10th anniversary: Sean Burroughs debutsby Chris Jaffe
April 02, 2012
Ten years ago today, one of baseball’s can’t-miss prospects made the big leagues. He was the sort of player that had all the scouts and analysts raving about him and seemingly had everything lined up to start a magnificent major league career.
There was just one problem. This can’t-miss did miss, and miss badly. His name is Sean Burroughs.
On paper, he seemed like such an ideal prospect as to be something out of a Hollywood script. First, Burroughs had the bloodlines. His father, Jeff Burroughs, was the 1974 AL MVP.
Second, he was a prodigy. As a kid, he led his team to the championship in the Little League World Series. Young Sean even threw a pair of no-hitters along the way. He was always at the front of the class in baseball talent. He shifted to third base and remained a bright hope.
As soon as he graduated high school, the Padres drafted the 18-year-old in the first round of the draft with the ninth pick overall. He went before CC Sabathia, Brad Lidge, and, Adam Dunn, among others.
Burroughs tore up the minors, hitting for high average—though without much power—and remained one of the biggest prospects in all of baseball. After hitting .322 with nine homers in Triple-A in 2001, he was on the verge of his big chance in the majors.
That chance came on April 2, 2002, when he earned the start at third for San Diego. He began his career by facing Arizona ace Curt Schilling. Though Burroughs whiffed his first time up, he rapped out back-to-back singles after that, and the storybook athletic career continued.
He had a nice start, and on May 1 was hitting .300, though with only two walks and four extra-base hits. Then Burroughs went on a skid, going 5-for-51 and working his way back to the minors.
It was the first notable bump in his career, but these things happen. San Diego still had faith in him, and he was the starting third baseman for all of 2003 and 2004. But the glorious promise didn’t quite come. Burroughs could hit, but he had almost no power. In 2004, he belted only two homers, which just isn’t enough in the 21st century.
Then, he injured his knee later in 2004. While recovering from surgery, Burroughs says his life really started to take a darker turn. He delved into drugs. He didn’t just dabble, but fell full into it.
With his personal life sliding, his athletic effectiveness vanished. Burroughs lost his starting job in 2005, and San Diego traded him to Tampa that offseason. He played eight games for them before being released in the middle of the 2006 season. Seattle took a flier on him, but when Burroughs couldn’t perform in the minors, they cut him in June 2007. The can’t-miss was now an epic bust.
Out of baseball, Burroughs fell so fully into drugs it would make Charlie Sheen wince. When he bottomed out in 2010, he was eating food out of dumpsters, staying at fleabag motels in Las Vegas, and so messed up mentally that he would talk to telephone poles.
Fortunately, the story turns around. After bottoming out, Burroughs cleaned himself up, got off of drugs, and began working out. Kevin Towers, his old San Diego GM and now the man in charge of Arizona, gave Burroughs a chance, and in a surprising turnaround, Burroughs made it. On May 19, 2011, for the first time in five years and 15 days, Sean Burroughs stood on a major league diamond.
He was no longer the great hope. Frankly, he wasn’t especially good, and at age 30 it’s unlikely he’ll ever live up to the prophecies once spoken of him. But at least he’s pulled himself out of worst period. There are more important things than becoming a big athletic star.
But I can’t imagine anyone foresaw the way the next ten years would go when Burroughs stood and faced Curt Schilling on April 2, 2002.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate an anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago) today. Here they are, with the best ones if bold if you just want to skim the list.
1,000 days since Colorado’s Alan Embree picks up a win despite not throwing a single pitch in a game. He picks off Austin Kearns in the eighth to end an inning, and Colorado then rallies for the win immediately after. The Rockies top the Nationals, 5-4.
1,000 days since Paul Konerko belts three home runs in one game.
2,000 days since Cory Lidle dies in a plane crash in New York City.
3,000 days since Gus Suhr dies.
4,000 days since Barry Larkin, after 7,700-plus plate appearances, finally hits a grand slam.
4,000 days since Carlos Delgado hits three homers in one game for the fourth time in his career.
5,000 days since Dennis Martinez allows the only inside-the-park home run of his career. Added bonus: it’s a pinch-hit shot. The batter is Pittsburgh’s Turner Ward, whoever he was.
5,000 days since Jim Bouton finally appears in Yankee Stadium on Old Timer’s Day. They’d kept him out due to anger about his book, Ball Four.
5,000 days since Neifi Perez, of all people, hits for the cycle.
8,000 days since Andre Dawson blasts the last of his career five walk-off home runs. It also means he’s hit one in three different decades (1970s, 1980s, and 1990s). It's the only walk-off he ever hit as a Cub.
