If Lance Berkman‘s knee surgery indeed turns out to be the straw that broke the Big Puma’s back, then so be it. Berkman can look back at 14 seasons of Major League Baseball with a lot of pride and likely few (if any) regrets. Rather than soulfully mourn his career with some overly dramatic soliloquy, it seems more apropos to celebrate an amazing run that ended earlier than many had wanted.
Berkman can look back on 1805 games played, 7519 trips to one batter’s box or the other, and a nice even 1200 RBI total. His career line stands now at .296/.409/.544/.953 with 360 HR, 412 doubles, and 29 triples. He crossed the plate to account for a run 1119 times. He amassed a total of 49.0 WAR despite having 3 seasons truncated by injuries. He put together a postseason line of .317/.417/.532/.949 which includes the .423/.516/.577/1.093 line he posted in winning the 2011 World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
For historical perspective as some may look ahead to his chances at reaching Cooperstown enshrinement, consider that he closes out his time 165th in WAR among all players to ever play the game. He stands 34th on the career slugging list, 20th in the OPS rankings, 37th in OBP, 28th in WPA. I would hope that voters do not simply view him as a great switch-hitter. Berkman was simply a great hitter who happened to hit from both sides of the plate.
He hit .303/.448/.543/.991 with runners in scoring position. With 2 outs and runners in scoring position, he hit .294/.461/.523/.984. Go search all you like, but you would be hard pressed to find a situation in which Berkman failed to hit well. Better yet, take a moment and quiz baseball fans who had the opportunity to watch Berkman play both for and against their favorite teams. He frequently held the honor of “person you least wanted to see hit in a big situation” against your team. He often simultaneously held the honor of being the “person you most wanted to see hit in a big situation” for your team.
If all this fails to sway you, then maybe you need to reexamine your priorities. Lance Berkman became an outspoken ambassador for the game, great supporter of charities, and a great example of how you can excel at baseball without taking yourself too seriously. The man was a legitimate champion and HoF guy before he ever wore the Birds on the Bat. Playing 176 games for the Cardinals simply provided him with yet another audience full of fans who can now pass along their tales of seeing the big guy play.
Beyond the .296/.408/.533/.942 line, 33 HR, and 101 RBI in those games, Puma was the right guy at the right time. He helped bridge the expanse left by Albert Pujols, and he also changed the clubhouse culture in St. Louis. Maybe the importance of such things will get lost in his pending retirement, but every time you see pictures from “Tuxedo Day” or see Adam Wainwright doing a pre-game dance, remember Berkman. Yadi is the heart and soul of the team, Holliday provides the muscle, and Lance was the big grinning cat that swallowed the canary.
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