Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis strung together 135 errorless games and 1,094 errorless innings at first base during the 2007 regular season for a fielding percentage of 1.000, a feat of perfection that has been duplicated only once before in major league history. He has also played 190 consecutive errorless games in the regular season at first base, three shy of Steve Garvey’s major league record, and has easily surpassed the old Red Sox record (120 games by Stuffy McInnis) and American League record (178 games by Mike Hegan). For his efforts, American League managers and coaches last week honored the four-year veteran his first Rawlings Gold Glove award, one year after making the full-time switch from the third base position where he was raised as a professional player. He is the first Red Sox player to earn the honor since teammate Jason Varitek won the honor at the catcher’s position in 2005 and only the second Red Sox first baseman to be recognized, the other being George Scott, who won it three times between 1967 and 1971.
Since the awards were first handed out in 1957, 16 Red Sox players have captured the honor a total of 36 times. The first year the awards were given, only one award was made for both leagues, and Frank Malzone won the inaugural honor at third base. Five Boston players have won the award multiple times, with former outfielder Dwight Evans holding the team record with eight Gold Gloves won between 1976 and 1985 and Carl Yastrzemski capturing seven in his 23 seasons with the club. Nine times, the Red Sox have had more than one honoree in the same season; twice they have had three. Yastrzemski, Scott, and outfielder Reggie Smith all won at their positions in 1968 and Evans, outfielder Fred Lynn, and shortstop Rick Burleson each capture the honor in 1979. The last time the Sox had more than one winner in a single season came in 1990, when pitcher Mike Boddicker, the only Boston player to ever win a Gold Glove as a pitcher, and outfielder Ellis Burks both won. Gold Gloves have been at a premium for Boston players since averaging better than one per season between 1957 and 1985; catcher Tony Pena in 1991 had been the last Red Sox player to capture the defensive honor before Varitek ended a 14-year drought in 2005, giving the team a total of just five awards in the last 22 seasons.
The selection committee for the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame isn’t due to make a decision on the next list of nominees until more than a year from now, and the next induction ceremony isn’t scheduled to take place until November of 2008, but just whose career as a Red Sox player or manager might be worthy enough to earn enshrinement at that time? (We won’t consider non-uniformed honorees here nor will we consider a “memorable moment” from team history.) To be eligible, players must have played a minimum of three years with the team and have been out of uniform as an active player for another three years; former managers are generally chosen well after leaving Boston, as was the case for “Walpole” Joe Morgan and Dick Williams, two 2006 inductees. We are also going to shy away from more recent candidates who will be eligible when the next vote is expected, like John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, and Ellis Burks, simply because selections usually happen longer than three or so years after leaving the game.
05 February 2004 - Ellis Burks returns to the team where he started his major league career and signs a one-year deal with Boston for the 2004 season. As a rookie in 1987, Burks combined speed and power to earn him a starting role as the everyday centerfield with the Red Sox and became just the third 20-20 player in team history (20 home runs, 20 steals in one season). However, despite continued success over the next five seasons, sporadic injuries that kept him out of the lineup for short stretches and concerns for his long-term health eventually led Boston to let him leave via free agency after the 1992 season. When healthy, Burks produced and enjoyed success in his later career with Colorado, San Francisco, and Cleveland, earning MVP considerations with the Rockies in 1996 with 40 home runs, 128 RBI, 142 runs scored, 32 stolen bases, and a batting .344 average. Although injuries continued to haunt him, relegating him to designated hitting duties for the final four years of his career, Burks continued to produce, even cracking another 32 home runs and driving in 91 RBI while batting .301 in 2002 at the age of 37.
Following his release from Cleveland after the 2003 season, Burks looked for an opportunity to play at least one more season and took Boston’s offer of $750,000 to platoon as the designated hitter. Unfortunately, his season was cut short in late April as knee surgery cost him all but 11 games during Boston’s championship run. He did make two appearances late in the season, the first being his final Fenway Park at-bat on 23 September when he appeared as a pinch hitter and produced a single, much to the delight of the home crowd. In his final appearance, the first game of a doubleheader on 02 October in Baltimore, he started as the designated hitter and went 1-for-2 with a run scored before getting lifted in favor of rookie Kevin Youkilis, Burk’s knee sore from his trip around the bases one last time. That last game also happened to be the 2,000th of his career and, less than a month later, the veteran would have the dubious honor of carrying the World Series trophy off the plane in Boston after the team captured its first title in 86 years, the only time that Burks was part of a championship team.