Berkman booms to NL Comeback Player honors
Veteran slugger clubs 31 home runs in first season with Redbirds
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals figured they had a quality player in Lance Berkman, someone better than the numbers he put up last year. Even so, it's hard to believe they knew they'd get what they did.
Berkman starred all year long for the Redbirds, staying healthy and raking in the middle of the lineup en route to winning Comeback Player of the Year honors in the National League. The 30 club reporters from MLB.com voted on the award. Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox was the American League winner.
Berkman became the second Cardinals player to win the award in three years, following Chris Carpenter in 2009.
"It's not something that you ever set out to win," Berkman quipped, "but after having been down last year, to be able to come back this year and post a good season, it is satisfying, and you know, I'm certainly happy to win it."
In his first season with the Cardinals -- and his first full Major League season with any team but the Houston Astros -- Berkman batted .301 with a .412 on-base percentage and a .547 slugging percentage. He hit 31 home runs, amassed 94 RBIs and scored 90 runs while playing 145 games -- his best showings in all of those categories since 2008. And he did it while moving from a couple of hitters' parks in Houston and New York to a pitchers' park in St. Louis.
"I felt like that I could hit 30 homers if I was healthy," Berkman said. "And you know, the problem is, this ballpark is not conducive to home runs. I think any time you get to 30 here, you feel pretty good about yourself."
Berkman made the All-Star Game for the sixth time in his career, and started for the third time. He joined teammate Matt Holliday in the NL outfield in Phoenix in July.
The switch-hitter answered preseason questions not only about his performance but his health. He avoided the disabled list while playing in the outfield full-time for the first time since 2004.
To top it off, Berkman helped carry St. Louis to its eighth postseason berth in 12 years. He emerged as a popular figure among not only teammates but fans, and has already signed on for another year with the Cardinals. It's quite a turnaround from a player who was considered a significant question mark coming into the season.
"He's just been a great player for our team," manager Tony La Russa said. "The fact that last year he was hurt, couldn't really show himself, we [are] really the beneficiaries."
A year earlier, splitting the season between the Astros and the Yankees, Berkman scuffled to a .248/.368/.413 final line. Berkman spent much of the year playing catchup after undergoing knee surgery early on. He was confident he could contribute in 2011, but few people outside Berkman's own home and perhaps the Cardinals' front office foresaw this kind of rebound when he signed a one-year deal as a free agent during the offseason.
"It doesn't take long for people to move on to the next page, so to speak, in this game, and say, 'Well, he's lost it,' or you're never heard from again," Berkman said. "You see it happen all the time. ... I wasn't like thinking, well, that I had to come back and prove people wrong. That wasn't my attitude at all. I know that that's part of the business and especially when you get to be a little older, that kind of speculation happens all the time."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.