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MLB.com Columnist

Lyle Spencer

Dodgers of '77 recall high-five-fueled run to Series

Dodgers of '77 recall high-five-fueled run to Series

Dodgers of '77 recall high-five-fueled run to Series

LOS ANGELES -- This is where joyous social history of an enduring style and fashion was made in 1977, inside Dodger Stadium. Legend has it the high-five was born, courtesy of colorful Dodgers outfielder Glenn Burke and his compadre, Dusty Baker. Those who were there remember it vividly.

"We never saw it before," Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey said. "It was like the wave. Somebody had to start it, and we think it was Glenn and Dusty."

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Manager Don Mattingly's Dodgers, down 2-0 to the Cardinals, were hoping to capture the spirit of '77 in Monday's Game 3 of the National League Championship Series.

Emotions were running high that fall with Tommy Lasorda's first team rebounding from a deficit against the Phillies to take the NLCS with three consecutive wins. Moving on to the World Series, the Dodgers fell in six games to Reggie Jackson and the Yankees.

NLDS
Game 2 of that 1977 NLCS showdown with the NL East champion Phillies unfolded at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 5 in front of 55,973. The Phils had muted a sellout crowd by taking the opener, 7-5, with a pair of ninth-inning runs, despite Ron Cey's dramatic grand slam off Steve Carlton.

A 1-1 Game 2 duel between the Phillies' Jim Lonborg and future Hall of Famer Don Sutton came to the bottom of the fourth. The Dodgers loaded the bases for Baker, who launched a 1-2 delivery out of the park to touch off an enormous wall of sound.

Flying out of the dugout to greet Baker was Burke, a backup outfielder, his right palm raised to the skies. Baker met Burke's extended arm with his right hand in an explosion of emotion that rocked the ballpark.

Here it was, sports historians generally agree: the first high-five on a grand sports stage.

Actually, as Baker relates, the original high-five had come three days earlier, without the whole sports world watching.

"It was all Glenn," Baker said. "I don't take credit for it. I just happened to be there. I don't know for sure if it was the first, but that's what I've been told."

On the final day of the season, the Dodgers were trying to achieve an unprecedented feat. Garvey, Reggie Smith and Cey had all reached or eclipsed the 30-homer barrier. Baker was one short. His task that day was daunting: James Rodney Richard, the most intimidating pitcher in the league, was dealing for the Astros.

In the sixth inning, in what would be his final at-bat of the season, Baker lifted a 1-2 Rodney delivery over the wall in left. Burke, in the on-deck circle, met his teammate at home plate with that right arm extended, up high. Baker -- "Dr. Scald" to teammates -- hammered it with his right hand.

Burke, his adrenaline running sky high, followed with a homer of his own.

"Glenn was like [Yasiel] Puig," Garvey said. "He had a kinetic personality. That's what I used to say about Steve Sax."

Soon after the Burke-Baker connection, Magic Johnson, part of the Dodgers' ownership group, popularized the high-five in basketball at Michigan State University.

Burke, a magnificent athlete, was traded to Oakland the following season after never living up to his potential with the Dodgers. He became a tragic figure, succumbing to AIDS complications at age 42 in 1995. He played his final Major League game at 26 in 1979.

"Glenn loved that the high-five caught on like it did," Baker said. "He was the life of every party. Nobody could dance like Glenn. He was always doing his poetry, off the streets of Berkeley, on the bus and the team plane.

"Glenn kept everybody loose and laughing. You need that kind of guy on your team in a long season."

The first LCS Most Valuable Player Award was presented by the NL in 1977, and Baker was the choice. He batted .357, drove in eight runs and homered twice, including a two-run shot off Carlton in Tommy John's decisive Game 4 victory.

Dismissed as Reds manager after they stumbled down the stretch and fell to the Pirates in this year's NL Wild Card Game, Baker has been relaxing at home with his family. Cincinnati reached the postseason in three of the past four years during his six-year run, ending a 14-year drought.

"I'd like to keep managing," Baker said, "but we'll wait and see."

The Dodgers honored the four players who made history with the long ball in 1977 with ceremonial first pitches before Monday's Game 3.

"I've seen Garv and Ron when I've come back as a manager," Baker said. "But I haven't seen Reggie in a while. He was the best player of all of us. Reggie was the second-best player I ever played against, after Hank [Aaron]."

The sight of Baker joining Garvey, Smith and Cey had to evoke sweet memories for fans of the glory days. Those 1970s and early '80s clubs were loaded with talent but ran into Mr. October and Co. in Fall Classics seized by the Yankees in 1977 and '78.

"Those were great teams we had," said current Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes, the leadoff catalyst in front of the big boppers. "We had a tremendous pitching staff and guys all through our lineup who attacked the game.

"Ronnie and Reggie were patient and disciplined hitters, but we weren't sitting around waiting for things to happen. Nobody ever accused us of not being aggressive enough."

The high-five, Burke's creation, came to symbolize the formidable life force of those Dodgers. It has since gone global, reaching every corner of the planet.

"Glenn Burke was one of a kind, a unique personality," Lopes said. And a true original.

Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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