In recognition of Black History Month, take a moment to appreciate the career of Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, arguably the best all-around player the Magnolia State has ever produced. His 1996 season with the Colorado Rockies might be the best single season any Mississippi native has put up in the big leagues. Born in Vicksburg in 1964, Burks also lived in Jackson for a time before his family moved to Texas. He was drafted out of Ranger College, a Texas juco, in the first round of the 1983 January draft by Boston. He debuted in MLB in 1987 at age 22 — amid Willie Mays comparisons — and batted .272 with 20 home runs as a Red Sox rookie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound outfielder’s career ended in 2004, when injuries limited him to a handful of games, none in the postseason, for the Red Sox in their historic World Series-winning campaign. In between, he made two All-Star games, won two Silver Slugger awards and received a Gold Glove. He is now a scout for San Francisco. In 1996, as one of Colorado’s Blake Street Bombers, Burks batted .344 with 40 homers, 128 RBIs, a league-leading 142 runs, 45 doubles, 211 hits, 32 stolen bases and a 7.9 WAR, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Among Mississippi natives, Burks is first in career homers (352), second in runs, RBIs and hits and fourth in stolen bases and batting average. And note that injuries curtailed several of his 18 seasons. On the career WAR chart, Burks is second among Mississippi-born position players with a 49.8; Jackson native Chet Lemon had a 55.6, aided considerably by his defense. Surprisingly, Burks lasted just one year on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot, getting just two votes in 2010. But make no mistake: He had an impact, on and off the field. In 2004, when the Red Sox arrived back in Boston after winning the World Series in St. Louis, it was Burks — at the suggestion of Pedro Martinez — who got the honor of carrying the championship trophy off the plane. P.S. Mississippi State alum Ethan Small has landed with San Francisco, traded for cash by Milwaukee which had DFA’d the left-hander last week. … Mississippi College product Blaine Crim has received a non-roster invite to Texas’ spring camp.
On this date in 2001, Vicksburg native Ellis Burks – the all-time home run leader among Mississippi-born players — hit three home runs in a game for Cleveland, accomplishing a pretty neat feat that’s not as rare as one might think. A three-(or four-)homer game has been done more than 600 times, with quite a few players having hit three in a game multiple times. (Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa did it six times each!) The list of Mississippians with a three-jack game numbers seven. The first was Hal Lee from Ludlow, who slugged his way onto the list in 1934 while with the Boston Braves. The most recent was Hunter Renfroe, who hit three for San Diego on June 14 of last year, the second time the Crystal Springs native had managed the feat. He also did it as a rookie in 2017. Vicksburg native Dmitri Young is one of just four players to hit three bombs in his team’s Opening Day game; that happened in 2005, when Young was with Detroit. The others on this exclusive list: Bill Melton (1969), Larry Herndon (1982) and Brian Dozier (2016). P.S. Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, a fifth-round pick by Detroit, reportedly has signed for a $500,000 bonus. The third baseman/pitcher, originally from Arizona, was an Arizona State signee. … Pitcher Drake Nightengale, a Pearl River Community College alum from Sumrall, has signed as a non-drafted free agent (out of South Alabama) with the New York Mets.
On this date in 1990, Vicksburg native Ellis Burks hit two home runs in one inning for Boston in a game at Cleveland. He is one of 56 players to accomplish that feat in the modern era, and the only Mississippian (native or college alumnus) to do it. Among the others on the list are Joe DiMaggio, Mark McGwire, David Ortiz, Jeff Bagwell, Dale Murphy and Willie McCovey, who is one of five players to go deep twice in one inning TWICE. Burks, a first-round pick by the Red Sox out of a Texas junior college, debuted in the big leagues in 1987 and hit 352 homers in his 18-year career, including 40 in 1996 with Colorado. He finished his career in Boston, playing 11 games in 2004 in his age 40 season and earning a World Series ring when The Curse was vanquished.
Making the cut for the Hall of Fame is tough, as it should be. Some have suggested – in jest – that there should be a Hall of Very Good. There is an abundance of players who would fit very well in such a shrine. One of them is Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, who will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his big league debut this month. Burks registered over 2,000 career hits, 350 homers and 1,200 RBIs. He was a two-time All-Star, and in 1996, as one of Colorado’s Blake Street Bombers, batted .344 with 40 homers and 128 RBIs, earning third place in the National League MVP voting. Burks broke in in ’87 with Boston, which had made him a first-round pick in 1983 out of a Texas junior college. He played 18 years in the big leagues. He was Very Good. … Other debut anniversaries of note this year include the 100th for Batesville’s Sammy Vick, the 90th for Tupelo’s Andy Reese, the 80th for Ellisville’s Harry Craft, the 60th for Longwood’s Frank Barnes, the 20th for McComb’s Adrian Brown and Vicksburg’s John Thomson and the 10th for Jackson’s Seth Smith. Vick, a Millsaps alum, is the answer to a great trivia question: Who was the New York Yankees’ right fielder before they acquired Babe Ruth? Craft, a Mississippi College alum who earned two distinctive nicknames during his career (Popeye and Wildfire), played and managed in the majors and was the first skipper of the Houston Colt .45s. Brown was a 48th-round draft pick by Pittsburgh out of McComb High in 1992. He defied the odds to become the Pirates’ regular center fielder eight years later, batting .315 in 104 games that year (2000). His son, also named Adrian Brown, now plays for William Carey University. Smith, an Ole Miss product, debuted 10 years ago with Colorado as a September call-up and then made the team’s postseason roster. He made the final out of the ’07 World Series, fanning against Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon, the ex-Mississippi State star.