Skip to content

Is Lance Berkman a Hall of Famer?

May 23, 2012, 2:00 PM EDT

World Series Rangers Cardinals Baseball

There have been several times over the past 12 years or so when Lance Berkman has certainly felt like a Hall of Famer. In the moment, anyway, as he went on tears and put up seasons that matched up with all manner of men in Cooperstown.

But, given that he didn’t have a full time gig until he was 24 and given that he seems to be hitting the end of the road after only 14 seasons — some of them shortened due to injury — it seems pretty likely that Berkman won’t get a lot of love when he becomes eligible for voting.  The counting stats just aren’t there and, no matter what we think of counting stats, they matter and always have for the Hall of Fame.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate someone who is an inner-circle Hall of Very Gooder, and yesterday David Schoenfield of ESPN.com did just that.  And while David himself can’t convince himself of Berkman’s Hall-worthiness, he does a great job of reminding us just how good a hitter the dude was (and still is, if he comes back from his injury):

So where does that leave us?

• A player who was one of the elite hitters of his generation.
• Ten Hall of Fame-caliber seasons, plus a great partial season in 2000 (.297/.388/.561 in 114 games) and a not-so-great 2010.
• A terrific postseason performer.
• A player who didn’t win an MVP Award but fared well in the voting.

…It’s interesting to compare him to his one-time teammate, Jeff Bagwell, who obviously isn’t in the Hall of Fame (for some reasons we all know about) but whom many of you and in the stat community believe is a no-brainer Hall of Famer …

I’ve probably contributed an awful lot to this, but I sort of hate that Hall of Fame discussions often result in people denigrating the careers of those who fall just short. Making the perfect the enemy of the good as it were.  Good for Schoenfield for celebrating the good.

  1. l0yalr0yal - May 23, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Absolutely.

    • purnellmeagrejr - May 23, 2012 at 5:29 PM

      He can be put in the annex next to Harold baines.

      • Kevin S. - May 23, 2012 at 6:13 PM

        Why would he have anything to do with the inferior Baines?

  2. El Bravo - May 23, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Yes.

  3. blues1988 - May 23, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    yes for sure he is and i also really like the fact that currently, at this moment the top posts all have pictures of cardinals (minus the fact that one is berkman limping off)

    • ajcardsfan - May 23, 2012 at 2:12 PM

      I think Craig did that on purpose to subtly troll Phillies fans.

      • CJ - May 23, 2012 at 2:53 PM

        South coast bias!

  4. nolanwiffle - May 23, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    Sure….just so long as he isn’t wearing a Yankees hat on his plaque.

    • umrguy42 - May 23, 2012 at 2:14 PM

      As a Cardinals fan who’s enjoyed his presence on the team, if he went in, it should be in a ‘Stros cap.

  5. djpostl - May 23, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    Love Berkman and definitely think he was a great player, but he falls short of the Hall in my eyes.

    The Schoenfield piece sums it up best with:

    “Bagwell did that in 2,150 games, Berkman over 1,787 games so far, so it’s not exactly the same thing. Plus Bagwell had to play his early years in the Astrodome and was a superior first baseman and baserunner. Anyway, the point is they’re pretty close as hitters, which many may not realize. ”

    Those games he didn’t play (compared to others in the Hall, or even his own era), the friendly park he did play in jacking up his numbers in the one facet of the game he excelled in, his shortcomings defensively (and for most of his career on the base paths) have to get factored in.

    • pmcenroe - May 23, 2012 at 2:30 PM

      Yeah I would have to agree. He certainly put up great number, but with less than 7500 career PA it just feels like he didn’t do enough. Then to factor in the parks and positions he played; I mean BB Ref has him at a 49 WAR which is pretty substandard for a HOFer, and I wouldn’t exactly put this injury into the Kirby Puckett/Sandy Koufax class. Though if last season was any indication it looks like he has a bit left in the tank, and I for one would love to see him comeback this season or next.

