Hey, guys, it's Mike Rowe, and this is the way I heard it, the only podcast for The Curious Mind with a short attention span. This is episode number 176, and I call it the trouble with 159. The trouble with 159. I refer in the title to episode number 159, which was and still is entitled. He was just trying to get home. This is your official spoiler alert if you have not yet. Listen to this episode, episode number 159 that I must insist you do it forthwith because I'm about to wreck it for you.
After the guitar sting, I am going to be talking about the trouble with this episode, the only episode in the entire canon of this podcast that I've had to go in after the fact and and change. Can I refer to these as a canon? You think there's a can and have a minimum number or a maximum number? I don't know. But I can tell you it's the only story that I ever wrote that I had to go back and augment.
And the reason I had to do it is the topic of the story I want to share with you next. A double spoiler alert. This is this is not the typical format of the way I heard it, but I thought it was always worth deviating from briefly because this was a controversial episode when it came out. And it has since become more controversial. And I did something I swore I'd never do. I went back in and I made a change.
I want to explain why. And I'll do all that in episode number 176, which, as I think I've already explained, is called the trouble with 159. All will be made clear momentarily. Let me first say, though, if you're a business owner, you don't need me to tell you that running a business is tough these days, maybe maybe tougher than ever, but you might be making it harder on yourself than necessary by clinging to those old outdated spreadsheets and software programs like quick books and whatnot.
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And I'm going to tell you about it right now, because this is the way I heard it.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a story on this podcast about the accidental invention of the high five Episode 159 is the true tale about the exact moment two baseball players spontaneously slapped their palms together at home plate in Dodger Stadium back in 1978. Dusty Baker had just become the fourth Dodger to hit thirty home runs that season. A baseball first. Glenn Burke, the first openly gay man to play in the majors, greeted his teammate at home plate with one hand held high over his head.
Dusty Baker reached out and slapped his palm, and four decades later, their spontaneous slap has been repeated billions of times the world over. In the course of telling this story, I made reference to a comment attributed to Billy Martin, the coach of the Oakland A's, for whom Glenn Burke briefly played in 1980. Specifically, I describe the moment when Billy Martin introduced Glenn to his new teammates and I'm quoting as a faggot. Shortly after the podcast aired, I received a note on my Facebook page from Billy Martin Junior High Mike, I recently heard a podcast of yours that had some information about my father, Billy Martin.
I'd like to know who your sources were because I don't believe the information is accurate and I'd love to speak to you about it. I responded to Billy immediately and provided him with a link to my source, the article was written by a guy named Peter Dreier, who was quoting an outfielder who played for the Oakland A's at the time named Claudelle Washington. A few hours later, Billy Martin Jr. wrote me back. He was very respectful but steadfast in his defense of his father.
According to Billy Martin Jr., his dad would never refer to someone in that way. Plus, the whole notion that his father would introduce a player at a team meeting was silly, since all the players already knew each other.
He wrote, Mike, I apologize for being so sensitive, but Reggie Jackson called my father a racist 15 years after he had passed. And my dad was absolutely the most colorless man I have ever known. He lost his job as a Yankee because he beat up some bowlers for hurling racial slurs at Sammy Davis Jr. back in 1957.
He and Mickey Mantle wouldn't go inside a restaurant if the restaurant wouldn't serve their teammate Elston Howard. My dad had lots of faults, but he couldn't have cared less about someone's race, creed, color or sexual orientation.
Billy Martin was all about winning. So over the next few weeks, Billy and I went back and forth on Facebook, our notes were always cordial, but Billy was always adamant that the incident I described between his father and Glenn Burke never happened. I pointed to the multiple sources online that had repeated Claudelle Washington's claim, including a documentary about Glenn Burke's life. But Billy was unwavering. Cordell's claims, he said, were fake news. I have to say, I admired his certainty, but Billy didn't have any real proof to dispel Claudelle Washington's claim.
So rather than revise my story, I offered to post our entire exchange on my Facebook page.
Word for word, your desire to defend your dad's reputation speaks well of you. I wrote, Honestly, I think people should hear your side of the story in your own words. Well, Billy replied a few days later, thanks, Mike, for all your time on this, sincerely, let me think about it. Problem is, since your podcast, someone has added Claudelle Washington's claim to my father's Wikipedia page as well as Glenn Burke's, I'm trying to discern if letting it die down might be for the best.
I don't want something like this to preclude my dad from being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Well, crap, I hadn't thought about that and wait, Billy Martin is not yet in the Baseball Hall of Fame. How is that even possible? As many of you know, the way I heard it is more than a title, it's a disclaimer, a plea for my listeners to remain skeptical of everything they read online and by extension, everything they hear on this podcast.
However, after my exchanges with Billy Martin Jr., my clever title started to feel less like a disclaimer and more like an excuse. After all, we're talking about a man's reputation here.
