Fat Elvis has left the building.
Lance Berkman — nicknamed The Big Puma and Fat Elvis (his mom said he looked like Elvis) — is officially calling it quits after a 15-year MLB career in which he won a World Series, a comeback player of the year award and was named an All-Star six times.
Berkman was a great hitter who finished his career with a .293 average, 330 homers and 1,234 RBIs. He played for the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers and, according to Baseball Reference's WAR calculations, Berkman's contributions gave his teams an additional 51.8 wins.
Berkman's retirement was expected. In fact, many thought he would retire after 2012, but he signed with the Texas Rangers and his banged up knees limited him to 73 games and a .242 batting average. In making his retirement official, Berkman — who will turn 38 next month — told Richard Justice of MLB.com:
"It doesn't make sense to play in the physical condition I'm in," Berkman said. "I'm not going to keep trying to run out there for the heck of it ... I think I'm actually glad about it. I'm excited about the next chapter in my life. I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family, and at some point, I'll definitely coach somewhere."
When a player of Berkman's caliber retires the first question is always the same: Is he a Hall of Famer? In this case, the knee-jerk reaction is no. A deeper look at the numbers doesn't reverse that. If anything, it makes him another player whose candidacy will be strongly debated.
Jay Jaffe, the Sports Illustrated writer and creator of the JAWS measuring system for Cooperstown, sized up Berkman's candidacy when it previously looked like he was going to retire. Many of Berkman's numbers don't meet Hall of Fame averages and, as Jaffe notes, no player from the expansion era with fewer than 2,000 hits has made it in. Berkman finishes with 1,905 hits. Jaffe concludes:
I don't think he'll wind up in, but he deserves to be remembered among the best hitters of his generation.
One stats that favors Berkman is his OPS+, which is 144 and puts him ahead of Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson (139), Harmon Killebrew and Eddie Matthews (both 143). Berkman's mark is equal to Hack Wilson and just a bit behind Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell (147). Also in the same OPS+ area are Larry Walker and Mike Piazza, two guys we've seen dissected during recent Hall of Fame votes. Neither has gotten in, but Piazza remains a possibility.
If anything, this suggests we'll see similar debates about Berkman when the time comes to talk Cooperstown.
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