Burks thrilled to be back in Boston

Updated: February 5, 2004, 4:34 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Ellis Burks was let go 12 years ago by the Red Sox, who weren't sure he'd stay healthy and become a productive player. Now they've changed their minds.

On Tuesday, the team's former top draft choice finalized a $750,000, one-year contract with Boston.

"It's like a fine wine --I got better with time," Burks said.

Now 39, Burks said his release from Boston crushed him but spurred him to adopt a work ethic that led to his best seasons while playing with four other teams. He's back in Boston looking for the championship that has eluded him since Little League.

Burks accepted Boston's offer over a proposal from Seattle. His choice was made after hours on the Internet, comparing the teams' pitching staffs and lineups.

He was selected by Boston in the 1983 draft and arrived in the big leagues in 1987.

"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."

Burks was among a handful of black players on the team. Burks said he never had any problems on the Red Sox, but remembered being uneasy at times in Boston. He cited the infamous Charles Stuart case in 1989, which awoke racial tensions when a white man killed his wife, then blamed it on an unknown black man.

"The whole city was looking for a 6-foot-1 black man in a warmup suit," the 6-foot-2 Burks recalled. "So I didn't wear any warmup suits."

The organization has changed in his absence. It has new owners, numerous minority players and a reputation for working together.

"That goes to show you, everything grows in time," Burks said.

Burks made the All-Star team and won a Gold Glove in 1990, when he hit .296 with 21 homers and 89 RBI. He didn't match those numbers in 1991, then missed most of 1992 with a serious back injury. In December that year, Boston let him go.

After the Chicago White Sox signed Burks, he committed himself to working hard and being a student of the game.

"A lot of times when you have something you love so dearly taken away, that helps you re-evaluate things," he said.

Burks also played for Colorado, San Francisco and Cleveland. His best season was in 1996, when he hit .344 for Colorado with 40 homers and 128 RBI.

In 2002, his last full season, he batted .301 with 32 homers and 91 RBI. Last year, his season was cut short because of a nerve condition in his right elbow that required surgery.

He figures to see time mainly as a designated hitter and right-handed pinch-hitter, and will compete for playing time with Kevin Millar and David Ortiz, both coming off good seasons. Burks also is prepared to play outfield and maybe first base.

"He's been an everyday player, and now he'd kind of coming down to the twilight of his career," manager Terry Francona said. "Like he said, he can still impact a baseball team."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press