William Lance Berkman, also known as “The Big Puma”, is a professional baseball player from the United States of America and plays as a first baseman. Berkman played at the Canyon High School before graduating in 1994 to attend Rice University.
At Rice, Berkman played for the Owls and in 1997, his junior year, was named as the National College Player of the Year. He was also named to the Collegiate Baseball Magazine, Baseball America and The Sporting News All American First Teams. Part of this honour also saw him travel to the White House to have dinner with President Bill Clinton. Berkman ended his college career with a .385 batting average, tonking 67 homers out of the park with 272 RBI.
In 1997, Berkman hit 41 home runs, the third highest in the history of the NCAA. His 134 RBI were second in the all time list while his 1.031 slugging percentage was ranked sixth and his total bases for the season was fourth at 263. Berkman led his team to their first ever College World Series appearance.
Berkman was drafted at 16th overall, by the Houston Astros, at the 1997 MLB Draft.
Berkman began his pro-career at the Daytona Beach Astros where he excelled in 53 games with a .293 batting average and 12 home runs along with 35 RBI. He was promoted to the AA-Division in 1998 where he smashed pitchers all over the park with a .306 batting average and 24 homers with 89 RBI in just 122 games. Midway through the season, Berkman was sent up to the AAA-Division to play with the New Orleans Zephyrs. Berkman ended the 1998 season at New Orleans and had a .271 batting average with 6 home runs and 13 RBI in just 59 at-bats.
Berkman began 1999 in the AAA-Division but was soon called up to the Astros’ MLB roster after just 64 games where he was batting at an average of .323. Berkman was almost at ease in the MLB and hit 4 home runs in his rookie season along with 15 RBI in 93 at-bats, recording an average of .237. Berkman began his MLB career in the outfield although he had always held first base through high school, college and even the minors. Berkman was called up to play as the starting right fielder at the 1999 MLB All-Star Futures Game.
He began 2000 in the minors again, with the Zephyrs, although just 31 games and a .330 batting average later, he was back in the MLB roster, and for good. His second stint at the top level saw him see out the season with a .297 batting average, hitting 21 home runs and 67 RBI on his way to a permanent spot in the roster.
In 2001, Berkman continued his good work, hitting 34 homers and 126 RBI on his way to an incredible .331 batting average. His batting average, in just his first full season at the top level, was the fourth highest in the National League while his .430 on-base percentage was 5th in the National League rankings. He had a league leading 55 doubles and with stats like these, was an obvious choice for the first of his 5 All-Star Game appearances. Berkman was fifth in the voting for the MVP in 2001.
Berkman was moved to center field in 2002 after major reshuffling of the roster. His batting average dropped to .292 although he hit 42 home runs and 128 RBI, both higher from his previous season totals. Berkman led the league in RBI and runs scored, with 106, while ending third in the MVP voting for the National League. Again, he was an automatic selection for the All-Star Game. 2003 saw a small slump in Berkman’s baseball career, something that would still be too high for most players. He dropped to .288 on the batting average although his OBP was higher than 2002, at .412. Berkman scored 110 runs although his RBI count dipped to just 93 while he had just 25 home runs. However in 2004, Berkman was back to his usual antics on the plate.
With a batting average of .316, Berkman became an ideal candidate for walks and chalked up 127 in the season to raise his OBP to .450. His home run count stood at 30 for the season while he had 106 RBI with 104 runs to his name. Berkman also hit 40 doubles on his way to the 2004 All-Star Game. He also participated in the Home Run Derby and hit 21 to come second in the competition. In May, 2004, Berkman was awarded the National League Player of the Month award after a .785 slugging average and 24 RBI put him on top of the list.
In March 2005, Berkman renewed his contract with the Astros and signed a 6-year, $85 million deal while also making a move to his favoured first base position after Jeff Bagwell picked up an injury. In Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves, Berkman hit a grand slam home run at the bottom of the 8th to give the Astros a 6-5 lead. The game lasted another nine innings to become the longest game in the history of the MLB Playoffs and was eventually won by the Astros. The season, which began with 4 games in the AAA-Division for Berkman, ended with 24 homers and 82 RBI at a BA of .293, in the Majors. The Astros would lose the World Series to the Chicago White Sox despite a .385 batting average against Berkman’s name.
In 2006, Berkman hit 45 home runs to become only the second switch hitter, since Mickey Mantle, to hit more than 40 homers in multiple seasons. Berkman had a .315 batting average to show for the season along with 136 RBI. His RBIs broke Jeff Bagwell’s single season record for the Astros and Berkman finished third in the MVP voting in the National League.
In 2007, Berkman began slowly, batting at just .261 for the first half of the season. The batting order was shifted around a lot and Berkman even went back out to the outfield for a few games to help the team. In the end, he finished with a .278 batting average and 34 home runs along with 102 RBI.
In a contrast to the 2007 season, 2008 began with a blast for Berkman who batted at .385 throughout April and even bits of May. He won the National League Player of the Month award in May and also won two Player of the Week awards when he went 29-32 with 6 home runs. One of those homers had a wet landing in McCovey Cove.
Berkman recorded his 5th appearance in the All-Star Game and had a .312 batting average by the end of the season. He hit 29 home runs and had 106 RBI, ending 5th in the race for the MVP award. In the 2009 season so far, Berkman has been batting at .275 with 21 home runs and 72 RBI. He also hit his 300th home run against the Arizona Diamondbacks in June, 2009.
Berkman has the 12th highest career batting average of all active players in the MLB today while his OBP is the 5th highest amongst all active MLB players. Berkman also holds the record for the most home runs hit at Minute Maid Park in day games while also hitting the most home runs, as an opponent, at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.