February 10 – Happy Birthday Lance Berkman

berkmanNobody was happier than me, when the Yankees acquired Lance Berkman from the Astros at the 2010 inter-league trading deadline. I had followed the career of the Waco, Texas native ever since he made his Major League debut with Houston in 1999. Back then, the Astros killer B duo of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio were both at the peak of their careers and the addition of Berkman as the third “B” in that hive added even more sting to Houston’s offense.

The switch-hitting first-round draft pick became a full-time starting outfielder for the Astros in 2001 and during the next eight seasons he averaged 35 home runs and 117 RBIs along with a .303 batting average. Injuries plagued the “Big Puma” the next two seasons and with the struggling Astros desperate to shed payroll, Berkman ok’d the trade to the Yankees on July 31, 2010. Houston got Yankee pitching prospect Mark Melancon and minor league infielder, Jimmy Paredes in the deal but they also had to agree to pay $5 million of Berkman’s remaining 2010 salary.

I absolutely loved the move. I was sure that Berkman would deliver some key hits during the Yankees stretch drive and I was really hoping he’d tear it up in the second half so the Yankee would offer him enough money to stick around a second season. As it turned out, he was still not fully recovered from his knee surgery. He struggled at the plate, hitting just .255 during second half of the 2010 season with just 1 home run and 9 RBIs in 37 games. It wasn’t until the ALDS against the Twins that he made an impact, when he broke a 2-2 tie in Game 2 against the Twins with a monster two-run shot in the seventh inning. He then played in every game against Texas in that season’s ALCS but after he hit just .250 in that series and the Yanks were eliminated, any interest on the part of New York’s front office to offer Berkman a new contract, disappeared. I remember being very disappointed that Cashman did not do so. The Yankee GM had already made up his mind that Jorge Posada would never catch again for New York forcing the veteran catcher into the left-handed DH slot for the final year of his final Yankee contract.

So instead, a now healthy Berkman signed with the Cardinals in 2011 and all he did was smack 31 home runs, drive in 94 and average .301 during that year’s regular season and than followed that up by hitting .423 against the Rangers and winning his first and only World Series ring. The injury bug would hit Berkman again in 2012 and he ended appearing in just 32 games for St. Louis. He then signed a free agent contract to play for the Texas Rangers in 2013. Though I was again hoping the Yankees would consider signing Berkman to DH for them this year, New York was absolutely justified to not pay him the $22 million he will receive from Texas this year and next. After all, he turns 37 years-old today.

Berkman shares his birthday with three very good starting pitchers. One from the 1920s, one from the late 1940s and ’50s and one from just last season.

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