Category Archives: LGBTQ

1000 Words: Gay Too Soon

It was some time in the late 1970s. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, there were a few puffy, white cumulus clouds scuttling across the sky. It was a perfect day to be in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.

Not that the Cubs were any good; they never were from mid-1973 through the end of 1983. The only reasons I’d want to be in the Wrigley Field bleachers back then were the historic beauty of the ballpark, the glorious summer day, and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the characters who preferred the cheap seats.

Those characters that day were giving hell to the Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder, a fellow named Glenn Burke. He was the team’s fourth outfielder but for some reason was starting that day. A finely chiseled, extraordinarily athletic, and exquisitely handsome person, Burke never achieved stardom in Major League Baseball. It was as if Michelangelo had cut his figure from a huge slab of marble, but Burke never was able to master the art of hitting major league pitching. It’s no insult to say that as hitting a pitched baseball long has been known as the most difficult feat in all sports. Burke hung around the bigs for just four years.

He was beloved in the Dodgers clubhouse. He was a happy-go-lucky, jocular, fabulously dressed, breath of fresh air in an environment that too often can become oppressive due to the overwhelming pressure to win, to succeed. The Dodgers already had a long tradition of succeeding at that time and have carried that tradition though to this day. The team was and is not usually prone to suffering lousy players. Glenn Burke offered the promise of becoming a great one. Sadly he never did.

“I tell you, he was the life of the party,” longtime and peripatetic manager Dusty Baker, Burke’s teammate on the Dodgers, told a reporter for a story in today’s New York Times. “He’d get out and dance; he could dance his butt off. He’d crack on anybody, and we loved having Glenn around. Glenn was a big part of our team, man.”

He came up to the Dodgers in 1976, played in a couple of World Series with them, and was abruptly traded away in May, ’78. His teammates were shocked when they heard the news. A number of them openly wept in the clubhouse. Burke was only 25 years old when Los Angeles pulled the plug on him. This Greek god of an athlete conceivably could have become great star as he entered his prime years but the Dodgers’ brass had their own reason for wanting to be rid of him.

Glenn Burke was gay.

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The High and Lows of Glenn Burke’s Life.

Burke, at first, wouldn’t come out to his bosses but most of his teammates knew about his private life. To their credit, they didn’t care. Even big tough guys like Dusty Baker embraced him, despite baseball’s long tradition of imposing a crushing homophobic, misogynistic mind set on its players.

Somehow, though, the Dodgers brass found out about Burke’s love life. The story goes that Dodgers’ general manager Al Campanis summoned Burke and offered him a $75,000 honeymoon if he would only get married. Burke, reading the handwriting on the wall, responded, “To a woman?”

Next thing anybody knew, Burke was shipped off to the Oakland Athletics for pennies on the dollar. Another story goes that Oakland manager Billy Martin, a notorious hard-ass, described him as a “fag” when informing A’s players of their new teammate. Later, Martin, no longer able to bear being around a gay man, mistook for Burke a young minor leaguer playing outfield outfield during a spring training game. “Get that motherfucking homosexual out of there!” Martin ordered. The young player was promptly sent back to the minor leagues, ending his major league career before it had even started. So it can be said Burke’s sexual orientation ruined two players’ careers — although it’d be far more accurate to state old hard-assed men’s ass-holiness really did that trick.

In any case, we in the bleachers that beautiful summer day knew nothing about Glenn Burke’s private life, only that he was wearing the uniform of a hated enemy, so several thousand bleacherites razzed him mercilessly. Finally, after six or so innings of enduring verbal abuse, insults, slurs, and the almost-constant, loud incantation, “Burke, you suck!,” he’d had enough. Burke turned away from the field of play, faced us, and grabbed his package, the look on his face clearly conveying the opprobrium, “Fuck you!”

There was silence for a moment then, suddenly, as if a switch had been flipped, the bleachers erupted in raucous laughter and cheers. At least half of the crowd gave Burke a standing ovation. People raised their beer cups to him. A few saluted. Burke’s face then broke into huge grin. He saluted back. The razzing, the insulting, the slurring, the endless chants of “Burke, you suck!” stopped. For the rest of the game, Burke was almost as popular among the bleacherites as if he were a member of the Cubs.

I’ve never forgotten that incident. Glenn Burke gave back to the bleacherites in language and gesture they appreciated. He won them over by playing their own game.

Much of Burke’s life after baseball was sad. He came out in a 1982 Inside Sports magazine profile. He competed in the Gay Games that year and won medals for sprinting. But later, he had problems finding work and got into substance abuse. He was homeless for a while and spent some time in jail on drug charges. Then he contracted AIDS. He died, after living his last few months with his sister, in 1995.

