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Suddenly, Burleson Is on Able List : He Not Only Starts for Angels but Gets First Hit Since '83

April 09, 1986|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Something new and different occurred Tuesday night at the Kingdome.

Rick Burleson started a baseball season in a batter's box rather than in a cast, in a sling, on a disabled list or all of the above.

It happened at 7:46, and hardly anyone noticed except maybe Burleson, his wife and his best friend, both in attendance, and the Angels. Burleson, a last-moment choice to replace the injured Dick Schofield at shortstop, took his place in the left part of the box and did what he has not done since Sept. 6, 1983.

He got a hit.

Nothing that would stop the presses, mind you, but a hit all the same. On a 1-and-0 count, Burleson grounded the ball past Mariner third baseman Jim Presley and shortstop Spike Owen. Both of their gloves waved goodby as Burleson's hit skipped cleanly into left field. The ball was retrieved and given back to pitcher Mike Moore, who probably didn't know that Burleson has had but four at-bats in the last two years, that he has played in just 40 Angel games since April of 1982 and that his medical chart reads longer than a James Michener novel.

A brief history:

--1978: injured left ankle, disabled two weeks.

--1982: torn rotator cuff, disabled from April to end of season.

--1983: recovering from rotator cuff surgery, disabled three months.

--1984: re-tore rotator cuff in right shoulder, disabled five months.

--1985: strained right shoulder, disabled entire season.

So here he was Tuesday night, defying logic, medical history and the silent majority.

"I think everybody, except Burleson, thought at one time or another, 'That will be it,' " Angel Manager Gene Mauch said. "I imagine everybody, one time or another, said that, especially after he got back from the rotator tear and had it again."

But what about Mauch, who preaches optimism with a fervor.

"I said, everybody ," the manager said.

That explains why Burleson wasn't expected to contribute much when spring training began in late February. Unzippering his equipment bag without pain was considered a victory of sorts, never mind heaving a throw from deep in the hole or turning a double play as someone took aim at his knees. When Burleson swung a bat or tossed a ball, you didn't know whether to cringe or applaud.

But come April, Burleson, 34, still was in attendance and looking rather sprightly. His batting average was an attractive .368 and better yet, his right shoulder remained attached to the rest of his body.

"I didn't have any idea, no idea what to look for, except determination," Mauch said. "Day after day, early in the spring, I asked him, 'Any problem?' He said, 'No problem.'

"Finally, I quit asking him," Mauch said.

Then came news of full-time employment on the Angel season roster. And then, as Mauch fretted about Schofield's groin injury, Burleson was told he was starting.

"I supposed other people make it out to be more than it really is," Burleson said.

Then he reconsiders.

"I'm excited about starting," he said. "It's really a nice feeling. I've made it back a long way.

"It's been two full years that I haven't done a thing. It doesn't seem like that."

Even Schofield, who insisted he was well enough to play, didn't feel too bad to see Burleson take his place.

"He's had a rough two, three years," Schofield said. "You hate for anybody to replace you, but if you had to have somebody, it's him."

Burleson normally doesn't let this sort of thing get to him. He made an exception for the Seattle series, figuring he would get into a game sooner or later. So he asked his wife, Karen, and his best friend, Richard Wood, to attend the games. His treat.

"This is special," Burleson said, "because I haven't started in four years (actually two seasons). She just wanted to be part of it, too. She's going to be surprised when she gets here and sees me in the lineup."

The surprise and accompanying pleasure extends to teammates. Nothing against Schofield, but second baseman Bobby Grich couldn't be happier with Burleson's insertion into the lineup.

"It shores up the infield, gives us experience and a proven major league shortstop," Grich said. "You won't find a player anywhere that plays with any more intensity. It just gives everybody a good feeling about him being out there."

Burleson finished the evening with five at-bats and that one wonderful single that eked its way past Owen and Presley. He fielded three balls, including a pop fly that nearly nicked the Kingdome roof.

Best of all, it seems he can do it all again.

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