Fat Elvis and a fake mustache is not the only thing that Lance Berkman brings to the defending World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. A true leader on the field and in the club house, Berkman is the true meaning of a leader by example. The 2012 Redbirds will have a nice combination of veterans and young ball players. The presence and guidance of a player the caliber of Berkman is invaluable for the organization.
I will be the first to admit that when the Cardinals signed Berkman, I was not one that immediately jumped on the bandwagon of how great it was that the Big Puma was going to be wearing the Birds on the Bat. It is not that I wasn’t a fan of Berkman. I was as much of a fan that a Cardinal fan could be of this former Killer B, class A Cardinal killer. He is a tremendous ball player but I really felt that his time had come and gone.
Well, by the end of last year, I was of a totally different mindset. I am glad to say that I was wrong. He did still had some left in the tanks. Honestly, I feel there is some more in there. I am not sure how much, but I think there is still a measurable quantity. This past season Berkman put up the best numbers he has put up for several seasons. He ended the season with a .301 batting average, 31 homeruns and 94 runs batted in. Those numbers by far eclipsed what he put up in New York and his last couple seasons with the Astros.
There were times last season the Birds firmly crawled onto the shoulders of Berkman and he carried them. His calmness and poise under pressure, it seemed that he always produced. He looked much like the Berkman of the Houston days when every Cardinal fan cringed when stepped into the batter’s box. The other thing that I learned from the 2011 comeback player of the year, he is a class act. He brings something to an organization that can’t be measured by statistics.
Something that you will always see with Championship teams is its personality. You see in their demeanor they are having fun. The 2011 Cardinals showed that joyful swagger throughout the pennant race and on into the World Series. They enjoyed what they were doing and I contribute a portion of this to team leaders such as Berkman. The all business and almost standoff personality of the former team leader, you could see being eclipsed by the Big Puma.
The road trip when Berkman suggested that all dress in polyester 1970’s style clothing on the team flight to keep things light. There were the rumors of the practical jokes that Berkman would play. His smiling in the dugout and the overall good time approach that he utilized in facing the game showed you can still have fun in the business of baseball. He led on and off the field.
In the off season, he signs a one year deal. He could have probably got more years and more money. But, he says he wants to make sure that he can produce again next year. There are not many ball players that have that mindset anymore.
As the Cardinals arrive for the 2012 Spring training, they shoulder the burden of losing their franchise player and the pressure of defending their World title. They also have a new skipper. Are there some nerves? How does Berkman respond? He says this week they have a chance to be better than last year. He also follows that up with donning a fake mustache during the workout. He joked with Carlos Beltran, asking if taking batting practice off of Adam Wainwright brought back bad memories (which it should have). It seems as if he understands that even though it is a business, he remembers it is a game as first and fore most.
It is this mentality and style of leadership that adds to the value many times over of Lance Berkman. I am anxious to see what the 2012 campaign brings for the Big Puma.