William Lance Berkman
(Big Puma, Fat Elvis)
- Bats Both, Throws Left
- Height 6' 1", Weight 205 lb.
- School Rice University
- High School Canyon High School (New Braunfels)
- Debut July 16, 1999
- Final Game September 17, 2013
- Born February 10, 1976 in Waco, TX USA
At Rice University, Berkman set records and led the team to the College World Series for its first trip ever in 1997. In 1995, Lance led the Southwest Conference as a freshman with 26 doubles but his .322 average and 6 homers were relatively unimpressive. The next year, he improved to .398 (4th in the SWC), slugged .747, drove in 92 runs and led the conference with 20 homers. Rice moved to the Western Athletic Conference in 1997 and Berkman was the star, leading the WAC in average (.431), slugging (1.032), homers (41), RBI (134), runs (109) and hits (110). He was named to the All-Conference Team at 1B and won Player of the Year honors. His 41 homers were second all-time in NCAA Division I, trailing Pete Incaviglia's 48 in 1985 and his RBI total was second all-time to Inky's 143. He led NCAA Division I in total bases (263), homers and RBI and was second to Mike Marchiano (1.034) in slugging. He won the Dick Howser Trophy as the NCBWA Player of the Year. He was named to the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. Selected 16th overall in the 1997 amateur draft by the Astros, he signed for a $1 million bonus.
Minor League Apprenticeship
Berkman was assigned straight to high-class A with the Kissimmee Cobras and hit .293/~.411/.543. His OPS was among the best in the Florida State League and even though he had only spent half the year with the club, he was named the 8th-best prospect in the league.
In 1998, Berkman was named the 64th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America and he continued to shine, hitting .306/~.422/.555 for the Jackson Generals with 24 HR, 85 walks and 89 RBI before a late promotion to the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs. With New Orleans, he homered six times in 17 games and had a .271/~.394/.644 mark. In the Triple-A World Series, Lance hit .467 with 3 homers in the decisive game 4 to win it; he was MVP of the Series. He was voted the #10 prospect in the Texas League that year and led the loop with 10 intentional walks.
Major League Debut
Entering 1999, Baseball America listed him as the 13th-best prospect in the minors, between Roy Halladay and Carlos Beltran. He came up for 34 games at the age of 23 with Houston, hitting .237/.321/.387, but spent most of the season with New Orleans, outshining the other college slugging legend, Incaviglia, who hit only .194. Berkman hit .323/~.422/.518 in 64 games for New Orleans, with just 8 homers. He was downgraded to the #37 prospect in the minors after that year.
In the year 2000, after again spending a few weeks in the Pacific Coast League (.330/.479/.563, a walk per game), he played most of the season with Houston, hitting .297 with 21 home runs. That didn't immediately make him a star, though, as Jeff Bagwell and Richard Hidalgo both hit over 40 home runs and batted at least .310, Moises Alou added 30 home runs with a .355 average, and Daryle Ward also hit 20 home runs in fewer at-bats than Berkman had. It was a strong hitters' park.
Stardom with the Astros
Taking the cue, he ratcheted up the production in 2001, hitting 34 home runs with 55 doubles and a .331 average. Houston won the division with 93 victories. Berkman was 5th in the MVP voting, splitting votes with Jeff Bagwell, who was 7th. In 2000, he maintained the high production by hitting 42 home runs (3rd in the league), with 128 RBI (tops in the league). He was 3rd in the MVP voting.
The year 2003 was a bit of an off-year. One highlight came in the first inning of a game on July 13, when he hit back-to-back-to-back home runs with Richard Hidalgo and Morgan Ensberg. He hit two home runs that game - the first multi-homer game of his 2003 season and already the 12th multi-homer game of his career. In 2004, he hit 30 home runs with 106 RBI, and added a personal high of 127 walks. He was 7th in the league in the MVP voting.
In 2005, he missed 30 games, but contributed to an Astros team that went to the World Series. Although Chicago trounced Houston in the Series, Berkman hit .385. Berkman had another great year in 2006, hitting .315 and slugging for a career-high .621 thanks to 45 home runs - also a career best; he drove in 136 runs - third highest in the National League and made the All-Star team for the fourth time as the Astros fell just short of the playoffs.
