William Lance "The Big Puma" Berkman (born February 10, 1976 in Waco, Texas) is a Major League Baseball player for the Houston Astros. Berkman is known by his nickname "The Big Puma", a nickname coined in jest by himself while on a sports talk radio show. His official listed height is six feet, one inch, and his weight is 220 pounds (100 kg). Berkman is a switch-hitting outfielder/first baseman who throws left-handed.
Berkman graduated from Canyon High School in New Braunfels, Texas in 1994.
He then attended Rice University, where he was named the 1997 National College Player of the Year, playing for the legendary Wayne Graham, as well as named a first team All-America by Collegiate Baseball Magazine, Baseball America and The Sporting News. He was invited to visit the White House and dine with President Clinton along with the rest of the Baseball America honorees.
Throughout college, he batted a collective .385 with 67 home runs and 272 RBI. His 41 home runs in 1997 ranked third-most in NCAA history. That year he also made the all-time record book in RBI (2nd-134), slugging percentage (6th-1.031) and total bases (4th-263) while leading the Rice Owls to their first College World Series appearance.
Minor league careerEdit
After the Astros drafted Berkman, the team assigned him to play with their "A" minor league affiliate, Kissimmee. In only 53 games, he hit .293 with 12 HR and 35 RBI . In 1998, his second minor league season, he was promoted to class "AA" Jackson. His potential was beginning to show, as he hit .306 and clubbed 24 HR with 89 RBI over 122 games for manager Jim Pankovitz. The Astros took notice, and they granted him a mid-season promotion to "AAA" New Orleans Zephyrs. He played 17 games in New Orleans, and 1998 would prove to be his last full season in the minor leagues. In 1999, Berkman was midway through a great season in New Orleans when he was called up to the parent club, the Houston Astros. Prior to the promotion, he had been hitting a robust .323, although he only had 8 HR and 49 RBI through 64 games. Before being called up to the Majors, he was the starting right fielder in the 1999 MLB All-Star Futures Game.
Major League careerEdit
Throughout his entire high school, college, and minor league career, Berkman played first base. Because Jeff Bagwell was already entrenched at first, Berkman was forced to play outfield to get into the starting lineup. His first stint with the Astros ended with 34 games played. He was demoted during the offseason for seasoning.
The demotion proved brief, however; 31 games into the season, Houston again requested his services, and Berkman showed the club why they had used their first round pick on him. Moving from left field to right field, he hit .297, 21 HR and 67 RBI. This firmly established him in the Astros lineup, and he has been a starter ever since.
2001 was a tremendous season for Berkman, who hit .331 (4th in the NL), posted a .430 On-base percentage (5th in the NL), and drove in 126 runs (7th in the league). He also scored 110 runs and hit 34 home runs, while his 55 doubles led the league. 2001 also marked his first All-Star appearance (he would repeat in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2008) and he was 5th in Most Valuable Player voting.
With the Astros shuffling their roster around before the 2002 season, Berkman agreed to play center field. Although he lacks the range of most center fielders, he read balls well in the outfield and made very few mistakes. 2002 saw his batting average drop to .292, although he kept his on-base percentage high at .405. His power output increased also, resulting in 42 home runs. Berkman scored 106 runs and drove in 128, good enough to lead the league. As a result, he was third in the NL in the Most Valuable Player voting for 2002.
2003 brought about Berkman's worst season since becoming a regular. His batting average dipped to .288, although his on-base percentage was still high at .412. He hit 25 home runs, and only drove in 93 runs, scoring 110 himself. In the field, he played all but one game in left field.
The next season, 2004, saw him rebound at the plate. His average was up to .316, and his OBP was .450, having walked 127 times. He hit 30 home runs, drove in 106, and scored 104 runs. He also hit 40 doubles and appeared in 160 games, the most so far in his career for a single season. Berkman made the All-Star team, and was runner up in the 2004 Home Run Derby with 21 homers. In May, his .785 slugging average and 24 RBI won him the National League Player of the Month for the first time in his career. Defensively, Berkman split 2004 between left and right field.
