Thursday, February 05, 2004

Ellis Burks is coming home where he belongs. The former Red Sox player rejoined that team today after ten years away. Burks is 39 now and well past his peak playing time but he could still be an effective hitter off the bench for the Red Sox. It was just one more great signing by a front office that seems to get this kind of thing right.

Ellis Burks was as sweet as they came when he first came up to the Red Sox in 1987. His easy gait in centerfield tracked down nearly everything hit his way. In his six years with Boston, he had three full seasons and three years of injury. The injuries soured the Red Sox who let him go his way in 1993. Red Sox fans were heartbroken.

Burks continued a career of great highlights and injury woes. But in seventeen years, he did manage to hit 351 homers and drive in 1205 runs. He also scored 1247 runs, hit 402 doubles and has a lifetime on base percentage of .364. That's a pretty good career.

Burks return to the Red Sox reminds me of Bobby Murcer's return to the Yankees at the end of his career. Murcer, like Burks was a fan favorite who when traded, broke a lot of young hearts. Murcer finished his career coming off the bench and hit a few key homers before moving up to the Yankee broadcast booth.

The similarities go further as Murcer was supposed to be the next Mickey Mantle and Burks was the next Willie Mays. But those are hard hopes to live up to and both had decent careers. Their careers didn't live up to those lofty comparisons, but they were appreciated by those who watched them play.

It's right for Ellis to come home because Ellis Burks never should have been anywhere else but Fenway Park.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

The more I consider the off-season moves that have occurred so far, the one that feels the worst is the Yankees giving up Nick Johnson for Vasquez. Don't misunderstand me, the Yankees got a great pitcher. But Johnson was an important player for the Yankees.

First, Johnson is a great first baseman. I have discussed in this space many times how important a first baseman is for an infield. Secondly, there is no way in baseball heaven that Giambi will be able to play first base every day for the Yankees. As also mentioned in this column, Giambi is in that danger zone of being a big player in a time bomb of a body. Coming into his ninth season, Giambi is entering borrowed time for a big man playing a wear and tear kind of game.

Secondly, Johnson was rare in the Yankee lineup as someone who could put the ball in play and take a hundred walks. It takes baserunners clogging the bases to cause pitchers trouble. The Yankees have a great lineup on paper, but they strike out too much. Jeter struck out 88 times in less than 500 at bats. Soriano struck out 130 times. Giambi struck you 140 times. Posada struck out 110 times. This is a team that needs baserunner to force a pitcher to throw strikes.

The Yankees would have been much better off trading Soriano who gets into funks where he will swing at anything and is an easy out. Johnson had more discipline and if he stays healthy will have a break out year with Montreal.

And have you looked at the Yankees roster? Their bench is dreadful. Tony Clark? Enrique Wilson? Miguel Cairo? *Patooey* And I don't like Kenny Lofton on this team at all. He's never been the same since hurting his shoulder in the post season a few years ago. He's a 37 year old "speedster" who doesn't fit.

The Yankees have made a mistake the past few years trading all of their good young talent. A team needs to replenish a part of itself from within as much as without and their farm system has nothing left. Their mid-season acquisitions will be much harder from here on out.

The Red Sox had the right formula for building a team last year and a bit more pitching and they would have won it all. A long season needs a bench full of players that can get the job done. I don't see that with the Yankees. It could be a bumpy year in the Bronx.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Sometimes in life, you just make the wrong decision. I should have said, "Yes," when Julie's friend asked me if I liked her in the 7th Grade. I should have trusted my talent and tried out for sports in High School. Decisions change a life completely sometimes. Such a decision was made by Drew Henson when he left his senior year as the Michigan Wolverine's star quarterback to grab a big bonus by the Yankees as their next superstar.

Of course, Drew still got the money, but he wasn't cut out for baseball. He struggled in three years of minor league ball and went one for eight in his only major league experience. That one hit was the most expensive in Yankee history. But even though Henson got the money, he didn't get the fame and who knows what would have happened in the NFL.

Drew Henson was an automatic first round choice in the NFL if he had stayed his senior year. After all, Tom Brady was his backup! That's how good a quarterback he was. Now after three years of banging around in the minors, he gets to try out in the Houston Texans camp (they hold his football rights but have another quarterback named Carr). Will his skills still be there? It's definitely and iffy proposition after being away for three years. Look at all that seasoning he missed.

Henson's decision shows just how difficult it is to be a major league baseball player. He had all the tools. Joe Torre said he was going to be a superstar. But you have to go out and do it and he never could. In his last minor league season, he struck out 122 times and made 28 errors at third base. That's what I call stinking up the place.

Dion Sanders tried baseball with small success in brief flashes, but ultimately, he was ordinary at best. Bo Jackson came the closest to being a star in baseball as he was in football. But then, Bo was the best athlete I ever saw. He could do everything. A hip replacement slowed him down and then soon out.

Henson wasn't nearly as good as Dion and he was about as bad or worse than Michael Jordan in Jordan's aborted attempt to play baseball. A commercial during the Super Bowl last night made fun of baseball as a boring game. Of course, we fans know that's a cheap shot. It's a different game than football. We'll give you that.

Baseball, more than any other big time sport is about doing a bunch of small things well. It's not about being the fastest or strongest. It's about a thousand motor skills done to perfection. Some people like Derek Jeter do them all well. The Drew Hensons, Dion Sanders and Michael Jordans of the world found out how hard it was to do even a few of them.

Drew Henson had a decision to make and he made it. He followed his heart. You can't blame him for that. He made some good money doing it. But did he give up a chance at football superstardom? Time will tell. But if so, he's lost three years that he'll never get back. Hey, at least he got eight at bats in the big leagues.