Happy New Year! Did you know the high five was invented by Glenn Burke, the first openly gay major league baseball player? According to ESPN.com the high five was birthed late in the 1977 Dodgers season. Burke was on plate in the batting order following Dusty Baker, who had just hit his 30th home run and was coming around to home plate. When Baker ran past him, Burke lifted his hand, Baker did the same and their hands slapped, creating the first high five on record.
After being traded to the Oakland A’s in 1980 Burke faced a hostile work environment. Rumors of his sexuality followed him and the A’s manager, Billy Martin, called him a faggot. After a knee injury Burke felt there was no choice for him except early retirement.
The newly retired Burke took solace in playing gay softball and bringing the high-five to San Francisco’s Castro district. Jon Mooallem writes:
He became a star shortstop in a local gay softball league and dominated in the Gay Softball World Series. “I was making money playing ball and not having any fun,” he said of his time in the majors. “Now I’m not making money, but I’m having fun.” Jack McGowan, a friend in the Castro who has since passed away, once said of Burke: “He was a hero to us. He was athletic, clean cut, masculine. He was everything that we wanted to prove to the world that we could be.”
In the Castro, Burke’s creation of the high five was part of this Herculean mystique. He would regularly sit on the hood of a car — whichever one happened to be parked in front of a gay bar called the Pendulum Club — flash his magnetic smile and high-five everyone who walked by. In 1982, Burke came out publicly in an Inside Sports magazine profile called “The Double Life of a Gay Dodger.” The writer, a gay activist named Michael J. Smith, appropriated the high five as a defiant symbol of gay pride. Rising from the wreckage of Burke’s aborted baseball career, Smith wrote, was “a legacy of two men’s hands touching, high above their heads.”
Sports aren’t your thing? Celebrate the new year by making your own My Little Pony with General Zoi’s pony creator.