Friday, February 22, 2013

#315 Rick Burleson - California Angels

Judging by the trees in the background, Rick Burleson's 9th Topps card was taken in a spring training location. It's a good thing they took the picture when they did because Burleson played only 11 games in '82. 

Player: Rick Burleson was a first round pick of the Red Sox in the 1970 January draft and by 1974 was battling for a starting shortstop job in Boston.  Although he started the year at Pawtucket he was soon promoted.  He and Mario Guerrero started 81 games each at short and Burleson also got into 31 at second.  In 415 plate appearances he posted a .284/.320/.372 line and despite a record three errors in his first game, his freshman year was deemed a success and he finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Burleson's rate stats dropped across the board in '75 (.252/..305/.329) but his play at shortstop was seen as a key to the Red Sox success.  Despite his lack of offense he received some MVP votes. His postseason was successful batting .444 in the ALCS and .295 in the World Series loss to the Reds. 
The man known as "Rooster" was a mainstay of the Red Sox for the rest of the decade as he averaged 153 games played from '75-'80.  His batting average fluctuated from a low of .248 to a high of .293 with single digit home run totals while playing good defense.  He was an AL All-Star and received a few stray MVP votes from '77-'79 with a Gold Glove in '79. 
Like many of his teammates, Burleson had contract squabbles with Boston so they traded him to California with Butch Hobson for Carney Lansford, Mark Clear, and Rick Miller.  The Angels signed Burleson to a six-year, $4.65 million deal, at the time the biggest contract ever for a shortstop.
Burleson's gritty all-out hustle made a positive impression on Angel fans who initially frowned on the trade and big contract.  His numbers in the stat ledger were some of the best of his career as he batted .293/.357/.372 with a career high 112 OPS+ in the abbreviated '81 campaign.  He was an All-Star for the fourth time and won the Silver Slugger award. 
Rooster's '82 season was a wash as he tore his rotator cuff two weeks into the season.  He battled to get back and played just 33 games in '83 but this was the tip of the iceberg of his health problems.  In spring training of '84 he re-injured his shoulder and he didn't return until September.  He played in just seven games and was limited to pinch hitting and pinch running duties.  In the offseason he dislocated his shoulder while lifting weights which caused nerve damage to the very area he was trying to strengthen.  The mishap cost him the entire '85 season, meaning he had played just 51 games over the past four years. 
Burleson mounted yet another come back and started the '86 season as the Halos' starting shortstop.  He was soon displaced by Dick Schofield but he was hitting well and started 38 games as a DH.  In all he batted .284/.363/.391 in 312 trips to the plate.  He got into four games in the ALCS and went three for eleven as the Angels fell to his former team.  After the season he received the Comeback Player of the Year award. 
With his contract up he signed with the Orioles to play second base but was batting just .209 when he received the pink slip in July.  He retired with a .273/.328/.361 stat line in parts of 13 seasons.
Flipside: Burleson played so little in '82 that three of his seven hits make the highlights section.

Oddball: Boston teammate Bill Lee summed up Rooster's intensity by saying "Some guys didn't like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied."

History: It might be hard to imagine Burleson as the type of player who would be the highest paid shortstop, but when he signed that big contract Robin Yount, Alan Trammell, and Ozzie Smith had yet to peak and Cal Ripken was still in the minors.  Rooster made most of his noise in the 70s a time when shortstops were held to lower offensive standard than the next two decades.  Burleson certainly was a good defender ranking second all-time in range factor per nine innings at SS with 5.245 chances.  To sum it up, Burleson had a nice stretch as the Red Sox sparkplug but he played just 253 games for the Angels. 

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