This guy is right there in the mix with Cronin, Petrocelli and Garciaparra for the title of all-time greatest Red Sox shortstop. They called him “the Rooster” because of his red hair and his pointy profile but the nickname also fit because he’d do whatever he had to do to beat you, including scratching your eyes out. There has never been a Red Sox who hated to lose more than Rick Burleson did.
The Red Sox grabbed him out of his California High School with their first round pick in the secondary phase of the 1970 amateur draft and it took him four years to work his way up Boston’s ladder of farm clubs. In 1974 he battled a full season with Mario Guerrero for the right to become Luis Aparicio’s successor as the Red Sox starting shortstop. By Opening Day of 1975 the job was his alone and at 24 years of age he became a leader of a Boston ball club that just kept on winning until the final game of that year’s World Series. He had no superstar skills but no real weaknesses either and just kept making all the plays in the field and grinding his way on base.
His best year in Boston was 1977 when he reached 194 hits and a .293 batting average, both career highs. His immense value to the team was best proved by his absence due to injury during July and August of the 1978 season. When he left the lineup the Red Sox were dominating the AL East. By the time he returned to the lineup, the Yankees had gotten back into it.
He made three All Star teams as a Red Sox and won the 1979 Gold Glove. His contract was expiring in 1981 and the Boston front office was a mess under the direction of Haywood Sullivan. They were offering Burleson about half the amount he wanted to sign and when they couldn’t get it done by the end of the 1980 season, they traded him and Butch Hobson to the Angels for Mark Clear, Carney Lansford and Rick Miller.
After a strong first year with California during the strike-shortened season of 1981, Burleson tore his rotator cuff early in 1982 and the injury effectively ended his career. He hung on for a few more seasons and then became a highly repeated big league coach and minor league field boss.