Back in 1994-95, I worked with Glenn on his autobiography. Sadly, he was in the final months of his life and was battling the extremely painful effects of AIDS. We had to stop our interviews every five or ten minutes for the better part of a week because of the pain he endured. The man that was once 220 pounds of muscle was now 130 pounds of skin and bones. His regiment of drugs to control the pain was mindboggling and he kept both a space heater and fan by his bedside in an attempt to control a body temperature that he could never get just right.
On more than one occasion, I told Glenn that we didn't have to continue, that perhaps he would be best served by just trying to get some rest and not struggle to get the words of his life into my tape-recorder. But Glenn pressed on, wanting so badly for his story of being gay in the macho world of major league baseball to get on the record.
Burke's homosexuality was an open secret in big league circles by the time he was traded by the Dodgers to the A's in 1978 and contributed to his eventually getting blackballed from baseball. The man who invented the "high five," the player who led off the 1977 World Series, and the human being that suffered the indignation of losing his place on a big league roster because of his homosexuality, was out of baseball as he entered what would have been the prime of his career.
The masses only knew after his playing days ended that Burke was gay when a 1982 Inside Sports article and an interview on the Today Show with Bryant Gumbel made what many in major league baseball already knew public. Burke's life took a downward spiral into drug addiction and ended in 1995 at age 42 when he mercifully succumbed to AIDS.
Up until today, Jason Collins, who came out last year after becoming a free agent, was basically Glenn Burke. Like Burke in 1982, he was an openly gay man without a team. At age 34 at the time, you could make the case Collins came out as a retired player, though still looking to latch on to a team. Now there is a difference. Now everybody knows Collins is gay and an active NBA player. He is the first.
With what Glenn endured over 30 years ago, the idea of a team signing an openly gay player would have certainly seemed like an impossibility to him. I hope in some way Glenn gains a sliver of solace