Sunday, June 8, 2014

Card #55: Rick Burleson

Who Can It Be Now?
Richard Paul Burleson was born on April 29, 1951, in Lynwood, California.  He grew up in Southern California as a Dodger fan.  Growing up, he attended Warren High School in Downey, California -- a school once known as Earl Warren High School; its name was changed by a group of conservative parents in the early 1960s who didn't like the liberal decisions on race and prisoners' rights issues by the U.S. Supreme Court under former California Governor and then-Chief Justice Warren. 

Burleson was drafted in the 8th Round of the June 1969 draft by the Minnesota Twins, but he did not sign.  He enrolled at Cerritos Junior College (he did not play there, however), which meant he was available the next January in the Secondary Draft as a previous draftee who had not signed.  So, the Red Sox selected him fifth overall in the first round of that draft.

Burleson signed with the Red Sox and was assigned to their Florida State League team in Winter Haven.  He did not play especially well -- .220/.307/.277 in 485 plate appearances over 118 games along with 38 errors at shortstop.  As a result, he spent his next year in single-A again split over two different teams in the Carolinas -- Greenville (SC) in the Western Carolina League (low-level A) and Winston-Salem in the High-A Carolina League. 

He moved up to Double-A Pawtucket in the Eastern League in 1972 and again did not hit particularly well.  Nonetheless, the Red Sox still moved him up to Triple-A -- again in Pawtucket, this time in the International League -- in 1973.  Perhaps it is no surprise that in an interview in 2009, Burleson said that he felt that players in the minor leagues are older, more mature, and know better how to play baseball these days than when he was in the minor leagues.

He spent April of 1974 in Pawtucket again before he was called up to the major leagues on May 4, 1974 after the Red Sox decided to release Luis Aparicio at the end of spring training and also realized that Mario Guerrero was not going to cut it as a starter and that Juan Beniquez was not an infielder.  Burleson's first year in the major leagues was a fairly successful one.  He had a .284 AVG and fielded at both second base and shortstop fairly well and displaying excellent range -- 5.05 RF/9 Innings at shortstop, which was good enough for fourth place in the league that year.  He even got a single vote in the Rookie of the Year voting.

During his time with the Red Sox, Burleson earned his nickname of "Rooster."  The story Burleson tells is that the recently deceased Don Zimmer gave him the nickname.  Zimmer hit ground balls to Burleson all the time.  One day, Zimmer said, "look at [Burleson] out there, with his hat off and his hair standing up.  He looks like a rooster walking around."  

It may also have had a bit to do with Burleson's attitude toward the game.  Burleson himself recognized that being called a rooster was, "the kind of player I was too, a fighter.  It stuck." As pitcher Bill Lee put it in his hilarious book, The Wrong Stuff:
[Darrell] Johnson had brought Rick Burleson with him from Pawtucket to play short.  I had never met a red-ass like Rick in my life.  Some guys didn't like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied.  He was very intense and had the greatest arm of any infielder I had ever seen.  The moment he reported to camp, he brought a fire to the club that we had been lacking.
Starting in 1974 and ending in 1980, Burleson was a nearly every day fixture in the Red Sox lineup at shortstop.  He was named an All-Star in 1977, 1978, and 1979 and was the starter for the 1977 game.  He played the most games at shortstop in the league in 1975, 1980, and 1981, was second in 1977 and 1979, and was fourth in 1976 and 1978.  He was a part of the 1975 World Series team that lost to the Big Red Machine in seven games and of the 1978 team about which Red Sox fans still say, "F**k Bucky Dent."  He even won a Gold Glove in 1979.

Despite being from Southern California, Burleson really embraced being in Boston and loved the city and New England.  As he told in 2002, "I didn't really ever want to be traded.  . . . I didn't want to leave.  I felt like I was part of that New England work ethic group there, and I would have [liked] to have stayed."  

But, the Red Sox front office did not want Burleson to leave as a free agent after the 1981 season, so after the 1980 season they sent he and third baseman Butch Hobson to the California Angels in exchange for reliever Mark Clear, third baseman Carney Lansford, and outfielder Rick Miller (who had left the Sox for the Angels via free agency three years before).  In a 2004 interview with, Burleson said that he believed his trade -- along with the trade of Fred Lynn to the Angels and with letting Carlton Fisk leave in free agency -- resulted from those three players holding out in early 1976 in the first year of free agency.

