sportswriter Christina Kahrl. "The pressure he faced as an out athlete, and the harassment he dealt with that undermined his career, are critically important for the lesson offered, that the major sports have an obligation to not let that happen to their players, and that they, like every employer, should be ready to provide a safe workplace for everyone with the talent to be there."
Burke was an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics during a four-year major league career from 1976-79. He was the first big league ballplayer to publicly acknowledge he was gay. His public disclosure that he was gay came after he had retired, but Burke's sexual orientation was well known during his playing days.
One of Burke's most noted contributions to sports came at the end of the 1977 season. Teammate Dusty Baker hit his 30th home run of the season, and Burke raised his hands in celebration at home plate. As Baker crossed the plate he reached up, slapped one, and the high-five was born.
Burke competed in the 1982 and 1986 Gay Games in basketball and track.
"Like the man himself, Burke's courage should never be forgotten," Kahrl said.
Burke, Berger and Bilko join 48 other baseball luminaries who have been inducted into the Shrine of the Eternals since elections began in 1999, including Jim Abbott, Moe Berg, Yogi Berra, Ila Borders, Jim Bouton, Bill Buckner, Roberto Clemente, Josh Gibson, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Roger Maris, Minnie Minoso, Satchel Paige, Jimmy Piersall, Pam Postema, Jackie Robinson, Pete Rose and Don Zimmer, among others.