      • djpostl - May 23, 2012 at 5:23 PM

        Yeah I really would have liked to have seen him play longer. He was having another great year.

  6. sdelmonte - May 23, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    My knee jerk reaction to the question is yes. But I am glad David quantified my feelings.

  7. stex52 - May 23, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    Always loved the guy in Houston; a total class act and an upstanding member of the community. The only reason he is in a Cards’ uniform is the Astros turned down a home town discount. Their loss; but I am glad for him. He got his WS ring. It will be a while before the Astros threaten for that.

    As I see it, he has two things working against him:

    1. Counting numbers.
    2. He was always a hitter in search of a position. He was smart and hard-working enough to be an asset at the position (usually right field or first, because the Astros had Carlos Lee or Moises Alou for a lot of that time), but he was never remotely what you would call a five-tools player.

    But that doesn’t detract from what he did accomplish if he doesn’t come back.

    I don’t think he will make the HOF. But I would be happy to be wrong.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 23, 2012 at 2:45 PM

      This is separate from the HOF discussion, but to strengthen your point about what a classy guy he is, I remember a player getting hurt fairly recently in a game Lance played in. I remember Lance helping the injured player on the other team, and walking with him as he got taken off the field, really concerned that the guy was hurt.

      You never see players go to that length to show respect and care for their rivals. He completely won me over as a human being ever since.

      And man, what a hell of a ballplayer either way.

      • stex52 - May 23, 2012 at 2:59 PM

        He is planning to retire in Houston. If he doesn’t get a personal services contract for the rest of his life management is missing a bet. Very popular player in this part of the world.

    • gostros19 - May 23, 2012 at 4:43 PM

      Lets not forget he served as the Astros starting CF in 02 or 03 I believe it was.

    • mybrunoblog - May 23, 2012 at 6:09 PM

      Lance Berkman will get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. When he pays his $17.50 like the rest of us.

  8. hisgirlgotburrelled - May 23, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    He has a better case than Johnny Damon.

    • schlom - May 23, 2012 at 2:50 PM

      Interestingly Baseball Reference rates Damon better than Berkman in WAR, 51.6 to 49.0. However fangraphs has a huge edge to Berkman, 60.5 to 45.9 (although two great fielding seasons are probably skewing his numbers by close to 5 wins). Baseball Prospectus has them closer but still Berkman has the edge, 56.0 to 50.0.

  9. stevem7 - May 23, 2012 at 2:26 PM

    Gotta laugh, anymore it’s a different name for IS THIS GUY A HOF’ER? Anyone remember when you had to be a dominant player of your generation? Joe D, Mickey Mantle, Bob Gibson, etc. Nowadays it seems any fool who can hit 22 points over the Mendoza Line becomes a HOF Candidate. Johnny Damon is another one who’s name keeps popping up. Sorry but there are very very few HOF guys playing the game today.

    • pmcenroe - May 23, 2012 at 2:52 PM

      have you seen a list of the guys from the 1930′s who are in the the HOF?

    • thefalcon123 - May 23, 2012 at 2:55 PM

      “Anyone remember when you had to be a dominant player of your generation?”

      No. This has never been the case. Those guys are hall of famers, but they make up about 0.1% of the hall. Let’s see…you got Freddie Lindstrom, Chick Hafey, Jim Bottomley, Bill Mazeroski, Pie Traynor, Earle Combs…etc, etc. etc. Lance Berkman is better than many, many players currently in the hall of fame.

    • jwbiii - May 23, 2012 at 8:38 PM

      “Anyone remember when you had to be a dominant player of your generation?”

      So how old were you in 1936?

  10. bobulated - May 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    Stats wise? Yes, he is a borderline HOFer says the saber-believer in me. But all the times I saw Berkman playing live at the park did I ever sit there and think “Wow, I’m watching a future Hall of Famer!”? No. Not like I did for Biggio and Bagwell. Will I tell my kids and grand-kids about my memories of seeing him play at the park? Probably not. And IMHO think that’s still how a lot of writers vote, at least initially. So while I’m not saying he will never get in or doesn’t deserve to be in, I think it will take a lot of lobbying and close to the max number of ballot years for him to get in, much like Blyleven.

