This week’s Unsung Hero has somewhat of a retro feel to it as Stephen Walsh remembers Glenn Burke and the infamous “high five” phenomenon.
“My name is Borat, high five!”
One might be wondering why I happen to be quoting a movie that has no obvious relevance to any sporting matter, but I want to talk about the gesture detailed in that opening line that has now become an international sign of acknowledgement; the high five.
October 2nd 1977 was reputedly the first day the ‘high five’ gesture was ever used, Glenn Burke of the LA Dodgers was attributed with the invention. A contemporary newspaper report described the incident as:
“It was the last day of the regular season, and Dodgers left fielder Dusty Baker had just gone deep off the Astros’ J.R. Richard. It was Baker’s 30th home run of the season and it was a wild, triumphant moment and a good omen as the Dodgers headed to the playoffs. Glenn Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it.”
Dusty Baker spoke about the gesture, saying to espn.com:
“His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back. So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”
Glenn Burke then stepped up to the plate and hit a home run and Baker returned the gesture meaning that their celebration wasn’t a one off and as per the aphorism, the rest is history. Little did they know that the gesture would have such a worldwide impact. It took just three years for the trend to move across the country from Los Angeles to be featured in the New York Times on the 1st of September 1980. Almost every sporting event since has featured the ubiquitous high five.
Glenn Burke was subsequently traded to the Oakland A’s for Billy North during the 1978 season following to a falling out with general manager Al Campanis. Burke was supposedly offered $75,000 dollars to marry a woman in attempt to cover up his homosexuality but he declined to participate in the deception.
Back in 1970’s America, the idea of a gay ball player was an anathema to baseball fans and it is widely believed that homophobia was behind the LA Dodgers’ decision to release him.
The loss of Glenn Burke to Oakland had a detrimental effect on the Dodger’s set up as their clubhouse lacked the buzz of his presence, yet the players kept the high five going as they felt it helped with team bonding. Burke eventually retired from playing Major League Baseball at 27 years of age in 1980 due in part to the constant abuse suffered relating to his sexual orientation.
Glenn Burke passed away in 1995 eventually succumbing to the drug addiction he struggled with t umany years. One obituary on the day wrote about Burke,
“At the end, the man who invented the high five could barely lift his arm.”
Next time you give a high five to your friend spare a thought for Glenn Burke, the man who invented it.
Stephen Walsh, Pundit Arena.