You may not have realized or remembered that the move to the American League will bring a familiar face back to Houston quite a few times this year. Lance Berkman fizzled out of the national spotlight a bit in the past year, probably due to the four different trips he made to the disabled list in 2012. After a return to his old form in the Cardinals' championship run in 2011, Lance played in only 32 games last year. He signed a 1 year, $10 million contract with the Texas Rangers in January.
What to make of Berkman in a different uniform, especially one of a rival? Lance did not leave on the best terms with the Astros when he was traded to the Yankees in 2010. That offseason, Milo Hamilton criticized Lance for being out of shape in the midst of his worst season as an Astro. Lance posted a .245/.372/.436 line that year with only 13 home runs and 49 RBIs, not what was expected from the most consistent hitter on the team.
That consistency, though gone since 2009 with the Astros, has remained with Lance when facing his hometown club. Berkman has had success hitting against the Astros, posting a .425/.477/.900 line in with 5 home runs in 44 plate appearances in his two years with the Cardinals. He's only had one career at bat against Tuesday's starter Lucas Harrell, so there's not a lot to predict from there. He's penciled in as the Rangers' starting DH and hit third on Sunday, as he picked up two base knocks off of Bud Norris.
There's not much to elaborate on about Berkman's legacy as an Astro, even to the most casual fan. In addition to putting up power numbers consistently with the best hitters in the league, he's regarded as one of the best switch hitters in baseball history. His role on a number of Astros playoff teams, especially the 2005 World Series run in which he anchored the middle of the order, will be remembered by Astros fans forever, but he will be especially remember for this.
As an attendee at Game 5 that night, Berkman cemented his legacy as an Astro. That home run set the good guys up to clinch the pennant at home (we know what happened next), and the subsequent moments as Berkman rounded the bases were the most euphoric I've experienced as an Astros fan.
The messy split between Berkman and the Astros franchise could've been handled better on both fronts. I think there is a valid question as to why Lance looked so bad in 2010, then showed up to Cardinals camp the next spring in the "best shape of his life" and put up vintage Lance numbers. I was happy for Lance; he got a ring and wrote himself into Cardinals' lore with some clutch hits in the World Series. But would history have been different if he performed better in his last year in Houston? He probably would've been dealt anyway, but could've snagged a much bigger return. Who knows.
So there is some animosity toward Lance Berkman and his legacy as an Astro as he'll step up to the plate later tonight again as a Texas Ranger. What will you do? Would you boo Lance or applaud him? I applauded him on Sunday night, though I did hear a few boos. The legacy he built in Houston deserves recognition, regardless of the team he plays for now or even the circumstances in which he left. The Astros would do well to bring a guy like Lance back with the team someday in a television or radio capacity when his playing and coaching days are over. He'd be great in the booth and will continue to be a great baseball ambassador to the city of Houston and the Astros, as he has been since his career began.
So here's to Lance Berkman as an Astro, but here's also to Lucas Harrell striking him out a couple of times tonight. We still love you Lance!