In 2005, Berkman moved to first base while Jeff Bagwell was injured. He ended up with a respectable 24 home runs and 82 RBIs. He played a crucial role in Game 4 of the Astros' NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. In perhaps the finest moment of his professional career, Berkman hit a grand slam in the 8th inning. That brought the score to 6-5 in favor of the Braves, but the game was tied in the next inning on a two-out solo home run by Brad Ausmus. The teams then battled for 9 more innings in what became the longest game in Major League Baseball playoff history, with the Astros eventually winning the game (and the series) in the bottom of the 18th inning on a Chris Burke home run. Chris Burke had replaced Berkman as a pinch runner in the 10th. In the 2005 World Series, Berkman's first, the Astros were swept by the Chicago White Sox in four games, but Berkman did his part, compiling a .385 average, with two doubles. His six RBIs during that series were by far the most of any of the Astros' hitters.
On September 13, 2006, Berkman became only the 2nd switch hitter in Major League history to hit 40 or more homers in multiple seasons, Mickey Mantle being the other (Mantle hit more than 40 home runs in four different seasons).
During the 2006 season, Berkman had the best season of his career. He hit 45 home runs and had 136 RBIs, breaking the Astros single season record, which was set by Jeff Bagwell in 1997 (135). He also had an excellent .315 batting average, and an on-base percentage of .420, as well as a slugging percentage of .621. He has also hit a career high 5 home runs from the right side of the plate. He finished 3rd in the MVP voting behind Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols.
Berkman started 2007 in a bit of a slump, batting .261, well below his career average, but rebounded for a strong second half of the season. Also, the Astros tried to stimulate offense, changing the batting order a lot, and he has volunteered, if necessary, to move back to the outfield for a few games. Berkman finished the 2007 season with a .278 batting average, 34 home runs and 102 RBIs, along with 7 stolen bases.
Berkman so far has had an outstanding 2008 season, hitting 22 home runs as of July 28, 2008 while batting .344 and posting 76 RBIs. An unusual surprise for the 2008 season is Berkman's speed. As of July 28, 2008, he has 15 stolen bases in 17 attempts, breaking his previous season-high mark (9 in 2004).
In the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star Game he hit a sacrifice fly to score Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez in the sixth inning.
All most of these stats are as of May 3 2007. (exceptions: e.g., some of them mention "May 2008")
- Five time All-Star (2001-02, 2004, 2006, 2008)
- 12th among active players in batting average (.303)
- 5th among active players (25th all-time) in on-base percentage (.416)
- 12th among active players (25th all-time) in slugging percentage (.561)
- 7th among active players (17th all-time) in OPS (.983)
- Led NL in doubles (55) in 2001.
- Led NL in RBI (128) in 2002.
- National League Player of the Month in May 2004 and May 2008.
- National League Player of the Week for April 21-27 and May 5-11 in 2008*
- Lance Berkman holds the National League record for most single season RBIs (136) as a switch hitter.
- Holds the record for most home runs in day games at Minute Maid Park (147).
- Holds the record for most home runs at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati for an opposing player with 19 in his career.
Berkman and his wife Cara live in Houston with their three daughters: Hannah Leigh (May 17, 2001), Carly Anne (August 24, 2003), and Katie Mae (June 18, 2006).
Lance has had the nickname "Fat Elvis" for several years, after an ESPN the Magazine interview in which he stated that his mother thought he looked like Elvis. Dan Patrick asked him, "the fat one or the skinny one," to which he answered, "I guess the fat one." Additionally, in 2005, he was given the short-lived nickname "Berkwell" once he took over Jeff Bagwell's first base position.
However, he is now most popularly known as the "The Big Puma." Before the 2006 season started, in an interview with a local Houston sports radio station, Lance was asked to coin a new nickname for himself. He sarcastically responded that he played baseball like a big puma, that is, he is fierce, sleek, and powerful, yet quick on his feet. And despite its comedic origins, Houston fans and media latched onto "The Big Puma." With his outstanding start in 2008, this nickname also became known on a national level.
Major League Edit
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- Top 500 home run hitters of all time
- List of Major League Baseball RBI champions
- List of Major League Baseball doubles champions
- Major League Baseball hitters with three home runs in one game
- Career statistics and player information from MLB, or ESPN, or Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
- Lance Berkman Scouting Report from Dugout Central
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