  11. dirtfrompeedysuniform - May 23, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    No

  12. thefalcon123 - May 23, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    I think Lance falls a little bit short. God knows he had a good enough peak for it, but his career numbers are similar to those of a Jim Edmonds (I actually think Jim Edmonds is a HOFer, but he put those numbers as an excellent fielder in a premium defensive position, which Lance did not).

    That being said, I would hardly kick and scream if he made it in someday. He’d be better than a few BBWAA choices made in recent years and was much better than a lot of guys already in the hall. He had an (and hopefully will continue to have) and amazing career. If he can get healthy and put up a couple more excellent seasons, then he can easily push himself over the edge.

  13. jcarne9014 - May 23, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Unfortunately, he will probably get in. He is certainly just as HOF-worthy as many players that are already in there. But, I have always thought that if you had to think about it at all, a player should not get in. Joe D, Mantle, Gibson, Ruth, Cobb, Ripken, Ryan…all no brainers. Rice, Mazeroski, Andre Dawson…guys like that should not be in. Berkman was a very good player, not an all-timer.

    • thefalcon123 - May 23, 2012 at 3:37 PM

      There are a whole slew of players between Dimaggio/Mantle and Rice/Mazeroski. If you use the DiMaggio/Mantle standard, you exclude Al Simmons, Willie Stargell, Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Roberto Alomar…

      Hell, but that standard, you exclude Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, and Reggie Jackson too!

      If you’re standard is that absurdly high, you will see someone elected to the hall about once every 6 of 7 years.

      • jcarne9014 - May 23, 2012 at 4:01 PM

        Good point, Falcon. You may be right. My standard might be too tough. That’s what always makes the HOF voting so maddening and perfect fodder for places like this. 207 former major league players have been elected. Some number are borderline and some number just should not be in at all. However, in this case, I think Berkman is closer to someone like Albert Belle than he is to McCovey. And Albert Belle is no Hall of Famer.

      • thefalcon123 - May 23, 2012 at 4:14 PM

        “I think Berkman is closer to someone like Albert Belle than he is to McCovey. And Albert Belle is no Hall of Famer”

        Belle is actually a really good comparison. I think Berman was better (more good years, much better at getting on base). They’re both guys who had outstanding peak years but whose careers were too short to put them in the hall (in my opinion anyway).

        Really, many HOF arguments come down not how good a player was, but what ones minimum standard for a hall of famer is in their opinion. Out of mere curiosity, who are a few players who would meet your own personal minimum requirements for HOFer?

      • jcarne9014 - May 23, 2012 at 4:21 PM

        Falcon – answering your question below. Here are 7 off the top of my head…Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Pujols, Ichiro, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome

  14. phillyphan83 - May 23, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    ha! not a chance

    • drewsylvania - May 23, 2012 at 3:19 PM

      Neither is Utley or Howard.

  15. skerney - May 23, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    The answer is no.

  16. ftbramwell - May 23, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    Can someone please tell me where Schoenfield says Berkman is not a hall of famer? My reading of his conclusion is that: “What do you think? Myself, it’s a close call, but I think those peak years were so good I’d vote for him. Ten years as one of the very best hitters in the game? Works for me. ” Come on, Craig. You’re a better lawyer than this.

    The talk on this issue is largely academic until we know how voters will treat Bonds next year. If Bonds — arguably the greatest offensive player ever to play the game — doesn’t make it in, we’ve got the hall of irrelevancy, not a hall of fame.

    Finally, WAR is not a legitimate statistic and, therefore, is not a legitimate metric for determining whether someone gets into the hall of fame. Why isn’t WAR a legitimate statistic? It doesn’t take into account, for example, a catcher’s ability to call a game. Nor, by way of another example, does it take into account that a pitcher (Maddux) is going to feel much more comfortable throwing that two-seamed fastball (his best pitch) with Blauser and Lemke behind him than if he had two below-average defenders.

