If the legends are to be believed, the high-five was invented on October 2, 1977.
Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker came into the final weekend of the season sitting on 29 home runs. Thirty homers was a big deal back then, and it was an even bigger deal for Baker, because his teammates Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, and Reggie Smith had already crossed the 30-homer threshold, and no team had ever had four 30-homer players in one season.
After going homer-less in his first ten plate appearances of the series, Baker came to bat against Houston Astros fireballer J.R. Richard in the bottom of the sixth inning still stuck on 29. With one ball and two strikes, Baker delivered, depositing a fastball from Richard into the left-field pavilion at Dodger Stadium.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Baker said after the game.
But the big story, at least to history, was what happened at home plate after the homer. Dodgers rookie Glenn Burke was on deck, and when he met Baker at the plate, he exuberantly put his hand in the air. Slapping hands was a common celebration at the time, dating back at least to the 1920s. But raising the hand over the head for the hand-slap … that was something new. Burke didn’t plan it, and Baker didn’t know it was coming. Professional athletes are famous for their instincts, and it was Burke’s instinctive raising of the hand — and Baker’s instinctive response — that created the high-five.
Six years ago, ESPN produced a 30-for-30 documentary called “The High Five.” The outstanding documentary tells the story of Baker’s homer, the ensuing high-five, and Burke’s career and life after the moment. Burke, as you may know, was openly gay to his teammates but not to the public, and his sexuality may have played a role in his eventual trade away from the Dodgers. (The death of Tommy Lasorda last week rekindled some of these issues, as one of the theories is that Burke’s relationship with Lasorda’s son was at least part of the driving force behind the trade.)
In the ESPN documentary, there is video of Baker’s home run, but no video of the ensuing celebration. Instead, it cuts to this photo:
The film doesn’t explicitly say, “This is a photo of the high-five we’re talking about,” but there’s definitely that implication. And this article from Business Insider does make the claim — the headline is, “Today is National High Five Day — this photo from 1977 shows the first ever high five.”
Unfortunately, this photo is not the first high-five … but it might be the second. I did a little digging, and I can tell you exactly when this particular high-five happened. Here are our clues:
The most obvious clue that this isn’t the high-five is that Burke is wearing a windbreaker and no batting helmet. When Baker hit his 30th home run, Burke was on deck. In fact, he then stepped up to the plate and hit his first career homer. So he would not have been standing near the dugout steps in a windbreaker. That’s the behavior of a guy who’s not in the game, not a guy about to step into the batter’s box.
If you look in the background of the photo, you can see bunting on the wall down the right-field line. That’s a pretty good indication that this home run happened during the postseason. If nothing else, it tells us it wasn’t from the game in question, because the video in the ESPN doc shows that there’s no bunting on that wall.
- This home run took place in the bottom of the fourth inning.
- The Dodgers scored four runs in that inning.
- They were playing the Philadelphia Phillies.
- The score after the homer was 5-1 Dodgers, with each team having scored one run in the third inning.
The Dodgers’ lineup, listed above the inning-by-inning scores, isn’t quite clear enough to read perfectly, but once you have an idea what game you’re looking at, it’s clear enough to confirm details.
In the background of the high-five, we can see that Smith (number 8) also scored on the home run, as he’s returning to the dugout with his helmet on. There are also other legs that suggest there was at least one other runner on base.
With all of these clues in place, can we find a Dusty Baker home run that fits the bill?
Yes. Literally his next home run, three days later, in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Phillies. In the bottom of the fourth inning, Baker hit a grand slam to score Garvey, Smith, and Bill Russell. That made it 5-1 Dodgers, with each team having scored one run in the third inning (the Phillies on a Bake McBride homer and the Dodgers on a Davey Lopes RBI single).
It makes sense that, a few days after Burke and Baker invented the high-five, photographers would be on the lookout any time those two guys were celebrating together. And since this was basically their first chance to celebrate after the October 2 inaugural high-five, it’s safe to assume this is a photo of the second high-five in history — and the first one caught on camera.