The history and mystery of the high five
A timeless gesture, but someone went up top first. That’s where it gets complicated.
By Jon Mooallem
PART TWO: THE HIGH FIVE OF LIFE
IF THIS PRANK HAS A VICTIM, it’s Glenn Burke, a young outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the late 1970s whose astonishing physique and 17-inch biceps earned him the nickname King Kong.
For at least a generation before the Sleets story surfaced, the conventional wisdom had been that Burke invented the high five on Oct. 2, 1977, in front of 46,000 screaming fans at Dodger Stadium.
It was the last day of the regular season, and Dodgers leftfielder Dusty Baker had just gone deep off the Astros’ J.R. Richard. It was Baker’s 30th home run, making the Dodgers the first team in history to have four sluggers — Baker, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Reggie Smith — with at least 30 homers each. It was a wild, triumphant moment and a good omen as the Dodgers headed to the playoffs. Burke, waiting on deck, thrust his hand enthusiastically over his head to greet his friend at the plate. Baker, not knowing what to do, smacked it. “His hand was up in the air, and he was arching way back,” says Baker, now 62 and managing the Reds. “So I reached up and hit his hand. It seemed like the thing to do.”
Burke then stepped up and launched his first major league home run. And as he returned to the dugout, Baker high-fived him. From there, the story goes, the high five went ricocheting around the world. (According to Dodgers team historian Mark Langill, the game was not televised, and no footage survives.)