9,000 days since one of the most famous win-now versus win-later trades of all-time: Atlanta sends Doyle Alexander to Detroit for John Smoltz. Alexander will have a great stretch run for the Tigers in a pennant race while Smoltz, well, he’s John Smoltz.
20,000 days since Al Lopez manages his 1,000th game. His record at the time: 613-380.
20,000 days since Bud Black, current Padres manager, is born.
20,000 days since Don McMahon, reliever, makes his big-league debut.
20,000 days since Eddie Mathews has his best one-game WPA performance. He goes 2-for-5 with a two-run homer in a 6-5 Braves win over Pittsburgh. His WPA: 0.713. The home run is a 13th-inning walk-off shot that all by itself is worth 0.684 WPA.
40,000 days since Win Mercer, pitcher, plays in his last game.
1856 Tommy Bond, the best pitchers of the 1870s, is born.
1869 Hughie Jennings, maybe the best player in baseball during his prime in the 1890s, is born.
1874 The National Association officially adopts the batter’s box.
1907 Luke Appling, Hall of Fame shortstop, is born.
1908 The Mills Commission falsely declares that Abner Doubleday invents baseball. This is why the Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown.
1925 The Phillies select George J. Burns off waivers from the Reds for the last season of his career.
1927 Billy Pierce, great White Sox pitcher, is born.
1931 In an exhibition game in Chattanooga, TN, a 17-year girl named Jackie Mitchell fans Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.
1932 John Morrill, 1880s manager, dies.
1937 Dick Radatz, great reliever in his prime, is born.
1945 Don Sutton, 300-game winner, is born.
1945 Reggie Smith, star outfielder, is born.
1952 Monte Irvin breaks his ankle sliding into third base in an exhibition game.
1959 Detroit returns minor league prospect Maury Wills to the Dodgers as part of a conditional deal.
1962 Cleveland trades Vic Power and Dick Stigman to Minnesota for Pedro Ramos.
1963 Washington purchases Minnie Minoso.
1970 Jon Lieber, pitcher, is born.
1972 The White Sox release Joe Horlen.
1972 Gil Hodges, Boys of Summer first baseman turned Miracle Mets manager, dies. He was still Mets manager at the time of his death.
1973 The Royals trade Greg Minton to the Giants.
1975 Pittsburgh signs what’s left of Sudden Sam McDowell.
1976 The Orioles and A’s stage a true blockbuster trade. Baltimore trades Don Baylor, Mike Torrez, and Paul Mitchell to the A’s for Reggie Jackson, Ken Holtzman, and a minor leaguer.
1976 Texas releases former star pitcher Clyde Wright.
1982 Under orders from team manager Billy Martin, A’s pitcher Steve McCatty comes to bat with a 15-inch toy bat. This is a protest of the lack of a DH in any NL parks.
1983 The White Sox release troubled outfield Ron LeFlore. (He’s got drug problems).
1984 On Opening Day in Baltimore, President Reagan tries to buy four $2 hot dogs with a $5 bill. Oops.
1984 Davey Johnson enjoys his first game as manager in the big leagues.
1991 Baltimore signs free agent Mike Flanagan.
1991 Milwaukee signs free agents Rick Dempsey, Candy Maldonado, and Willie Randolph.
1992 Houston trades Curt Schilling to Philadelphia for Jason Grimsley. Yeah, Philly got the edge here.
1995 The big 1994-95 strike officially ends as owners accept the players’ March 31 unconditional offer to return to work.
1997 Tino Martinez of the Yankees hits three homers in one game.
1998 Vladimir Guerrero enjoys the first of 42 career multi-home run games.
1998 Mark McGwire enjoys the fourth of five career walk-off home runs.
1998 Ellis Burks homers in his 33rd stadium, setting a new big league record.
1998 Russ Ortiz makes his big league debut.
2000 Atlanta signs free agent pitcher John Burkett.
2000 Boston signs free agent third baseman Gary Gaetti for the final five games of his career.
2001 On Opening Day, it’s the big league debut of Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki. In lesser news, it's also the debut of Shea Hillenbrand, and Jim Tracy manages his first big league game.
2003 Alex Rodriguez hits his 300th career home run.
2003 Mike Bordick’s errorless streak at shortstop ends at 544 chances in 110 games.
2003 Detroit has four pitchers make their big league debuts today, a big league record. The biggest name of them was Jeremy Bonderman. Elsewhere, Shane Victorino also makes his big league debut.
2004 Minnesota purchases Terry Mulholland from Seattle.
2007 Josh Hamilton makes his big league debut.
2008 Kevin Youkilis plays his 194th consecutive game without an error at first base, breaking Steve Garvey’s old record.
2010 Mike Cuellar, 1970s Orioles pitcher, dies.
2011 Ichiro Suzuki gets his 2,248th hit; breaking Edgar Martinez’s club record.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.