Tomorrow evening, Comcast Sportsnet Bay Area will be presenting the debut of "Out. The Glenn Burke Story." The one hour documentary details the life and legacy of the first openly gay Major League Baseball player, Bay Area native Glenn Burke. Burke was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and eventually traded to his hometown Oakland Athletics, but left baseball after a little over three seasons. Many believe he was traded by the Dodgers and eventually left baseball because of the attitudes towards his sexual orientation.
The documentary will debut tomorrow night at 7:30pm at the Castro Theatre on 429 Castro Street in San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased in advance HERE, with a limited number of tickets available at the Castro Theatre Box Office beginning at 5:30pm. Tickets are $5 with all proceeds benefiting Marty's Place.
The film will be followed by an episode of Chronicle Live featuring a town hall format at the theatre. This edition of Chronicle Live will feature an interactive panel hosted by Greg Papa discussing the issue of homosexuals in professional sports. The panel will include, among others: Larry Baer (President and Chief Operating Officer, San Francisco Giants), Billy Bean (MLB veteran, gay rights activist), Helen Carroll (Sports Project Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights), Ron Kroichick (San Francisco Chronicle), Andrew McIntosh (Former SUNY Oneonta lacrosse player, team captain), Douglas Murray (San Jose Sharks defenseman), Lorenzo Neal (NFL veteran, Comcast SportsNet NFL analyst), Monte Poole (Oakland Tribune), Ray Ratto (CSNBayArea.com Senior Insider), Bill Romanowski (NFL veteran, Comcast SportsNet NFL analyst), Michelle Smith (FanHouse Senior Writer), Langston Walker (Oakland Raiders offensive tackle).
I had a chance to preview the documentary earlier this week and I have to say it was an incredibly gripping story. Burke passed away from AIDS in 1995 so the documentary involves primarily the thoughts and recollections of his family, friends, and former teammates. Burke's voice is heard through tape recordings he conducted with Eric Sherman, who wrote the book Out at Home: The Glenn Burke Story.
The documentary covers primarily his time from late middle school to his death in 1995, naturally focusing on his time in the major leagues. Given the number of talented ball players to come out of the East Bay in the 60s and 70s, there are a lot of local players that played with Burke both in high school and in the major leagues. They are able to provide a sort of running diary of his life during that time.
The documentary includes a wide ranging number of interviews with some of the most heart-felt coming from his former minor league teammate and friend Marvin Webb, former A's teammates Claudell Washington and Mike Norris, current A's employee Pam Pitts, and former Dodger player and Giants manager Dusty Baker. They all interacted with Burke in a variety of ways through his major league career and during the time after his career and have great anecdotes about Burke.
The most pertinent interviewee in my opinion is former A's infielder Shooty Babitt. Babitt came across as by far the most candid about his feelings at the time Burke was playing, as well as prejudices he felt at the time. The climate everybody describes is one of wariness at best and open hostility at worst. Babitt's explanation of his feelings at the time and how they changed over time seems the best description from anybody. It's fantastic that some of his teammates were perfectly fine with his sexual orientation and it shows a certain positive liberal perspective. However, Babitt provided what I thought was the best perspective of what the majority of folks likely felt at the time.
All in all the documentary is an interesting look at Glenn Burke. It is airing at the Castro Theatre tomorrow, and then again on November 16 at 8pm pacific. If you get a chance I strongly urge you to head down to check it out. I believe CSN will be re-airing it on their network at some point, so if you can't make it down, keep an eye out for scheduling of the film on CSN Bay Area.