When I began brainstorming ideas on this article, there were many ways I thought of writing it.
Should I write something brief, filled with stats and a quick story about how Lance Berkman was one of the best to play the game?
Should I write something that illustrates my own personal feelings toward one of the all-time Astros greats?
Should I try to obtain short quotes from former players and coaches, as well as writers that covered the Astros during the late 90’s through 2010, when Berkman was traded to the Yankees?
But it didn’t quite go as planned. So now you’re going to deal with this.
Of all the people I asked for a quote on what Lance meant to the game, a personalized story, or any short anecdote they deemed appropriate, a former Astros third base staple separated himself from the rest.
This was mainly due to the fact that out of the 30-something emails and tweets I sent out, he was one of two people to get back to me… and his response was something that was initially brushed off by yours truly. After letting the core of this message sink in, I really think I now understand what Morgan Ensberg meant when he replied with the following message:
— Morgan Ensberg (@MorganEnsberg) January 31, 2014
Looks like we’ve got ourselves a wiseguy.
Or do we? (Yes.)
Take a moment… and really read that.
He was Fat Elvis. He was The Big Puma. He was Lance “Ting Tang” Berkman. (Yes… Ting Tang Berkman). National League record holder for most home runs in a single season by a switch hitter with 45 (tied with some guy named Chipper Jones). Six-Time All-Star. World Series Champion (even if it was with the Cardinals…).
Berkman retires at the age of 37 after a 15 year MLB Career. 12 of those 15 years were spent in an Astros uniform after being drafted in 1997 with the Astros first round pick (16th overall).
Berkman’s career numbers are as follows: .293 BA, 366 HR; 1,234 RBI; .406 On Base %; .537 Slugging %; 1,879 Games Played.
Not bad, right?
Berkman achieved many great things throughout the course of his career, both in Houston and out. Still, no matter how much success, money, or fame that came to him, he never seemed to lose his personality.
Of all the Astros players I’ve never met (meaning nearly all of them), he seems like the nicest, and most genuine. Everything I’ve ever read about Lance points to him “never meeting a stranger”.
When you play professional baseball at an elite level for as long as Berkman did, you’d think it would be easy to get a bit of a big head. But he always played with a smile on his face. You’d always see him chatting it up with anyone lucky enough to make it to 1st.
I think one of my favorite stories regarding Berkman was from a game against the Cubs at Wrigley. He harnessed the power of the pastry to seal an Astros win back in 2003.
This is from the Chicago Tribune in June of 2003:
During a pitching change in the seventh, the good-natured Berkman gestured to fans to throw a couple Twinkies into his outstretched mitt. After they complied, Berkman ate one to a loud ovation, then stuffed the other in his back pocket. The next inning, Berkman hit a two-run homer to seal the Astros’ 9-3 win. Chants of “Twinkie Power” rang out when he took the field in the eighth.
Looks like Ensberg was right here as well.
Berkman was….. hungry.
I’m veering off the beaten path here.
It’s safe to say that Lance Berkman is up there on my list of personal favorite Astros.
I’m sure it’s easy to say that he might be high on some lists of favorite Cardinals as well.
In an era surrounded by steroids, and the suspicion that comes with success, Berkman’s name remains largely untouched. He never pulled punches when discussing the use of steroids in baseball either, which probably contributes to his clean image when so many others might be lumped in due to unfair stigmas and stereotypes *COUGH* Bagwell *COUGH* Biggio.
At the end of the day, you have to consider that Berkman was one of the game’s most beloved players. This love came not only from the players he shared the field with, but from the fans, and reporters that covered his career as well.
Here are a couple of Tweets from Brian McTaggart and Alyson Footer who have both covered the Astros extensively during Lance’s time in Houston:
Lance Berkman is flat out my favorite player I’ve ever covered. Honest. Smart. Funny. Accessible.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) January 29, 2014
Sigh. Thanks for the laughs, Puma! pic.twitter.com/71sHLaYL4u
— Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter) January 29, 2014
The only thing left is to see whether or not the Baseball Writers Association of America decide that Berkman is worthy of enshrinement in the MLB Hall of Fame.
I’ve got my hopes up for him, but after the last few years, who knows what the writers will do.
The Astros, in their statement regarding his retirement, made mention of a possible event honoring Lance this coming season, presumably retiring the number 17, which he wore in Houston for 10 years. I have a feeling that whichever game they choose for said ceremony will be sold out, if only for us fans to get one last shot to say, “Thank You”.
So, Lance… Thanks for everything.
Thanks for the sense of humor you brought to us every day.
Thanks for the production, and positivity.
Thanks for your continuous contribution to Houston through your community outreach and charitable work.
Most of all, thank you for playing good, hard, honest baseball.
We wish you all the best in whatever comes next.