On September 11, 2009, Berkman hit his 20th homer of the season, becoming the 11th player in baseball history to hit 20 home runs in every season in a decade, joining teammate Carlos Lee and Alex Rodriguez to be the 3rd player to do it in the 2000s. It was a rare highlight in a season in which he was slowed down by injuries and failed to reach either 100 runs scored or RBI; he finished with only 25 homers and hit only .274, his lowest batting average since his initial season.
A World Series ring
Lance continued to hit below his career norms in 2010 and was traded mid-year to the New York Yankees, where he failed to impress. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for 2011. There he had a big comeback season, earning National League Comeback Player of the Year Award as the Cards' starting rightfielder. He played in the All-Star Game and hit 30 home runs for the first time since 2007, then was a key contributor when the Cards caused a major upset by winning the 2011 World Series after it appeared until the season's last day that they would not even make the postseason. He was moved back to first base in 2012, following the departure of Albert Pujols as a free agent, but was slowed down by a pair of stints on the disabled list in the early going. He missed a month with a calf strain sustained in early April, returning on May 13th, then barely a week later injured his right knee when he landed awkwardly after catching a relay from SS Rafael Furcal on May 20th. Exams showed he had damaged cartilage on both sides of the knee, requiring arthroscopic surgery and a lay-off of 6 to 8 weeks. He finally returned to the line-up on July 14th but was injured again in early August and only came back for a handful of games in September. As a result, he was limited to 32 games, during which he hit .259/.381/.444, and missed the postseason altogether.
Berkman is known to sometimes be outspoken. When Commissioner Bud Selig moved a series of games between the Astros and Chicago Cubs from Minute Maid Park to Milwaukee's Miller Park because of Hurricane Ike in September of 2008, he stated: "Major League Baseball has always valued the dollar more than they do the individual, the players and their families." In early 2012, after the Astros had accepted to move to the American League following the purchase of the club by Jim Crane, he once again poked a jab at Selig: "I feel basically like the commissioner extorted Jim Crane into moving the Astros."
Berkman signed a one-year contract with an option with the Texas Rangers on January 5, 2013. He hit .242 in 73 games while being used primarily as the team's designated hitter. He played regularly until he was stopped by inflammation in his hip in early July, and he had been slowed by a sore knee before that. When he came back in September, he played only five more games. The Rangers declined to exercise their option on his contract after the season, making him a free agent once again. On January 29, 2014, he announced his retirement, stating that his continuing knee problems made him unable to mount another comeback.
After retiring, Rice went back to Rice University, to complete the coursework required to earn the degree in kinesiology he never finished as a young man. He was also working as a student assistant coach with the school's baseball team under his old coach, Wayne Graham, as his objective was to work with youth in some capacity in the future.
Lance Berkman is a six-time All-Star who would have had a shot at the Hall of Fame had he kept up his production after his 2011 rebirth. He was one of the top switch-hitters in the history of baseball, but needed to accumulate more impressive career numbers and to show some longevity in order to be considered one of the all-time greats. The fact that he bounced back with a very strong season in 2011 after two off-years was a very good marker towards the goal of reaching Cooperstown, but he followed that with two unproductive and injury-filled years before retiring, badly hurting his chances at future induction. Indeed, in his first year of eligibility, in 2019, he received just 5 votes and dropped off the ballot.
Berkman shares with Lou Gehrig the obscure record for the most consecutive years hitting a home run on the same date. He has hit a home run on each September 21 from 2001 to 2007. Gehrig set the record on June 8, 1938. Berkman is the brother-in-law of former minor league pitcher Joshua Baker.
- 6-time NL All-Star (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 & 2011)
- 2011 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award
- 2-time NL Doubles Leader (2001 & 2008)
- NL RBI Leader (2002)
- 20-Home Run Seasons: 11 (2000-2009 & 2011)
- 30-Home Run Seasons: 6 (2001, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007 & 2011)
- 40-Home Run Seasons: 2 (2002 & 2006)
- 100 RBI Seasons: 6 (2001, 2002, 2004 & 2006-2008)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 5 (2001-2004 & 2008)
- Won a World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011
- Doubles, switch hitter, season, 55, 2001
- Extra base hits, switch hitter, season, 94, 2001