“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
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.
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.
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.”