    • thefalcon123 - May 23, 2012 at 3:41 PM

      “Finally, WAR is not a legitimate statistic and, therefore, is not a legitimate metric for determining whether someone gets into the hall of fame. Why isn’t WAR a legitimate statistic? It doesn’t take into account, for example, a catcher’s ability to call a game. Nor, by way of another example, does it take into account that a pitcher (Maddux) is going to feel much more comfortable throwing that two-seamed fastball (his best pitch) with Blauser and Lemke behind him than if he had two below-average defenders.”

      Numerous studies have shown that the effect of a catcher on a pitchers performance isn’t that big of a deal. See “Baseball Between the Numbers” and the chapter “Is Mike Matheny a Catching Genius?”

      Secondly, Maddux certainly felt pretty comfortable without him in 1992, when he won the Cy Young with the Cubs. And in 1998, when Blauser and Lemke were both gone and Maddux lead the league with a 2.22 ERA.

      Your comments on WAR are foolish and may you burn in hell for all eternity for them. Wait…that’s too far. Your comments on WAR are contrary to statistical study and I disagree with your assessment.

      • ftbramwell - May 23, 2012 at 3:48 PM

        If the catcher doesn’t make a difference, why do certain pitchers have personal catchers? Why didn’t AJ want to throw to Jorge? Why did so many pitchers say Gary Carter called a great game?

        The comment about Blauser and Lemke was not written as well as it should have been. The point is that the Braves had great up-the-middle defense, and that a pitcher’s faith that the guys behind him will catch the ball is a factor.

        The WAR formulas are just not good enough at this point to determine how much an individual player contributes to a win.

      • thefalcon123 - May 23, 2012 at 4:02 PM

        http://goo.gl/eVae4

        Please, just read the article. It’s in depth and explains why the value of game calling is so vastly overrated.

        Why would they want to throw to a personal catcher? Perhaps because they have the same misplaced belief you have. Baseball players aren’t exempt from being wrong about things. Why did Wade Boggs eat chicken before every game? Does chicken cause one to be a better hitter?

        Point #2. Yes, defense contributes to pitching, but why would faith in it be a major factor? If Maddux going to throw worse pitches if Skip Schumaker is at 2nd? Maddux was a great pitcher before, during and after Lemke/Blauser. He was a great pitcher when Lemke and Blauser were out with injuries.

        Point #3. No, WAR is not perfect, as no one has claimed. What it is is by far the best individual statistic for determining a players worth.

  17. brewcrewfan54 - May 23, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    If it ends this year he’s had a great career but it just isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame in my opinion. I would have loved to have him on my team though.

  18. drewsylvania - May 23, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    For me it all depends on how much you value longevity. Berkman’s career OPS+ is 146, good for 47th all-time, and ahead of a bunch of HoFers. But he had 2000 fewer PAs than Bagwell (who also had a 149 OPS+).

    Tough call, for me. And, since it’s the Hall of Fame, someone will ask whether he was “famous” enough.

  19. drewsylvania - May 23, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    Somebody downthumbed nearly every post. It’s probably Heyman.

  20. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 23, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    • Ten Hall of Fame-caliber seasons, plus a great partial season in 2000 (.297/.388/.561 in 114 games) and a not-so-great 2010.

    David Schoenfeld, professional troll. How do you figure 10 HoF caliber seasons? By rWAR, he peaked at 5 seasons over 5 WAR with two over 6. That’s not even close to HoF level. So, not exactly a point in Berkman’s favor.

    …It’s interesting to compare him to his one-time teammate, Jeff Bagwell, who obviously isn’t in the Hall of Fame (for some reasons we all know about) but whom many of you and in the stat community believe is a no-brainer Hall of Famer …

    As mentioned above, Berkman had two seasons over 6 rWAR with a top MVP finish of 3, even though RJ, Schilling, Jeff Kent and Vlad all had far better seasons than he. Bagwell had four seasons over 7 with a high of 7.9 in ’94 when he won the MVP. Also, as another mentioned, Bagwell was the better defender and runner.

