Boy, I sure used to like to watch Lance Berkman. Watching him come up as an Astro, alongside Bagwell and Biggio, was a lot of fun. Watching him move around the field until he sank in at first base. Watching him develop into an all-around player. From 2001-2008, he put up at least 6.0 WAR in 6 of 8 seasons. He became the face and the voice of the franchise.
But towards the end of his career in Houston, Berkman began to wear on me a little. He never seemed to be playing all-out. It looked like he was never took Spring Training seriously. He acted like he wanted to be anything but a team leader. He seemed, in a way, irresponsible. And lazy.
So when the Astros traded him to the New York Yankees for Mark Melancon (later flipped for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland) and Jimmy Paredes, I wasn’t terribly sad to see Lance go.
His closing quote sort of summed up the Lance Berkman experience:
“I was thinking to myself on the way over here, I was like ‘Man, I’m going to play for the New York Yankees against the Tampa Bay Rays, basically for first place in the division,'” Berkman said before the game. “Or I’d be going up to play the Milwaukee Brewers, you know what I’m saying, there’s like 10 people in the stands.”
Yeah. That’s the Lance Berkman I came to know towards the end of his career as a Houston Astro.
When he joined the Cardinals – a division rival – prior to the 2011 season, I wasn’t sad to see him play against Houston. The Cardinals had a first baseman named Albert Pujols, so they moved Berkman to right field. I think that made him feel driven to not make a fool of himself.
It reminded me of another Berkman quote at the time of his trade to the Yankees.
“One of the reasons I decided, I was like here you are at this point of your career, something’s got to change,” Berkman said. “You’ve got to do something, either retirement or get into a situation where you’re scared again. If you come here and do great, the people will love you. If you flop, then they’ll be, this guy is a bum and get him out of here. Either way it’s simulating.”
Berkman finished with 4.9 WAR that season. He was an All-Star. He finished in the top ten in the MVP vote.
I didn’t think ill of him then, either. Because to me, that’s Lance Berkman. A guy who needs extra motivation. A guy who doesn’t seem to like playing baseball very much, so he takes it easy as much as he can unless there’s some sort of major incentive on the line for him.
Certainly not what you want to see in a veteran leader.
When rumors started swirling that Berkman may return to Houston as a DH in 2013, I was skeptical. His value, outside of the short-term value of hitting third and providing some switch-hitting power in the middle of the lineup for a team that isn’t going to be very competitive anyway, seems nil. This is a guy who never wanted to be a leader. Never wanted to teach. This is a guy who needs to be motivated in exceptional ways.
And then he opened his big fat mouth and summed it up all very nicely for me.
“It just depends on what kind of money they are talking about,” Berkman said. “Am I going to come back for a couple of million bucks, no.
“If they want to pay me close to what I feel like my value is in terms of what I bring to the table, I mean if they’re going to ask me to be there and hit third and play every day and DH every day, I want to be compensated like a guy who is a Major League three-hole hitter.
“Obviously, I would be willing to take a little bit less because it’s my hometown and for the opportunity to get back to the Astros organization. I’m just waiting for them to make some sort offer and go from there.”
An aging, oft-injured 37-year-old DH who thinks he’s still a superstar. Who thinks he’s worth more than “a couple of million bucks.”
You know what, Lance? Just go away. Go coach at Rice. I, for one, don’t really want you contaminating the Houston clubhouse.