OAKLAND, Calif. — Glenn Burke’s sister had a tough time even coming to the Oakland Coliseum for Athletics Pride Night. Her brother’s death remains painful 20 years later, though Carol Williams knows how much it would have meant to Burke to be honored in his former ballpark as baseball’s first openly gay player.
“I’m sad. I miss him every day of my life. I loved him so much,” Williams said. “He did so much for the family. We were so close. I just know he’s smiling down, and he’s saying, ‘Oh my God, they’re honoring me today?’ He used to give me bus fare to go to school. I said, ‘Why do I have to go to school?’ He said, ‘Because you need an education.'”
Billy Bean, Major League Baseball’s openly gay ambassador for inclusion and a former major leaguer, greeted members of the Burke family before Wednesday night’s game against the Padres. Burke’s brother, Sidney, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to A’s reliever Sean Doolittle.
“He would be so thrilled. This would be the bees’ knees for him,” said another Burke sister, Lutha Davis. “He would be so happy they would do this for him. We’re very, very proud of our little brother.”
Members of the Burke family stood together for a moment on the diamond where he played. Burke died at age 42 in 1995 of complications from AIDS.
Former A’s infielder Shooty Babitt played a season with Burke at Triple-A. He appreciated the franchise’s efforts to support an old friend.
Article continues below“There was not one guy on the team that was more respected or more liked than Glenn Burke,” Babitt said. “Not only was he a good person, a great athlete but he was a caring person as well. We were born and raised in the same city (Berkeley), so when you talk about great athletes, Glenn Burke was right at the top.”
Eireann Dolan, Doolittle’s girlfriend, estimated to have about 875 fans in her group that included LGBT youth. She also had her family members in the stands in support.
“It was wonderful what she did,” father Tom Dolan said. “It doesn’t surprise me, though.”