    So yes you can compare them, and it’s not even close. Berkman is a nice guy but he had neither the peak nor the longevity for the HoF.

    • stex52 - May 23, 2012 at 4:25 PM

      I’d love to argue with you, but your stats arguments pretty much dovetail with what I saw while watching his career. But one of the best hitters it has ever been my good fortune to watch.

      And if he gets voted in anyway, I will be happy.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 23, 2012 at 4:40 PM

        There’s no shame in being a great hitter though. Almost seems like some people get offended if you say X player isn’t a HoFer (not saying you are, general you), because they feel you are saying X player is bad. Berkman was a really good player, and a great hitter (he has a better triple slash than Arod does). But there’s more to the game than just hitting (defense, running) which he wasn’t as a good at.

        And from all accounts, he was a great guy to boot. No shame in being really good.

    • Kevin S. - May 23, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      As noted upthread, rWAR is quite a bit harsher on Berkman than fWAR. I’ve got 7 5+ fWAR seasons (and even the two fluky-high fielding years would still qualify if you zeroed out the fielding component). He’s a lot closer using Fangraphs.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 24, 2012 at 12:35 AM

        True, but everyone’s numbers scale up* on fangraphs. And even then, the comparison to Bagwell is absurd:

        rWAR/fWAR:
        Bagwell: 76.8/83.9
        Berkman: 49.0/60.5

        *scale isn’t the right word here, but increase seems a bit ridiculous to use. Think you know what I mean though.

  21. mianfr - May 23, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    The Hall of Fame is a marathon, not a collection of rate stats.

    He was a great player, but he’s going to come up just a little bit short.

    • Jack - May 24, 2012 at 12:08 AM

      “The Hall of Fame is a marathon, not a collection of rate stats.”

      …you’re saying the same thing with both examples

      • mianfr - May 24, 2012 at 1:36 PM

        Well, if you want to hand out your own medals to the people who have the best paces through 15 miles (or 1 mile, or 5 miles, or whatever) in the London Olympics, be my guest, but the official ones come for those who complete the 26.2.

        And since I’m already so far past the comfort zone with this metaphor anyway, I’ll add that you don’t get anything for leading the first 20 miles and then pulling a hammy.

  22. brewcrewfan54 - May 23, 2012 at 4:31 PM

    Even though I don’t thin he is one, the one thing he has going for him I think is the fact that he is a switch hitter. Other than Mantle are there any other switch hitters in the Hall? That could be his way in.

    • brewcrewfan54 - May 23, 2012 at 4:36 PM

      Ok, Eddie Murray, Roberto Alomar, Pete Rose and soon to be retired Chipper Jones.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 23, 2012 at 4:42 PM

        Pete Rose

        Huh?

      • brewcrewfan54 - May 23, 2012 at 5:02 PM

        I know he’s not in the Hall but he was certainly good enough to be.

  23. mudhead123 - May 23, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    No…

  24. yankeesfanlen - May 23, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    [Seinfeld voice] Berkman!

  25. Walk - May 23, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    I think not but i also hope he gets in the hall. Having played in the steroid era is going to taint all the players and cost them some votes.

    • 18thstreet - May 24, 2012 at 3:22 PM

      Let’s ask Pedro Gomez what he suspects about Berkman and steroids. That ought to be the final word.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Featured video

This was 'the perfect baseball game'
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. S. Kazmir (5570)
  2. G. Springer (3961)
  3. M. Machado (3301)
  4. B. Harper (2976)
  5. C. Kimbrel (2929)
  1. I. Davis (2891)
  2. K. Uehara (2862)
  3. J. Chavez (2701)
  4. D. Pedroia (2621)
  5. J. Reyes (2618)