Selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 1st round (20th pick) of the 1983 amateur draft, Burks made his debut in the 1987 season as a regular center fielder at age 22, becoming the third player in the Red Sox history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in one season. He was selected to both the Baseball Digest and Topps "All-Rookie" teams. Defensively, Burks showed excellent range, a sure glove and a strong arm. The only problem for Burks while with the Red Sox was that he was injury-prone. He had shoulder surgery in 1989, and it was the first of many setbacks for him. During the 1990 season he hit two home runs in the same inning of a game, to become the second player in the Red Sox history to achieve the feat. Bill Regan was the first, in 1928.
Later Burks suffered from bad knees and back spasms. After six pretty good seasons in Boston, and despite his injuries, he ended up leaving as a free agent and signing with the Chicago White Sox in January 1993. He found his old self in Chicago. He surpassed all expectations around him by turning in a solid, injury-free season, filling the White Sox urgent need for a quality right fielder. He was one of the club's better performers in the playoffs, batting .304. A free agent at the end of the season, he signed a lucrative five-year contract with the Colorado Rockies (1994-98).
In 1996 Burks enjoyed his best season. He led National League hitters in runs (142), slugging average (.639), total bases (392) and extra-bases (93); was second in hits (211) and doubles (45), and fifth in home runs (40) and RBI (128). His .344 was also second in the batting title race (behind Tony Gwynn, .353). Burks finished third in the MVP voting. He also stole 32 bases that season, marking only the second time ever that two players from the same team collected at least 30 home runs and 30 steals, as Colorado outfielder Dante Bichette accomplished the same feat that year. He remains in the top ten in many offensive categories for the Rockies.
While with the Rockies, Burks was part of the formidable Blake Street Bombers that included the likes of Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Larry Walker, and Vinny Castilla. This was the heart of the Rockies' lineup that was second in the National League in home runs by team in 1994 and then lead the National League in home runs from 1995-1997.
Burks was traded to the San Francisco Giants in mid-season 1998. In 2000, batting fifth behind Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent, he compiled significant numbers of .344, 24, 96, in only 122 games and 393 at-bats. He won the 2000 Willie Mac Award for his spirit and leadership.
He was signed by the Cleveland Indians after the season. In his new role as a DH for the Indians, Burks provided consistent production in the middle-of-the-lineup, hitting .280, 28, 74 in 2001, and .301, 32, 91 in 2002. He sprained his wrist in spring training of 2003 and kept playing in 55 games until the muscles in his right hand affected his ability to swing the bat. He underwent season-ending surgery to repair nerve damage in his right elbow. The Indians didn't pick up their 2004 contract option or offer him salary arbitration, and he returned to the Red Sox in 2004. He retired at the end of the season with a World Series Ring with the team that he began his career with.
After the 2005 season, Burks joined the Indians front office staff as a special assistant to the general manager.
Burks will be eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010. He now resides in Moreland Hills and his son plays for the Ohio Redhawks.
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