In 1981, Burleson had perhaps his best season as a major leaguer.  He played all 109 games that the Angels played and formed a fine hitting, fine fielding combination with Bobby Grich. He was named as the shortstop on the Silver Slugger team, keeping Robin Yount from winning three straight, and he was an All-Star for the fourth and final time in his career.

As good as 1981 was for Burleson, it was the last year he had as a productive, every-day major league player.  As he recalled in a later interview, his shoulder started bothering him in spring training in 1982.  He was getting regular cortisone injections in the shoulder, and, after one of them, he might have been tricked mentally into thinking everything was fine.  As he said in the interview, a couple of days after a shot and before a game with the Twins, he actually told someone before the game that his shoulder was the best it had felt in a long time.  He had a play in the hole at short and threw the guy out, but "it felt like someone had stuck an ice-pick into [his] shoulder and then pulled it out.  It felt like a rush of air came out... I just knew something was wrong."  He stayed in the game, but felt an intense burning sensation on a later play turning a double play.

He had torn his rotator cuff in his shoulder.  Dr. Lewis Yokum performed surgery, and Burleson was out for 14 months.  Despite that length of time being gone, Burleson is pretty sure that he came back too quickly because, in mid-1983, Burleson injured it again.  He missed most of the 1984 season with it, pinch hitting and pinch running a few times but never playing the field that September.  During his rehabilitation, he severely dislocated his shoulder in December of 1984, causing him to miss all of 1985 as well. 

Finally, in 1986, he was able to play a little bit in the field again for the Angels.  He was named the 1986 Comeback Player of the Year, and he enjoyed his final run to the post-season that year with an Angels team that lost to his old club, the Red Sox, in the ALCS remembered today for the home run that Donnie Moore gave up to Dave Henderson. 

Burleson played in one more season with Baltimore in 1987.  He was released in July of that year at the age of 36, leaving his fans to wonder what "could have been" if he had not gotten hurt in 1982.

Trivial Pursuit 
Rick Burleson holds the major league record for shortstops for participating in the most double plays.  In 1980, he was involved in 147 double plays.

A second piece of trivia: in the bottom of the ninth inning of the "Bucky Dent game", the Red Sox had a chance to win the game.  Yankee's closer Rich Gossage was in his third inning of work, and had given up two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.  Burleson worked Gossage for a one-out walk and took second when Jerry Remy singled to right field.  Jim Rice followed with a fly-out to right on which Burleson tagged up and went to third base.   Up to the plate stepped Carl Yastrzemski.  Yaz popped out to Graig Nettles at third, and Burleson, who represented the tying run, was stranded at third base.

As was the case with Buddy Bell, Burleson appeared in the documentary movie Looking for Oscar.  He also appeared in a Boston Red Sox history video.

A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Everything I remember about Rick Burleson as a kid relates first to his rotator cuff injury in 1982 and second to my reading The Wrong Stuff during high school.  So, as a result, when I think Rick Burleson, I think "Red Ass."  This led me to Google that term to see if I could find a good, funny definition online, but it led me to something even more humorous: a guy in an online forum saying that he asked his doctor for a description of what it meant...I guess you could add "dumbass" next to "red ass" for that guy.

Anyway, other than a brief time after his retirement, Burleson has worked in baseball every year since 1989.  He worked for the Oakland A's in 1989 and 1990, then coached in the majors for the Red Sox in 1992 and 1993.  He next worked as a minor league base running instructor for the Angels in 1994, and then served on the big-league coaching staff in 1995 and 1996.  He started his minor league managerial career in 1997 in the Mariners organization and managed through 2007.  After that, he moved to the Arizona Diamondbacks system and served as a hitting coach from 2008 through 2012.  

We are getting closer, now, to having the ability to field a complete team through our personal appearances site.  Rick Burleson will join you at a baseball game if you have an extra seat for the low, low price of just $1,000 through the company as Rick Cerone and Greg Gross.  So, we've got our catcher, an outfielder, and a shortstop now, and we're just on card #55.  I bet we will get pretty close to a full major league roster by the time we're done!


  1. Burleson went on to Cerritos College. The Red Sox drafted him January, but he probably didn't sign until after the juco season.

  2. I'm sure a lot of those guys will come out of the woodwork for a $1000.