Lance Berkman no longer welcome in Houston, St. Louis could be new home


On December 28, 1994, the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres finalized a 12-player trade that sent future MVP Ken Caminiti to San Diego. Houston received a smooth outfielder named Derek Bell in return. The Astros were more than happy with the deal.

Bell gave the club a proven bat in the outfield and a new nickname.

Gerry Hunsicker, the Houston general manager at the time, said Bell would “give the Astros a Killer B lineup” at the press conference announcing the deal, according to reporter Jim Molony. Molony also reported there had been a killer bee scare in the headlines when the trade went down.

Bell would bat second behind Craig Biggio and in front of Jeff Bagwell in the Astros lineup. Together, they formed the “Killer B’s.”

After consecutive second-place finishes in 1995 and 1996, the Astros – led by the Killer B’s – took the National League Central division title three straight years, highlighted by a 102-win club in 1998.

Bell was traded after the 1999 season to the New York Mets for Mike Hampton, Roger Cedeno, and Octavio Dotel. But the beehive stayed abuzz in Houston.

A 23-year-old outfielder named Lance Berkman would replace him. In 2000, the rookie batted .297 with 21 home runs and 67 RBIs. It was the start of a brilliant career in Houston alongside the other Killer B’s.

Berkman spent the first 11 years of his career in Houston. He became one of the game’s quiet superstars in that time, consistently hitting around .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs while flying under the radar in the media. Berkman was an All-Star and a cornerstone of an Astros club that went to the World Series in 2005.

When Bagwell retired after that 2005 run and Biggio followed two years later after amassing 3,000 career hits, Berkman was still there – serving as a bridge from the past to the present. As long as Berkman was around, the buzz remained.

He kept the memories of the Killer B’s alive – the fans dressed like bees for home games and the introductory buzzing sound when one of the B’s stepped to the plate.

Unfortunately, the Killer B’s long tradition in Houston has officially come to an end. Berkman spent over half the 2010 season with the Astros until he was traded to the New York Yankees on July 31. He had hoped – even expected – to return to Houston through free agency for the 2011 season, but the organization had other plans. General manager Ed Wade told the star’s agent the team wasn’t interested.

With Berkman moving on for good now, Michael Bourne is the lone “B” left on the team. Bourne is not enough to continue the legacy as Berkman did. He did not come up with Houston and he’s hardly a superstar. He’s a good player, he’s fast, and he was the Astros All-Star representative last summer.

But he is not a Killer B.

And so, the memories are now a part of history. The buzzing sounds will fade. The yellow and black attire and bumblebee caps will disappear. And Lance Berkman will play for another team in another uniform to finish his career.

The switch-hitting slugger is 35 years old now. He is fresh off the worst season of his career, in which he hit .248 with 14 home runs and 48 RBIs for Houston and New York. But Berkman still has value.

With the right team, he could contribute on a contender in a platoon situation helping younger players, providing leadership, and a dangerous bat from time to time.

The St. Louis Cardinals could be in the market for that kind of player.

Berkman could play a corner outfield position since Albert Pujols will play every game possible at first. The Cardinals wanted a fourth outfielder last year, but passed on Jim Edmonds who had been retired for a year. Jon Jay returns in right field for the Cardinals. Allen Craig is also back, but he has yet to prove himself as a consistent player in the majors.

Berkman is exactly that. He could serve as a backup to Jay, a good pinch hitter, and provide insurance and depth if Pujols was hurt or Colby Rasmus has issues again.

It was only 2009 after all that Berkman hit .274 with 25 homers in 136 games. The year before he batted .312 with 29 round-trippers, 106 RBIs, and led the league in doubles. That performance earned him a trip to the All-Star Game and a fifth-place finish in the MVP voting.

It’s hard to believe that he doesn’t have anything left two years later.

The Cardinals know what he’s capable of after years facing him within the division. The Astros were the team that challenged the Cards the most on a consistent basis in the last decade. And Berkman was a big part of that rivalry.

He batted .292 with three homers and nine RBIs in the 2004 NLCS that the Cardinals won in an epic seven games. A year later, Houston beat St. Louis for the National League crown and a trip to the World Series. Berkman hit .286 with a homer and three RBIs to help his team advance.

Berkman is certainly a player the St. Louis fans and organization respect after over a decade of competing. That respect and familiarity in the division could make Berkman and the Cardinals a nice match.

So, St. Louis if you hear the buzzing sounds again, don’t fight it. The Killer B could be dressed in Cardinals red taking his hacks in 2011.