If anybody deserved to be known as a member of the Blake Street Bombers and somehow wasn’t, it was Ellis Burks. Burks was perhaps the biggest free agent to sign with the Rockies in the offseason between 1993 and 1994 (well, okay, there was HoJo, so maybe Burks was second biggest). He was brought on board to hit for power, and hit for power he did.
Burks’s big-league journey began long before the Rockies took a look at him. He was a first-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1983 and debuted with the Bo Sox in 1987. He managed not to get traded while he was there, and put up some decent numbers, including a better than .800 OPS in 3 different seasons. In 1990 he hit 21 home runs and drove in 89 runs, good enough for a trip to the All-Star Game and a Silver Slugger award. His outfield defense also earned him a Gold Glove that year.
After being granted free agency in 1992, Burks signed with the Chicago White Sox. His success had tapered a bit toward the end of his time in Boston, mainly due to injuries that shelved him for the better part of his final season there. He regrouped with Chicago and hit 17 home runs in 1993, playing in over 140 games. The Rockies knew what they were getting when they signed Burks to a five-year contract, over the course of which he earned nearly $18 million (which was a lot back then).
It took Burks a minute to hit his stride in Colorado, which is most likely why he is not considered one of the Bombers. He was the Rockies’ starting right fielder in their 1995 playoff season, but finished with just a .266 average and 14 homers. He came back with a vengeance in 1996, his best season, hitting .344 with 40 home runs and 128 RBI. He led the league with 142 runs scored and 392 total bases and finished third in MVP voting. Alas, it wasn’t quite enough to make the team successful, and the Rockies finished third in the division, foreshadowing a long decade of mediocrity.
Burks wasn’t done, though, and he went on to hit 32 home runs in 1997. He was on his way to a similar total when the Rockies traded him to the Giants in mid-1998. He continued to put up excellent numbers both with San Francisco and with the Cleveland Indians, with whom he signed as a free agent in 2000. He finished his career with one final season in Boston in 2004, where he played in just 11 games and was the 8th-oldest player in the American League at 39.
Burks’s legacy is mostly with the Rockies since he had so many great years there. It’s also tainted by the Coors Field curse, and Burks was taken off the Hall of Fame ballot in 2010 after garnering just 0.4% of the vote. His career wasn’t dazzling enough to warrant entry into the Hall with or without the curse, but it’s worth noting that that surely affected some people’s decisions.
Burks no longer works in baseball, but his son Chris is a rising star as a high school player in Arizona. Could he be another future Junior Bomber? We’ll have to see.