If I repeat a claim about Billy Martin that turns out to be false, is it really enough for me to say to his son, hey, don't blame me? That's just the way I heard it. I didn't have a good answer, so I did something I probably should have done before I wrote the story, I read Glenn Burke's autobiography Out at Home The True Story of baseball's first openly gay player. In it. I found this quote from Glenn Burke himself.
Billy Martin never called me a faggot to my face. Well, that's interesting, if Glenn Burke never heard Billy Martin address him in that way, it would have been impossible for Billy Martin to have introduced Glenn Burke the way Claudelle Washington described. Now, does that mean Billy Martin never uttered that word? No, of course not. But it does impact the plausibility of Claudelle Washington's claim.
A few days later, Billy Jr. wrote this Mike, after speaking with several more players that were there during my father's managerial term, I am now absolutely certain that my dad never said anything derogatory about Glenn Burke's sexuality. I spoke to catcher Mike Keith, outfielder Dwayne Murphy, traveling secretary Mickey Morabito and clubhouse manager Steve Viewsonic. They were all there during that 1980 spring training and all of them absolutely deny that anything like that ever happened. Thanks, Billy Martin, Jr.
. OK, let's recap in June of twenty twenty, a reporter named Peter Dreier wrote that Claudelle Washington heard Billy Martin introduce Glenn Burke to his new team as a faggot 40 years later. I repeated that accusation in a story about the invention of the high five. Question is, was I wrong to do so? Well, based on the fact that I'm still talking about it, maybe I was not because I shared an accusation that Billy Martin Jr. disputes, but because I forgot it was 20, 20, I forgot that we now live in an age where our ancestors are held to a standard that didn't exist when they were alive, an age where a man is guilty.
If the Internet says he is an age where a son has good reason to worry about the way his father might be remembered, or, for that matter, the way in which he might be forgotten. Of course, Glenn Burke had some things to say about the age in which he lived to the good old days in Major League Baseball were a nightmare for people of color and even worse for homosexuals, doubly so for a black homosexual. That's why he wrote the book he wrote, and that's why I wrote the story I did.
I have no interest in soft pedaling the bigotry that drove Glenn Burke out of the sport he loved. But neither do I have any interest in contributing to the cancellation of Billy Martin 40 years later for something he may or may not have said.
Imagine what Cooperstown would look like today if all the inductees who ever used that word or the N word for that matter, were retroactively removed. The Hall of Fame would be an empty corridor, just as Mt. Rushmore will become a featureless slab of granite. If we keep judging the sins of our forefathers by the standards of today, somewhere in the midst of all this, I called my friend Susan, who suggested I write the high five story in the first place.
She said, Mike, don't beat yourself up over this until we have a time machine. Arguments about the past will never be resolved. Susan's right. But if I had access to such a machine, my first stop wouldn't be 1980. To see what Billy Martin said or didn't say about Glenn Burke. My first stop would be the future. Forty years down the line to see how many additional words had been reduced to a single letter by those who still believe in the magical power of language.
Then I'd zip one hundred years further ahead to see which of today's perfectly accepted practices feel to our descendants the way slavery feels to us. Eating meat, aborting babies, executing criminals. Who knows how backward will appear when we're weighed and measured by our great, great, great, great grandchildren.
Time will tell, I suppose. For now, I'll say this. If Major League Baseball is going to judge Billy Martin by an accusation that I repeated on my podcast, it seems only fair that I share the rest of the story on the same platform, a story told to me by a son who heard things differently. As for episode 159, I've left the ugly accusation in, but it's now clearly attributed to Claudelle Washington, as it should have been from the start.
Unfortunately, Claudelle is no longer around to clarify the ambiguity. Neither is Billy Martin or Glenn Burke. That's the real trouble with episode 159. Everybody's gone and I was never there. That's the trouble with all my stories. Which leads me to wonder if the way I heard it is still worth writing. On the one hand, I think it is because I have no ability to tell you the way it was. On the other hand, I have no desire to spread information that's inaccurate.
As Mark Twain said, a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth has time to get its pants on. So then what to do? Keep writing and do my best to get it right or step away from the keyboard and wait for that time machine. I'll think about it. I'll let you know next week. As for the future, I hope that Billy Martin is inducted into the Hall of Fame, not because he was a humanitarian or a paragon of civil rights, but because he was an excellent second baseman who went on to become one of the winningest managers of all time and a transformational figure in America's favorite pastime.
As for Glenn Burke, he'll never make it to Cooperstown, and that's a shame. He left the game in 1982 and died of AIDS in 1995 alone and destitute. But he will be remembered, I hope, for giving the world a new way to rejoice with a friendly slap called the High Five, and maybe for pushing Major League Baseball a little closer to becoming a game where any man with the necessary skills can distinguish himself on the field and be remembered for how he played the game.
That would be something to celebrate. Anyway, that's the way I heard it.