Lance Berkman has been—as is his wont—strikingly forthright about his future in baseball since the Cardinals were eliminated: He could basically take it, and play another year, or leave it, and go putter around his alma mater. That's probably how a lot of thirtysomethings with a ton of money already engage free agency, but through Berkman we got to see it play out explicitly, culminating in today's enormous contract with the Texas Rangers.
Enormous might be pushing it for any one-year deal, but some combination of Berkman's unperturbed negotiating stance, league-wide contract inflation, and his agent's powers of hypnosis deserve a lot of credit here. After a season in which he talked constantly of retirement, struggled to run, and got into just 32 games—looking completely finished in the last one—Berkman will be taking a salary hit of about a million bucks.
He'll be making more than he did on his last make-good deal, when the Cardinals signed him following a .248/.358/.413 season over 122 games in Houston and New York and he was confident enough in his own legs to play right field all year.
None of that, of course, is our concern. Whatever he does in Texas, he already gave the Cardinals the benefit of his second act: Hitting as well as he ever had, making postgame interviews entertaining, trying his damnedest to look like someone who should ever play right field. Serving as the intermission between moments of David Freese heroism in Game 6 (which is something Lone Star Ball will have to come to terms with.)
He was never really ours to have, which we'll have to come to terms with. As Cardinals fans we're used to veterans coming here, delighting us with career renaissances, and putting down roots with the organization—becoming True Cardinals. It happens so much that 15 years after Mark McGwire Best Fans in Baseball and hometown discount and baseball heaven are all cliches and half-jokes. With Berkman that was never possible—he was somebody else's hometown star, a rental, and he'll be somebody else's Spring Training instructor and guest in the booth and assistant hitting coach.
But we got 2011, and two years ago—when Lance Berkman looked only a little less done than he does now—it was hard to imagine even that.