Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Origin of The High Five: Gay Baseball Players and Tommy Lasorda

Certain things we take for granted as existing forever, even though obviously everything has some type of origin. Saying God Bless you after a sneeze, shaking hands upon meeting someone, or even the kiss on the cheek are all little social interactions that we don't even think twice about, but somebody had to be the first to do it. One such phenomenon is the high-five. From cool to corny to ironically cool to corny again to whatever it is now, you can't deny the high-five's presence. But you probably never thought for a second about who the hell was the first jerk to throw his hand up in the air for another jerk to give an open palm to as a sign of unbridled exuberance. Lord knows I haven't. Just seems like one of those things that's always been since the dawn of time. Imagine my shock when reading the newest issue of the otherwise waste of dead trees that is ESPN the Magazine (I was forced into a subscription after signing up for ESPN insider to read the second half of John Hollinger's stupid stats), and seeing this article investigating the pioneer of the high five. There seems to be a little bit of controversy; there's a good number of athletes who are trying to lay claim to being the originator of the five, ranging from nobodies on obscure college basketball teams from the 70s to greats like Magic Johnson (Magic may have helped popularize the high five with the Showtime Lakers teams, but most people doubt he was the first). The article eventually settles on the prevailing theory regarding the inventor of the high five (at least using Wiki research): Glenn Burke of the L.A. Dodgers.

I wasn't familiar with Burke's story before this article but I must say it's chock full of surprising tidbits, and since nobody in their right minds reads ESPN the magazine, I'll summarize. As the story goes, the Dodgers were on their way to becoming the first team to have 4 players with 30 home runs in a season. Burke, a light hitting outfielder(to put it mildly) was waiting on deck after teammate Dusty Baker jacked his 30th, and in the ensuing excitement, thrust his hand skyward for his teammate who (also caught up in the moment) did all he could think of and slapped Burke's palm as hard as he could; and thus began the high five. This story is surprising enough (I would have thought the high five dated back at least to the 50s or 60s), but becomes really crazy when you learn the back story of high fivin' Glenn Burke. Not only was he a celebration innovator, he was also the first out gay baseball player. Yeah, I didn't know there was ever one of those either. Supposedly, his somewhat open homosexual ways (it's implied that most of his teammates knew) were what forced the talented Burke out of baseball, to never be spoken of again outside of lame magazines and sports blogs. Not only did Burke lead a fairly open gay lifestyle (he is said to have frequented West Hollywood gay clubs in drag during his playing days) but he is also rumored to have carried on an affair with Tommy LaSorda Jr. of all people. This didn't sit well with the old paisan, who to this day denies that his son (who died of AIDS) was even a homosexual, let alone involved in gay trysts with one of his players. The ESPN article hints that it was Burke's lifestyle that forced him out of L.A. and eventually landed him in Billy Martin's doghouse in Oakland (Billy would address him as faggot on occasion, if he spoke to him at all). But, his lasting legacy will always be the high five.

So there you have it. The high five, that favorite expression of frat boy excitement during beer pong or any sporting event, the classic macho celebration and all around non threatening gesture of sportsmanship, and the national punchline for movies like Borat or Puddy on Seinfeld...was first practiced by a gay baseball player you never heard of in the late 70s. Now that I think of it, high fiving is pretty gay.

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