Lance Berkman Still Hitting

Texas Rangers designated hitter Lance Berkman has been connecting well enough to give his new team a big boost at bat this season as he prepares for likely retirement after the 2013 season. Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Berkman threatened to retire in the off-season between 2012 and 2013, but it seems he made the right choice joining the Texas Rangers for what could be his last fling. He may be 37, but he can still make contact and produce big hits.

The Rangers needed to find another bat once they chose not to re-sign Josh Hamilton, and while neither Berkman nor Texas pretends he is the long-term solution it is shaping up that he was just the right answer for this year. With about 25 percent of the season completed, the Rangers are in first place in the American League West Division and Berkman has been a solid contributor.

In 35 games Berkman has hit just three home runs, but he has nine doubles and has driven in 21 runs, is batting .286 and has a .414 on-base percentage. Going into this weekend’s play the Rangers are 27-14 and lead the second-place Seattle Mariners by seven games.

A six-time All-Star, mostly with the Houston Astros, and then the St. Louis Cardinals, during his 15-year career Berkman has been a solid player, but not usually the No. 1 gun in a lineup. He is past his prime and not going to fill that role for Texas, either, but he still hits well enough to matter and to scare pitchers, and he has been very smart at the plate this season.

A left-handed hitter, Berkman has put together some excellent lifetime statistics while not having them be quite strong enough for serious Hall of Fame consideration. During this on-going, and perhaps last season for him, Berkman has 363 home runs, 1,221 RBIs, and a lifetime average of .295.

At his age, and with thoughts stretching ahead to retirement, Berkman was wise to continue his career with an American League team as a designated hitter. He is on the older side to patrol a lot of ground in the outfield, so this role is a natural for him. Although the nicknames probably get mentioned more often in the city where he is playing, besides his 220 pounds Berkman does carry around a couple of heavy duty nicknames: Big Puma and Fat Elvis.

Over the course of his career Berkman has driven in more than 100 runs six times and in 2002 he led the National League with 128 RBIs. His finest all-around work came in 2006 with the Astros. That season Berkman smashed 45 homers, drove in 136, and batted .315. His on-base percentage was .420 and his slugging percentage was .621.

Surely when the Rangers passed on reupping with Hamilton long-term there was a fear that there might not be enough pop in the Texas batting order. And even after the Rangers signed Berkman there had to be some questioning what his value was going to be. After all, Berkman was injured most of last season, playing in just 32 games with 97 plate appearances.

You have to believe that a guy who had a distinguished career would not want to retire on a note like that if he had regained his health. Well, Lance Berkman did get back to full strength, and even if this is his last hurrah, at the moment things are taking form for a much more satisfying departure. Being a contributor to a winner that has World Series potential is a lot more fun than languishing on the disabled list.

Topics: Lance Berkman, Texas Rangers

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