Sunday, February 25, 2007

100 Greatest Red Sox >> #61 Ellis Burks

Ellis Burks, CF, #12, 25 (1987-1992, 2004)

733 G, 2827 AB, 791 H, 94 HR, 388 RBI, 95 SB, .280 AVG, .339 OBP, .455 SLG

I saw Ellis Burks’s last at-bat on September 23, 2004: a pinch-hit appearance at the bottom of the ninth inning of a losing effort against the Baltimore Orioles on a rain-sodden night at Fenway Park. He singled up the middle. And as a pinch runner jogged out to take his place at first, the few fans who remained in the wet seats cheered long and loud as Ellis Burks tipped his cap.

The Red Sox would go on to make some epochal history in that 2004 postseason, but Burks was not be on the roster. He understood that. I just like to think he was happy to finish his career in Boston — and to get to ride on a float down Boylston Street barely a month later.

He may have had a career year in home runs (40) with the Colorado Rockies. He may have matched a career best in batting average (.344) hitting behind Barry Bonds on the San Francisco Giants. But I always like to think of Ellis Burks as a Red Sox above all else — and I hope he does too.

Ellis Rena Burks was born on September 11, 1964 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He was an outstanding high school athlete, and was drafted by the Red Sox in the first round of the 1983 amateur draft. He signed with the team that spring.

Burks had quite a reputation as an uber prospect to live up to, and after four seasons in the minors he did just that in his rookie season in 1987. Installed in center field between Jim Rice and Mike Greenwell, he covered a lot of ground and possessed a strong, accurate arm. It was at the plate and on the base paths, however, that he established his bona fides, quickly making a name for himself himself as a supremely athletic combination of speed and power. He became just the third Red Sox ever to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in a single season (he stole 27). Baseball Digest and Topps both named him to their “All-Rookie” squads.

In 1988, Burks had another good season (.294/.367/.481, with 18 homers and 92 RBI), but in 1989 his injuries caught up to him, and even though he was hitting well (.303) and stealing bases (21) his season was shortened to just 97 games when he was forced to undergo shoulder surgery. It was far from the last time injuries would throw up major obstacles to his career.

Burks bounced back nicely in 1990, however, playing 152 games, bashing 21 home runs, getting named to the American League All-Star team, and winning both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He also finished 13th in MVP voting.

1991 saw slight declines in Burks’s numbers across the board, and in 1992 he played in just 66 games. The following year, he signed on for one season with the Chicago White Sox, where he found his stride again. He’d go on to put up great numbers in Colorado (1994-1998), San Francisco (1998-2000), and Cleveland (2001-2003). (1996 was a banner year for Burks, when he led the National League in runs, total bases, and extra base hits, slugging, and finished third in MVP voting.)

In 2004, Burks came full circle. Perhaps sensing what that particular squad was capable of doing, he signed a one-year, $750,000 deal for a final season with the Red Sox. He was almost 40, at that point, and ended up playing in just 11 games as a DH and pinch hitter, with just 33 at-bats. He hit a homer and stole a couple bases for old times sake. But that was pretty much it for Ellis Burks.

He never expected to be batting cleanup in the World Series. He just wanted to have a little fun before hanging up his cleats. And if you had to pick a season to sign on with the Red Sox, you could’ve done a lot worse than 2004.

Biography written by Mike Millard of the Phoenix's SoxBlog.


BSTrubClub said...

In 1988, Burks had another good season (.294/.367/.481, with 18 homers and 19 RBI)

?? 92 RBI?

BSTrubClub said...

That aside, that was a great little piece on a guy that I really loved watching. I remember playing in my backyard imagining being the lineup of one of the late 80's early 90's teams and for some reason burks was always the guy I imagined hitting the late miracle home run.


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