High-five at 40: Winnipeggers celebrate anniversary of joyful gesture

To mark the 40th anniversary of the high-five, the Goodwill Social Club in Winnipeg is screening a film that looks at history of the universal sign of celebration and its originator, who became an icon for LGBT athletes.

High-five competition, documentary screening at Goodwill Social Club on Monday

Glenn Burke, the first openly gay player in Major League Baseball, is credited as the originator of the high-five along with Dusty Baker.

A spontaneous celebration on a baseball diamond in 1977 sparked a now-universal gesture of joyous connection.

There are a few competing versions of the origin of the high-five, but the most widely accepted is that it all springs from an up-top hand slap between two Los Angeles Dodgers players on Oct. 2, 1977.

To mark the 40th anniversary of that occasion, the Goodwill Social Club in Winnipeg is screening a film that looks at history of high five and its originator, who became an icon for LGBT athletes.

Glenn Burke was a rookie on the Los Angeles Dodgers, a charismatic figure and well-liked by his team. He was also the first openly gay player in Major League Baseball.

On that day in 1977, in the sixth inning, Burke's teammate Dusty Baker got up for his final at-bat of the game. Baker scored a home run, his 30th that season, making the Dodgers the first team in MLB history to have four players score 30 home runs in a single season.

As Baker approached home plate, Burke ran out, raised his hand, and Baker slapped it.

"I think it was such a big deal because nobody had ever seen anything like it, and I think really encapsulated the spirit of the team that season," said Michael Jacobs, director of the film The High Five.

"It was a spontaneous moment between two players. Baker says, 'I didn't know what to do. He raised his arm up, so I just slapped it.'"

The gesture became something of a "mantra" for the Dodgers and their fans that season, Jacobs said.

Despite the enduring legacy of his gesture, Burke's career in baseball was short-lived. He returned to the Dodgers for the 1978 season, but his performance on the diamond started to wane and discussion about his personal life away from the diamond started to take off.

"Those whispers became conversation, and then those conversations became public, and he was sort of outed as a gay athlete and, as a result, he was ostracized pretty quickly."

Burke was traded to the Oakland Athletics, where he did not fit in. By 1979, Burke was out of the league.

Burke settled in San Francisco, where Jacobs said he was a "folk hero" in the gay community.

"This is the late '70s, early '80s, when gay life in the city is thriving, and here comes this athletic, masculine character who's not afraid to be himself and not afraid to express himself. And he was embraced by the community wholeheartedly, because he was just smashing stereotypes left and right about what it meant to be a gay man."

The high-five went on to become a popular symbol both in baseball and in the gay community in San Francisco.

Burke died of AIDS in 1995.

"I don't necessarily think that Glenn was trying to bring an issue to what it's like to be a gay athlete in sports, but I do think that he was unafraid to be who he was and as a result, he took a stand in that defining characteristic of, this is who I am, accept me or don't, but this is my life."

Along with screening the film The High Five, the Goodwill Social Club will hold a high-five competition. Registration begins at 8 p.m.