Dusty Baker, nee Johnnie B. Baker Jr., if nothing else, has found himself around some of the most colorful characters in baseball during his career. Before he managed Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, as a player, Baker was on deck when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s then-home run record in 1974. Yet in 1977, he was part of the exchange that came to redefine how players celebrate with each other.
Back then, as an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Baker was on a mission to hit 30 homers. On deck behind him in the sixth inning of the last game of the regular season, was Glenn Burke. Then a rookie, Burke was so excited to see his teammate join the 30-homer club along with Ron Cey, Reggie Smith and Steve Garvey that he came out of the dugout with his hand cocked all the way back behind his head. Dusty reached out and slapped it, creating the first high five.
It’s something that Baker was a part of, but credits Burke for inspiring. “I got all over the country, people ask me, ‘Hey man, you know, did you invent the high five?’ Baker said in “The High Five,” an ESPN 30 for 30 short. “I was like, ‘No, I didn’t invent the high five. All I did was respond to Glenn.’ ”
The 10-minute film provides a great look back at Baker as a big leaguer in all of his wristbanded glory, the evolution of the now iconic gesture, and of course, the blackballing of Burke from the game.
“I don’t know what people are going to say, the reason why he was traded, but we know, kind of, the reason he was traded: Because he was gay. And, um, I mean, you can’t be any more blunt than that,” Baker says during the movie.
“Oh yeah, everybody knew. It wasn’t any secret. Everybody knew but I’m just telling you, wasn’t anybody going to say anything to him,” he continues with a laugh. “Wasn’t nobody going to ask him any questions or anything. I mean, this guy was tough. He was physically tough. Good guy. But, you know, he’ll break your jaw in a minute.”
In the ’70s in baseball, Burke’s preferences were not something that many took well. He was traded to Oakland in the spring of 1978. “You cannot come out in a professional sport and say you’re gay,” Gay Games co-founder Mark Brown says during the short. “You’re crucified. Your career ends right then and there.”
As for the high five, Baker ultimately knows where the legend should stand. “It should be added to his legacy and not mine,” Baker says of Burke, who died in 1995. “It was all Glenn.”