Times have changed, thank goodness. After Burke’s troubles became widely known, the Oakland A’s helped him with his living expenses. Major League Baseball honored him at the 2014 All-star Game. The A’s have named their annual Pride Night for him. He was elected to the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

And tonight, the Los Angeles Dodgers are honoring his surviving family at their ninth annual LGBTQ+ Night celebration.

This holy land has come a long way since the late 1970s, even if we still have a hell of a long way to go.

 

Hot Air

No Schadenfreude Here

So Fred Phelps is dead. Lots of folks on my side of the fence are expressing glee over his passing. Not me.

I’d always seen Phelps as a pitiable, extremely sick individual. No sane person could do what he did for so long and so conscientiously. He gave his entire life over to a campaign of senseless, pointless, self-destructive demonstrations of pure hate. Yet he never hurt anyone except himself. Even people who fought tooth and nail against same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ advancements in rights must have cringed every time Phelps’ psychopathy-distorted face appeared on a TV screen. I’d argue that he did more to advance the cause of acceptance and rights for non-straight people than any dozen LGBTQ activists.

Phelps

A Face Of Pain

If I feel anything, it’s relief that man whose life was poisoned by sheer self-induced misery finally is at peace.

OTOH: When Andrew Breitbart died, that was different. He was sane but a self-centered, miserable, lying, dangerous excuse for a human being. To this day I’m deliriously happy that Breitbart’s dead.

The Girl & The Jet

Notice how a judge ruled against the Spierers yesterday? The grieving parents of the missing IU student wanted to keep some evidence under wraps in their negligence lawsuit against two young men who spent time with Lauren the night she went missing.

Apparently, Robert and Charlene Spierer thought the release of all evidence might compromise a potential criminal case against anyone who might bear responsibility for their daughter’s disappearance. The judge ruled, whoa, all criminal and civil proceedings are open to the public.

Well, that’s not precisely true but this is not a case of national security or clear and present danger or even anything that might embarrass someone in a position of power.

Anyway, how many of us have forgotten about Lauren? It occurs to me that I really don’t even see those missing student posters and flyers that still adorn doors and shop windows around town. Natch, the Spierers will never forget. And Lauren’s story will become headline news once again when she’s found.

Poster

Part Of The Landscape

The whole thing still puzzles me. Lauren is our town’s MH Flight 370. How can a college student or an airliner simply disappear from the face of the Earth? Kidnappers and murderers aren’t arch-criminals. They don’t possess wondrous machines that allow them to daze and awe the law abiding world while they go about their nefarious business. Real-life bad guys leave clues. They’re sloppy. They’re careless. They’re human.

Of course, that missing Malaysian jet probably was not hijacked or blown up. That breed of criminal doesn’t often keep his evil deeds on the qt. The whole idea being he wants the world to know what a fearsome character he is. Run of the mill baddies don’t go trumpeting their stunts, sure, but 99.9 percent of the time they lack the smarts and the wherewithal to cover up their actions for too terribly long.

Flight 370 Family

Waiting

Meanwhile, the hundreds of family members and friends await word in Kuala Lumpur. As do a couple of parents in Long Island.

Credible Numbers

Statistics centerfold model Nate Silver is taking a lot of heat these days for a climate change article he ran on his new website 538. In the piece, author Roger Pielke, Jr. states that we’re spending tons more dough to clean up after climate-related disasters than ever before, not necessarily because storms are getting worse or more frequent but because the value of our damaged or destroyed assets has mushroomed.

Those trying to alert the gen. public to the dangers of climate change are apoplectic. They feel the 538 piece just might give folks the wrong impression about how costly C.C. already is, and will be in the near future.

Now we come to the point where every climate change argument falls on either side of a line separating canon from apostasy. Nate Silver and Roger Pielke, Jr. suddenly find themselves cast as villains, saboteurs, heretics.

A few climate scientists are saying Pielke’s statistical methodology was suspect. Maybe. But Silver and those who work with and for him have virtually unassailable reps when it comes to crunching numbers.

It seems, though, that the criticisms come from the corner of the human psych that holds that established wisdom must never be challenged, even if the challenge is the splitting of hairs over a few dollar figures. Certainly acceptance of climate change is established wisdom these days, at least among those who are nominally sane. Sure, troglodytes like Sen. James Inhofe may believe climate change is a hoax and, yes, he’s in a position of power to do something (or, far more likely, nothing) about it. But the scientific community and we lay folks who consider ourselves well-read buy into forecasts of potential global climate disaster.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Given that, anybody who dares to suggest things aren’t as dire as the most alarmist of us might believe is seen as the enemy now.

Climate change is real, and a real danger; only let’s not get sloppy with the evidence. That’s all Silver and Pielke are saying.

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