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Burks ready to end his Series skid
10/27/2004 8:19 PM ET
ST. LOUIS -- A Major League career that started a few months after the most infamous through-the-legs ground ball in World Series history, could have a much happier ending for veteran Red Sox outfielder Ellis Burks.

It has taken 18 years and four playoffs for him to get here, and it doesn't really matter that he hasn't swung a bat or thrown a ball in the Fall Classic against the Cardinals. Being a spectator and cheerleader is just fine, thank you.

"You know what?" he said. "It's disappointing in a sense, but it's also refreshing to finally be here. It has been a tough year for me, but this is great. I have been with the team every day, except for the surgery, and I will continue to be with them until it's over."

And when it's over, the 40-year-old Burks will ride off into retirement, taking with him a .291 career batting average, 352 home runs and 1,206 RBIs.

"I have a lot of options when the season ends," he said. "I'll sit down, see what comes in my direction and take it from there. But I am not going to play [again]."

The final year of his career is ending exactly the way he envisioned.

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"When I heard the Red Sox were interested in me, it was going to be hands-down my choice," he said. "Just to come back to the organization I started with, a winning organization with a chance to beat the Yankees and possibly get into the World Series, was a dream come true. My main objective is to win a ring before I end my career."

What Burks didn't expect was to have a knee injury that caused him to miss 133 regular-season games. He wound up playing in 11 games, batting .182 (6-for-33), hitting one home run and driving in one run.

The Red Sox kept him off their postseason rosters but Burks has been in uniform throughout the Division Series, Championship Series and World Series, passing on some of the knowledge he has accumulated during a long and productive career.

"I feel like I am part of the team, a major part of this team, although I am not active," he said. "I think that's gratifying in itself."

Said Bill Haselman, "He has a clubhouse presence and is a good leader. Ellis is a good guy to go to to ask questions."

Burks' track record had something to do with GM Theo Epstein going after the veteran outfielder and the organization's first-round draft choice in 1983.

"This guy is really a potent offensive force," said Epstein at the time of the signing. "He's in great condition. Take a look at what he's done the last five years, last year excluded because of the injury. He's going to help on the field with the bat and in the clubhouse."

It didn't work out that way because of knee surgery, but Burks' clubhouse presence remained an important ingredient in the Red Sox advancing to the World Series.

On a team full of scruffy-looking players, Burks looks somewhat out of place. He's clean-shaven and his hair is closely cropped.

"I have to keep it neat because appearance is everything," he said, smiling. "When you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you play good. And when you play good, it's all good."

Burks has been a good player for a long time, beginning in 1987 when he batted .272, hit 20 homers and drove in 59 runs during his rookie season with the Red Sox. He did even better the following season, batting .294 with 18 home runs and 92 RBIs, helping Boston reach the AL playoffs.

The AL East champs were swept by the Athletics, the beginning of a familiar postseason pattern for playoff teams Burks played on.

"In all of my previous playoffs, I was defeated in the first round every time," he said. "That is before and after the Wild Card. I never got past the first round. I have waited 17 years for this. Eighteen is my charm, I guess."

Burks played in three ALCS (1988, '90, '93), going 15-for-56 (.273) with one home run and four RBIs, and three Division Series (1996, 2000 and 2001), going 11-for-38 (.289) with two home runs and seven RBIs.

Twice an All-Star (1990, '96), Burks and the World Series remained in different sentences.

"When I started my career, I thought for sure I'd have been in one long before now," he said.

The Red Sox, after all, had won the AL pennant in 1986 and came within one out of winning the World Series in six games against the Mets. That's the game a ground ball scooted through first baseman Bill Buckner's legs, allowing the winning run in Game 6 to score.

"I had left Double-A [New Britain] and gone to Puerto Rico to play Winter Ball to prepare for the '87 season," Burks recalled. "I was in Puerto Rico watching the World Series."

That unfathomable finish added to the misery fans in Red Sox Nation have experienced since 1918, the last time their beloved Red Sox won a World Series title.

"What gets old is seeing that damn 1918 sign wherever you go and are playing a contending team," Burks said. "Every player wants to part of the team that wins [a World Series] so they won't be flashing that sign and talking about this curse.

"We totally understand the pain of the fans because the pain of the players is just as much."

Looking back on a career that included stints with the White Sox (1993), Rockies (1994-98), Giants (1998-2000) and Indians (2001-03), Burks said two of the most memorable events happened at Fenway Park.

"I rememver the first home run I hit was over the [Green Monster] off Don Sutton in '87," he said. "It went into the net, before they had seats up there. Another of my memorable moments came into play this year.

"The first time I came to bat, I got a standing ovation from the fans and that was amazing. For me, as a player, to go away for almost 12 years, come back and get that kind of reception, it really was amazing."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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