Ellis Burks Battled Injuries, But Could Do It All on the Field
By CRAIG MUDER
December 14, 2009
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- During his 18-year big league career, Ellis Burks’ body wasn’t always as willing as his mind and spirit.
But when healthy, Burks was one of the most complete players in the game.
|Ellis Burks is one of 26 players on the BBWAA ballot for the Class of 2010 at the Hall of Fame.|
Burks is one of 26 players on the 2010 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2010 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Burks is making his debut on the BBWAA ballot.
BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 6. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all BBWAA ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2010. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 25 in Cooperstown.
Burks, born, Sept. 11, 1964, in Vicksburg, Miss., was drafted by the Boston Red Sox with the 20th overall pick in the 1983 draft. By 1987, the 22-year-old Burks took over as Boston’s everyday centerfielder, hitting .272 with 20 homers, 94 runs scored, 57 RBI and 27 stolen bases – the most steals by a Red Sox rookie since Tris Speaker’s 35 in 1909.
Soon, Burks was being compared to the greatest players ever to put on a uniform.
“It was a lot of pressure on a young kid, to hear comparisons to Willie Mays,” Burks said. “I put too much pressure on myself instead of relaxing and playing like I can play.”
The next season, Burks hit .292 with 92 RBI and 25 steals while leading the Red Sox to the American League East title. But in 1989, Burks missed more than 60 games due to injuries – the first of five big league seasons in which he was unable to play in at least 100 games.
In 1990, Burks rebounded to hit .296 with 21 homers and 89 RBI, earning his first All-Star Game selection en route to a 13th-place finish in the American League MVP voting and his first Gold Glove award. Once again, the Red Sox won the AL East – only to lose again in the American League Championship Series to the Oakland A’s.
Burks battled injuries in 1991 and 1992 – including a serious back problem – then signed a one-year free agent deal with the White Sox in 1993. The next season, Burks signed with Colorado – and after more injuries in 1994 and 1995, Burks put together three of his best big league seasons.
In 1996, Burks hit 40 homers, drove in 128 runs and scored a National League-best 142 runs for the Rockies, collecting another All-Star Game selection and finishing third in the NL MVP vote. He even stole 32 bases – and finished second in the league with a .344 batting average and 45 doubles.
The next year, Burks hit 32 homers and drove in 82 runs in just 119 games. Then in 1998, the rebuilding Rockies traded Burks to the Giants for the stretch drive. During the next four seasons – two apiece with the Giants and the Indians – Burks averaged almost 29 home runs and 90 RBI a season.
A bad elbow sidelined Burks for most of 2003, and in 2004 the 39-year-old Burks re-signed with the Red Sox. He played in only 11 games that season – making his 11th trip to the disabled list due to two knee surgeries – but returned to help Boston down the stretch that year.
Burks did not appear in the postseason, but was rewarded for his loyalty when the Sox presented him with a World Series ring after Boston won the Fall Classic for the first time in 86 years.
“Just to be his teammate, that’s something I’ll always remember,” said then-Red Sox teammate Johnny Damon. “He came back to Boston for one reason, to get a ring.”
Burks retired after the 2004 season with a .291 average, 352 homers, 1,206 RBI and 181 steals.
“You can’t play forever, as much as I’d like to,” Burks said. “You tend to realize there are times when you have to let it go and leave it up to some of the young guys.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum