Baseball takes a small step to recognize the gay athlete

It’s too late for Glenn Burke — he died 20 years ago — but Major League Baseball might be taking one tiny, overdue step in Minneapolis by inviting his family to the All-Star Game tonight. It’s been more than 30 years since Burke walked away from his baseball career and acknowledged that he was gay.

“He was a pioneer, and should be recognized,” Pat Courtney, a Major League Baseball spokesman, tells the New York Times.

No major sport has dragged its feet more in the recognition of gay athletes — or fans for that matter — than baseball, and that includes football. In the years since Burke died of AIDS, baseball still hasn’t had an openly gay player. At the last minute a few years ago, the Twins pulled their punches in a public service announcement to discourage bullying of gay teenagers, as several other teams (but not many) had done.

“Glenn wouldn’t be upset that it took this long. He’d just say, ‘It’s about time you guys showed up,’ ” Lutha Burke, his sister, told the Times.

But, maybe baseball has finally showed up. Commissioner Bud Selig will hold a news conference today with Burke, and another gay ex-ballplayer, Billy Bean.

For nearly 20 years, the Burke family heard nothing from Major League Baseball (though the A’s, Lutha Burke said, were always supportive, helping raise money during Burke’s illness). That changed recently, when Alice Rose received a call that she relayed to her mother. Baseball wanted to recognize Burke’s contribution to the sport.

“I had to get off the phone and catch my breath,” Lutha Burke said. “I called back and told her: ‘That’s wonderful. It’s time.’ ”

For most of the years since Glenn Burke’s playing career, gay athletes continued to shield their sexuality over concerns of everything from job security to marketability. Burke could be considered an outlier, not a trendsetter.

“People are missing out when they decide to let a segment of our society not be what they can truly be,” Lutha Burke said.