Glenn Burke was the Dodgers' up and coming young centerfielder in 1977, a year they went to the World Series. The next year, he was traded for an older, lesser player from the Oakland A's. The reason Burke was exiled, most agree now, is that the Dodgers discovered Burke was gay. He didn't talk about it in the media until a 1982 story in Inside Sports magazine called "The Double Life of a Gay Dodger" and in a conversation with Bryant Gumble on the Today Show, after he was out the game and headed downhill to a life that included drugs, prison and AIDS. He co-authored an autobiography before he died in 1995. A documentary called "Out: The Glenn Burke Story" aired last night on Bay Area television. In it, teammates talk about Burke's Dodgers days, what they knew, and how it affected the clubhouse. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
What's most fascinating is watching big-name players from the time - including Dodgers teammates Reggie Smith, Davey Lopes and longtime Giants manager Dusty Baker - speaking honestly about Burke and homosexuality in the locker room. Their perspective becomes especially important during one of the trickiest parts of the film: The circumstances surrounding his trade from the Dodgers, which Burke believed was orchestrated because he was gay.
"I think the Dodgers knew," Baker said bluntly. "I think that's why they traded Glenn."
Adds Smith, about Burke's prospects if he came out: "It was a kiss of death for a ballplayer. He would have been excused from the game."
Harris peppers the documentary with lighter moments that will interest pop-culture junkies and sports fanatics alike. "Cheers" writer/director Ken Levine makes an appearance, to talk about an episode that was based in part on Burke's life. Burke has also been credited for being on the delivering end of the first high-five.
Along the way, a nuanced portrait emerges. There are few heroes and villains. Lasorda and former A's manager Billy Martin - the latter figure reportedly introduced Burke to his teammates as a "faggot" - are the exception.
One of the sources quoted in the film says that Burke openly dated Lasorda's son. Levine, by the way, is now a Dodgers broadcaster. Daily News columnist Tom Hoffarth also quotes a friend of Burke's from the film: "Al Campanis and Walter O'Malley had called him into the office and offered him $75,000 to get married. And Glenn, being his comic self, said, 'I guess you mean to a woman?'"