'Out. The Glenn Burke Story': That Macho Thing

To this day, Glenn Burke remains the only Major League Baseball player to come out during his professional career.

Out. The Glenn Burke Story

Airtime: Wednesday, 9pm PT/12 midnight ET, Saturday, December 11 at 8pm PT/11:00pm ET
Cast: Dusty Baker, Davey Lopes, Billy Bean, Abdul-Jalil al-Hakim, Claudell Washington, Marvin Webb
Network: Comcast SportsNet
Producer: Doug Harris, Sean Madison
Air date: 2010-12-01

"You were concerned of being stereotyped or typecast, that to know him must mean that you're one. So you kept your distance." A former Dodgers outfielder and coach, Reggie Smith remembers Glenn Burke as a player and friend. But still, he "kept his distance," as Smith puts it, because Burke was out.

Smith's concern was typical during the 1970s, when Burke played for the Dodgers, a time recounted in Out. The Glenn Burke Story. The documentary, produced by Doug Harris and Sean Madison, re-airs 1 December on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, and is available as well on DirecTV’s sports pack channel 696 and Dish Network’s multi-sports package channel 419. It tells a story that is remarkable for a number of reasons, not least being Burke's courage and determination: to this day, he remains the only Major League Baseball player to come out during his professional career.

The only one.

Out makes clear that Burke's decision to come out was costly: as teammates struggled with their own feelings (Smith: "At that time, we were a little homophobic about people that were gay"), management was less ambivalent. The Dodgers dealt him to the As in 1977, where manager Billy Martin notoriously called him a "faggot" in front of his teammates. That same year, the As sent him down to the minors. Burke retired then, at age 27, despite good stats and an unfinished career.

As the film remembers, Burke didn't talk about the trade or his retirement until 1982, in an interview with Inside Sports magazine ("The Double Life of a Gay Dodger") and then an interview with Bryant Gumble on Today. The film includes a clip, with Gumble asking, "Were you traded from the Dodgers to the As because you were gay?" Burke shifts in his seat, tries not to answer, and then, prodded again ("What do you think?"), he nods, "Yeah."

Out is compelling not only because of Burke's story, but also because it is still such a difficult story to tell. The images of Burke, once a basketball and baseball star at Berkeley High School, are culled from archival game footage and stills (as well as headlines and baseball cards), and the narrative is structured mostly through new interviews with former teammates, associates, and Burke's sisters. Repeatedly, the film offers nearly abstract shots of fences, the camera panning low or peering through chain-link obstructions. Sometimes the fences show blurred traffic behind them, sometimes road signs or baseball facilities, and sometimes they're adorned with a photo of Burke, flapping in a breeze. Always, the fences serve as poignant, ominous emblems of his experience, ever outside.

The scanty information on his post-MLB life isn't helped by the fact that Burke died of AIDS at 42, following a broken leg (when he was hit by a car in the Castro), drug use, jail time, and homelessness. And, if the film doesn't narrate the point specifically, it does reveal in interviews the raced split in his life: the majority of his MLB teammates here are black, while his post-professional associates, say, softball teammates he met in San Francisco, are white.

The film's visual structure -- rudimentary, sometimes awkward -- is likely dictated by a lack of available images. But it also makes a compelling point regarding the agonizing, persistent invisibility of gay athletes in the MLB (and the NFL and the NBA: in each professional league, players only come out after they've retired). How is it, the film asks implicitly, that homophobia can remain so standard in 2010?

Explanations are familiar. In the '70s, Oakland As right fielder Claudell Washington says, "Being ballplayers, we all had that macho thing going on." Dusty Baker notes that he considered Burke a friend, but recalls, "Some of the guys on the team, especially some of the Latin guys, would act funny in the shower." Pondering Burke's fate in 1977, Davy Lopes observes, "If everybody knows the story, I think, there were other reasons why he was traded." Smith adds, "I certainly didn’t want to accuse him of that, because one thing’s for sure, at that time period, it was a kiss of death for a ballplayer. He would’ve been excused from the game, so to say."

So to say. Such lack of language shapes Out. Interview subjects share stories of their suspicions or their sympathies, mostly by innuendo: Washington remembers, "Glenn had some guys picking him up in pink Cadillacs" and Oakland Athletics infielder Shooty Babitt reports, "He had a red jock." Smith says he wondered when he heard Burke "cooing" on a phone call with a man ("I didn’t know if this person had put a woman on the phone, I didn’t know what was going on"). Not everyone is so elusive. Abdul-Jalil al-Hakim remembers a story Burke told in his autobiography, Out at Home: The Glenn Burke Story, when Dodgers management offered him $75,000 to get married. The story is that Burke responded with a question: "I guess you mean to a woman." Jalil adds, "Glenn took exception to that, refused to do it, and openly dated Tommy LaSorda's son."

It's a funny story, and telling. As the film goes on to underscore LaSorda's terrible homophobia (he insisted even after his son Spunky's death that he was not gay), it also marks this moment of resistance as a point of no return for Burke. He lost his job and a certain, important sense of achievement, even as he found another sort of community in San Francisco. Billy Bean, an MLB player who came out after he retired, in 1999 (and is the only other player to be out at all), notes the fear that defines "male team sports." He also makes clear the price Burke paid. "The closet hurts people forever," Bean says now. Being forced to leave the game "because you don’t feel like you belong there when you’ve proven that you do, is damaging. And it affects everything."

As U.S. official bodies rethink Don't Ask Don't Tell and gay marriage, individual bodies, bodies living real lives, are still feeling the effects of oppression, prejudice, and fear. Glenn Burke's story helps to expose those effects.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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