The first time one of Boston's scouts saw rookie outfielder Ellis Burks run, he started thinking maybe 30 to 40 stolen bases a season - the kind of speed not usually associated with the Red Sox. Then when the line drives began flying off Burks's bat like sparks off a grinder, the scout thought leadoff man. Now, 15 home runs into the 1987 season, there is reason to believe that this 22-year-old centerfielder is also going to hit for power.
Ellis has a knack for coming through with runners on base, too, as shown by two grand slam homers plus a game against Baltimore in which he drove in seven runs. As for the speed part, he leads the team in stolen bases with 13 despite spending the first few weeks of the season in the minors. And his batting average, which has held fairly steady in the respectable .260-to-.270 range, figures to move up as soon as he acquires the necessary experience.
``This is a kid who has all the tools to be a fine hitter, only he doesn't quite know how to use them yet,'' Red Sox batting coach Walt Hriniak explained. ``Right now he's strictly a pull hitter. But we're teaching him to use the whole field so that outfielders will have to play him straightaway and not be able to shift against him.
``There's no timetable for Ellis because this isn't something you learn overnight,'' Hriniak continued.
``But once he does get it, he can be a player who hits for both average and power. With his speed, he'll be turning a lot of singles into doubles.''
Although Burks had a great training camp this spring, manager John McNamara nevertheless sent him to Boston's Triple-A farm club in Pawtucket to start the season. Why did McNamara put one of his best outfielders on hold?
``I don't care how well this kid did in spring training, he would still have been jumping from Double-A ball to the majors without ever having seen any Triple-A pitching,'' John said. ``You never do that unless you have to, and with the more experienced outfielders we had, there was no need to rush Burks. As it was, we didn't keep him in the minors very long.''
Indeed, the right-handed hitting native of Vicksburg, Miss., was called up on April 30 and quickly became a regular.
One minor criticism of Burks in the field is that despite his speed he has not always been enough of a take-charge player to call off the other outfielders on fly balls - something the centerfielder is supposed to do. Occasionally, that little moment of indecision has allowed balls that should have been caught to fall safely.
``Once baseball becomes a mental game for Ellis and not just a physical one,'' said teammate Dwight Evans, ``he'll do a lot of things differently. But considering his inexperience, he's been great.'' Managers' quote 'em pole
From Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals on the New York Mets, considered by most observers to be his team's chief rival in the National League East: ``The Mets have a good team, but not what I would call a dominating one. I don't think you can have a dominating team with players like Howard Johnson and Rafael Santana on the left side of your infield.'' Basically, Herzog was referring to Johnson's occasional lapses in the field and Santana's RBI problems at the plate. (Johnson, ironically, blasted the two-run 10th inning homer that lifted the Mets to a 6-4 victory in St. Louis Wednesday night, sending the Cardinals to their sixth straight loss and pulling New York to within 6 games of first place.)
Tom Trebelhorn of the Milwaukee Brewers on streaks: ``Timely hitting makes for winning streaks, and untimely hitting for losing streaks. Those two-out hits with men on base when you're winning regularly - well, you never get them when you're losing. At times like that, it's always the other team that gets them.''
Tommy Lasorda of the Dodgers, a former resident of Norristown, Pa., on rumors that he will become manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1988: ``I traded Philadelphia for California 24 years ago. What makes anyone think I would trade California for Philadelphia now?''
Hall of Fame player and former Texas Ranger skipper Ted Williams, after speaking at a baseball clinic in Chicago: ``If you took an inch off everybody's bat, you'd improve everybody's hitting.'' What Williams was emphasizing was the importance of players creating more bat control for themselves.
Gene Mauch of the California Angels on owner Gene Autry's desire to get into the World Series: ``You have to bear in mind that Mr. Autry's favorite horse was named Champion. He ain't never had one called Runner-up.''
Recalling a quote uttered years ago by Casey Stengel, when he was managing the New York Yankees: ``It's true. I'm not perfect. But I'm not required to win every day, either, just two games of every three.''
Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers on why some of today's players can't keep their minds on baseball: ``It's all that outside stuff. You know, endorsements, biographies, commercials, personal appearances, and paid autograph sessions. Maybe these guys ought to ask themselves sometime what their main business really is. Is that extra money they earn off the field worth it if it results in them having a bad year? Unfortunately, they never think of that.'' Elsewhere in the major leagues
Every year, without fail, a previously unnoticed player moves from one club to another via the trade or free-agent route and promptly catches fire. That honor this year belongs chiefly to pitcher Dave Schmidt of the Baltimore Orioles, a converted reliever who is already 10-2 after going 3-6 with eight saves in a Chicago White Sox uniform last season. Schmidt's explanation for his improvement isn't apt to be cast in stone. Said the right-hander matter-of-factly: ``I'm in a groove.''
Fred Claire, the new general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers on unbelievable things he has seen in baseball: ``The most amazing thing I've ever seen was reserve outfielder Jay Johnstone, standing in line in uniform at a concession stand in Dodger Stadium. He was buying a hot dog after the game had already started.''