March 13, 1981: Los Angeles Angels sign free agent Rick Burleson.
Thirty-nine years ago today, the California Angels signed free agent Rick Burleson to a six-year contract worth $4.2 million, which, at the time, made him the highest-paid shortstop in the major leagues. Burleson was set to make $125,000 on the option year of his existing contract had he not found new terms.
The Angels acquired Burleson, along with Clell “Butch” Hobson, the previous December from the Red Sox in exchange for Mark Clear, Carney Lansford and Rick Miller. Burleson had threatened to leave Boston if they didn’t increase his salary, leading to the trade and eventual contract agreement with the Halos.
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The Lynwood, California native, Burleson, nicknamed Rooster for his intense style of play, had a stand-out debut season in Anaheim, batting .293/.357/.372 in 109 games over the strike-shortened schedule in 1981. The former-Red Sox lived up to the first year of his contract with the Angels in earning an All-Star appearance and winning the Silver Slugger award for the shortstop position.
The addition of Burleson to the middle of the Angels’ infield created a dynamic duo with second baseman Bobby Grich. The two middle infielders became the heart of that 1981 team. Despite a 5th place finish, Angels fans will remember that summer for the production and determination Burleson and Grich brought to the diamond everyday.
Unfortunately, 1981 would be the end of Burleson’s success with the Halos. Injuries slowed him down considerably, beginning in 1982. After tearing the rotator cuff in his throwing shoulder, he never played more than 93 games for the rest of his career, which ended with the Orioles in 1987.
Before joining the Angels, Burleson was a three-time All-Star for the Red Sox, and Gold Glove winner in 1979.
*Special thanks to the New York Times TimesMachine for background information used in this article.