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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #85: Ellis Burks

Ellis Burks broke in with the Red Sox in 1987 when he was 22, and promptly became the third player in franchise history to put up 20 HR and 20 steals in a single season. The first-rounder from the 1983 draft was a five-tool prospect in center field, and along with Mike Greenwell it looked like the Sox had their succession plan in place as Rice and Evans aged in the outfield. In 1990, Burks was an All-Star and a Gold Glover. I was 12 when Burks was a rookie, and was excited to root for the lanky kid who would patrol Fenway's center field for years to come.

Injuries took their toll, however, and Burks never became the next big thing for the Sox. After six injury-plagued seasons and just 93 homers, he left as a free agent and headed to Chicago. He had a decent, healthy season there before moving on to the new Rockies franchise, and the thin air in Denver agreed with his bat. He became part of a murderous lineup in Colorado along with Galarraga, Walker, Bichette, and Castilla, and Burks had his best overall season amidst that thunder herd. In 1996 he hit .344 with 211 hits, 40 homers, 128 RBI, scored 142 runs, stole 32 bases, and finished third in the National League MVP balloting. This was the player we had wanted to see when Burks was in Boston.

Burks had a few more solid seasons in San Francisco and Cleveland before returning to Boston in 2004 as a 39-year old part-time DH with balky knees. He had 37 plate appearances down the stretch in '04 with a single round-tripper, and while he didn't appear in a playoff game that postseason, he did win a ring as part of that magical 2004 title. It was poetic that he was part of that curse-breaking squad, this guy who showed up in Boston just six months after the ball trickled down the first base line at Shea. It was a fitting end to an excellent career. Burks hit 352 home runs in his 18 seasons, with 2107 hits and a .291 average. He might not be in the Hall of Fame, but his WAR of 49.8 is significantly higher than Harold Baines' 38.7. That's okay because Baines doesn't belong in Cooperstown either.

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