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Burks is back for a fond farewell

Rarely have the Red Sox made a more ceremonial roster move than the one they made yesterday in activating Ellis Burks from the disabled list. The move gave Burks and Sox fans a chance to bid each other farewell before he retires after the season. Burks, 40, launched his prolific, 17-year career in the majors with the Sox in 1987.

Burks, who has been hobbled by two knee surgeries this season, also hoped to contribute off the bench in the team's final 11 games of the regular season.

"It would be nice to do something positive," he said. "It would mean everything to me. To come back here meant a lot to me, first of all. But to end my career here where I started, it's even better." It didn't take long for Burks to do something positive. He received a rousing standing ovation when he pinch hit for Pokey Reese with one out in the ninth inning. With a runner on first, Burks lined a single to center before he was lifted for a runner, Ricky Gutierrez, and received another loud ovation."It was emotional, I was so nervous," Burks said. "The reaction by the crowd was awesome. I really appreciated that."

The single was the first hit for Burks since April 23. He missed 133 games on the disabled list.

A first-round draft choice of the Sox in 1983, Burks made his major league debut in '87, stealing more bases (27) at the time than any Sox rookie since Tris Speaker in 1909. He helped lead the Sox to the league championship series in 1988 and '90 before he signed as a free agent with the White Sox in '93. He also played for the Rockies, Giants, and Indians before he returned to Boston last winter for his last hurrah.

"It was a privilege just to tell him he was going to be activated," manager Terry Francona said. "I actually think he was a little emotional about it. I don't want to embarrass him, but I know it means a lot to him, and it means a lot to us."

Francona had limited expectations for Burks on the field.

"I don't know exactly what he can do," the manager said. "There's some restraints physically from what he's been through. But I know he can pinch hit, and we'll go from there."

Burks, acknowledging he is "really sore and achy," indicated he has no choice but to retire. He had hoped in spring training to continue playing long enough to hit his 400th home run and push his career batting average closer to .300.

He is batting .291 with 352 homers and 1,206 RBIs.

"You can't play forever," he said. "As much as I'd like to, you tend to realize there are times when you have to let it go and leave it up to some of the young guys. But I'm here and I'm having fun with it."

A two-time All-Star, Burks is highly respected throughout the game and has played a leadership role with the Sox despite his injuries. Though he will not play in the postseason, he said he plans to "stick around for the parade" after the World Series.

"He's been going through a tough year, but just to be his teammate, that's something I'll always remember," Johnny Damon said. "He came back to Boston for one reason, to get a ring. We feel like we can do it for him."

Burks said he would like to be remembered for his longevity and hustle. He thanked the fans and the Sox for welcoming him back "with open arms," and promised not "to pull a Roger [Clemens] and say I'm retired and then come back."

However, Burks does hope to remain in the Sox organization as a coach or manager.

"I'd love that," he said. "I think I have a lot of knowledge I can share with younger players coming up."

Knuckling down
In his 25 seasons in the majors, Charlie Hough bounced back countless times from struggling with his knuckleball.

The Sox hope he may have learned something that will help Tim Wakefield with his latest run of misfortune.

Hough held a lengthy session with Wakefield before last night's game against the Orioles. Wakefield has gone 0-3 with a 9.45 ERA in his last four starts, allowing 27 runs (21 earned) in 20 innings.

"It's nice to know there's somebody he can talk to," Francona said.

Pitching coach Dave Wallace helped to arrange the session with Hough, who lives in Rhode Island. Wallace has known Hough since their days with the Dodgers in the '80s, and since few pitching coaches know enough about the art of the knuckleball, Hough could prove particularly helpful. Wakefield has worked in the past with members of the small fraternity of knuckleballers, including Phil Niekro.

Hough, who pitched until he was 46, went 216-216 with the Dodgers, Rangers, White Sox, and Marlins before he retired in 1994. Wallace described his session with Wakefield as "very positive."

Wakefield is scheduled to face the Yankees' Javier Vazquez tomorrow night. Wakefield is 1-0 with an 0.68 ERA in two starts this season against the Yankees.

Pesky banned
In a crushing development for the former Sox great, Johnny Pesky was banned by Major League Baseball from sitting in the dugout at Fenway Park, as he has done regularly. He received a written notice of the directive. "I'm hurt by it," Pesky said. "If that's the end, that's the end. I'm not going to jump in the Charles River over it because I can't swim, but I didn't think this could happen. The game has changed, I guess. I understand that." Pesky said general manager Theo Epstein told him he would see what he could do to reverse the ruling . . . With their 78th sellout of the year, the Sox set a club attendance record for the fifth straight year at 2,732,844. They drew 2,724,162 last year, averaging 33,632 a game. The average attendance this year: 35,036 . . . When Doug Mientkiewicz singled home Jason Varitek in the second inning, he recorded his first RBI in 18 games since Aug. 31 . . . Scott Williamson remains a work in progress as he tries to regain the effectiveness he may need to make a postseason roster. "I think we've seen progress, but I don't think we've seen the Scott Williamson you saw last year in the playoffs," Francona said. "At some point, we probably will have to. He's getting people out, but he's just not quite the guy that he's been. That doesn't mean he can't get there." . . . To make room for Burks on the 40-man roster, the Sox released lefthander Phil Seibel . . . When Manny Ramirez stroked his 40th double Wednesday and David Ortiz hit his 40th homer, they became the first pair of teammates in major league history to each collect at least 40 homers and 40 doubles in the same season . . . Channel 38 will present its 10th Player Award tonight. 

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