Why the St. Louis Cardinals Are Lance Berkman’s Team Now
There has been much discussion as of late about the St. Louis Cardinals being John Mozeliak’s team or Mike Matheny’s team now. While I would agree that Mozeliak has firmly placed himself in position to thrive or fail with the bold moves he has made this off season I would argue that this is unequivocally Lance Berkman’s team now.
For the past eight to ten years there has been the assumption that Albert Pujols was the leader on the field and in the clubhouse. I had heard rumblings prior to his departure that maybe all wasn’t as it seemed. The events of the past year and especially the past few weeks have brought more things to light about Mr. Pujols and his leadership. I think that there are several Cardinals who are “leaders” in the clubhouse and on the field. The first that leaps to mind is Chris Carpenter. While he is one of my favorites, I find it hard to lay this tag on him since he isn’t an everyday player. Yadi has a claim, as does Holliday. I think they are leaders in their own way, but not what I feel “the leader” has to be. So I find myself looking at Mr. Berkman.
In the interest of full disclosure I was not a Lance Berkman fan. It might even be true that I severely disliked him when he was with the Astros. It took me most of the season to come around (I believe it was Game 6 that I publicly took back every bad thing I had ever said about him. I even made it FaceBook official). It wasn’t as simple as his production this year (.301, 31 HR, 94 RBI) that brought me around to Team Berkman. While that was unexpected and great it still took me some time to come around, I didn’t really see how he fit and why he was wearing the Birds on the Bat. I felt he had always come off as arrogant and as a jerk before he played here. I’m not sure if it was the adoration of Cardinal Nation that changed him or if he was always that way and I never noticed it.
The turning point for me was in every postseason post-game interview I saw Lance Berkman shoulder to shoulder with David Freese. Freese was playing lights out and becoming a celebrity over night. After every game it wasn’t Albert, Holliday, Yadi, or anyone else next to him. It was Berkman. They both looked like kids that had pulled some great prank. They were having FUN! This said volumes to me, not only about Berkman but about someone in the organization (I’m guessing LaRussa or Mozeliak). They were protecting Freese, but at the same time he was receiving on the job training about how a veteran handles the scrutiny of the media in a highly emotional environment. He watched out for the kid. He didn’t have too. He’s earned his stripes in this league. He has put in his time (I can’t help but to have images of Crash Davis flash as I write this). He could have gone to the locker room and done a multitude of other things. He didn’t. He was there. That’s what leaders do. He deflected when necessary. Established a presence for Freese to emulate and shut up when he needed to.
This is his team now. Will he play every day? More than likely not. Will he have an everyday presence? I believe he will have a positive daily impact. I have always said that I didn’t care if Yadi hit .150 as long as he played defense and handles a pitching staff the way he does. While I think it is extremely improbable that Berkman will put up numbers like he did last year, I could handle him dropping off slightly if he continues to be the presence he was at the end of the year. That may just mean more to a team that looks to be younger and can use the guidance of the veterans on the team. If there is someone for the youngsters to emulate, we could do a lot worse than Lance Berkman.
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