Three of baseballʼs most dominant hitters the last decade have joined together, but their confidence isn’t in their ability on the field – itʼs in knowing that God is in control.
Pujols, Holliday, Berkman – Power from Above
The regular season hadn’t even started, but St. Louis Cardinals’ fans were excited about the possibilities as they watched their team in spring training during March.
Albert Pujols. Matt Holliday. Lance Berkman. All together in one dangerous lineup.
Pujols joined the Cardinals in 2001. Holliday was acquired from Oakland in 2009 and Berkman signed a one-year, $8 million deal with St. Louis in the off-season, coming over from the Yankees after becoming a free-agent.
“Some fans are starting to call this new lineup that the Cardinals have ‘Murderer’s Row,'” says Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock, referring to the famed 1927 New York Yankees lineup of Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel and Tony Lazzeri.
Brock worked with Pujols, Holliday and Berkman, as well as the rest of the Cardinals, in Jupiter, Fla. during spring training.
“The thing about this lineup is that there are not really any weak spots, especially when you go down the line and get to Pujols, Holliday and Berkman,” Brock says. “You can’t get through this new Cardinal batting order without pitching to people and that’s where these opposing pitchers are going to ﬁnd a lot of problems.”
“When you have three very good hitters all in a row like these guys are, at least one of them is going to create a problem for you as a pitcher. Back in the late 1960s, we had some guys who were hitters. And, by hitters, I mean guys like Curt Flood who could get on base and get 200 hits in a season. That’s the kind of guys the Cardinals have on their team this year with Pujols, Holliday and Berkman. Those guys will get their hits and if we can get some guys on ahead of them, the Cardinals will be tough to beat this season.”
The threesome’s statistics are staggering.
In 10 seasons before this one, all with the Cardinals, Pujols had amassed career numbers of 408 homers, 1,230 RBIs and a .330 batting average. He had never hit fewer than 32 homers in a season, or totaled less than 103 RBIs or hit below .312. He also made nine All-Star teams, won three National League MVPʼs, six Silver Slugger awards, League Championship Series MVP, spent his ﬁrst ﬁve seasons with the Colorado Rockies. He then moved to the Oakland Aʼs for two-thirds of the 2009 season before coming to the Cardinals. He entered this season with career numbers of 180 homers, 695 RBIs and had a .318 batting average. He has hit below .300 only once in his career – his rookie season in 2004 when he hit a solid .290.
Berkman’s numbers through his ﬁrst 12 seasons were solid, as well. He had hit 327 homers, driven in 1,099 runs and had a career batting average of .295. He has hit 21 or more homers in 10 of those seasons, and except for a shortened rookie season in 1999 and an off-year last season, he has hit close to or better than .300 each year. He has also driven in more than 100 runs in six seasons and 80 or more runs in three other years.
Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa said that having the three power hitters in the same lineup will give him more ﬂexibility when he makes out the lineup card.
“I think the middle of our lineup compares with anybody, but now, with the addition of Berkman, you can move guys around a little more,” La Russa says. “Guys that were hitting ﬁfth can now hit sixth or seventh. So it just deepens our lineup and gives us more options.”
Pujols, of course, has been the leader of the potent Cardinal offense for more than a decade. Arguably the best player in the game, the veteran Cardinal ﬁrst baseman says he’s excited about the slugging additions that the Cardinals have added in recent years.
“Adding Matt was a great addition to our team,” Pujols says. “And now, with Berkman, it’s going to be even better. The Cardinals have created a very powerful lineup here. Berkman is exactly the bat we needed here, and if we can all stay healthy and all play to our potential, we are going to do a lot of damage in this league together.” Pujols, who went into spring training without a new contract and who is in the last year of his current contract with the Cardinals, says he tries not to worry about off-ﬁeld issues.
“These contract negotiations are always tough,” he told Sports Spectrum. “That’s just the nature of the game today. But Jesus Christ is the one who guides all of my decisions and that’s who I play for. Through Him, I’ve learned more than I ever knew and I feel that I have a great responsibility to just stay humble and keep my focus on Him. I believe that whatever I do this season will come from Him. He will guide me and He’s going to show me and provide me with the place I need to be and that’s why all of this contract talk doesn’t bother me.”
“I know in the end, God will help me to make the right decision, just like He helped me to make all my decisions in the past.”
Pujols says instead of thinking about next season and the possibility of where he’s going to play, he would rather focus on the present season and help make this Cardinals team the best it can be.
“We really have a chance to do something special this year,” Pujols says. “We have a very dangerous lineup and I think, as both a baseball player and a Christian, you have to live in the present. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us. In fact, we donʼt know what will happen to us in the next ﬁve minutes. We have a very exciting team now and I’m very thankful that I’m healthy and able to make a living doing what I do. So I just want to enjoy this opportunity to be a part of a great ball club. My one goal in this game is to glorify God in everything I do, whether itʼs through my foundation or on the ﬁeld.”
Berkman – Change of Plans
Berkman, 35, who is four years older than Pujols, is the new kid in the Cardinals clubhouse. He’s a veteran whose leadership skills will not go unnoticed in St. Louis. He also has a youthful enthusiasm for the game and seems to get along well with teammates on any team he plays for.
“I honestly thought that I was going to retire as an Astro,” says Berkman, who spent more than 11 seasons in Houston. “But we have plans that we want to do and it turns out that the Lord has other ideas for us. It was sort of a perfect storm of events that moved me out of Houston and then came the transition time in New York. I went to the Yankees last year and that was really a good experience for me and I enjoyed playing there. Now, I’m here in St. Louis and I have no doubt that this is where God wants me to be. I’m excited to see how it will all play out.”
When Berkman became a free agent at the end of last season, several teams expressed interest in him. One of those teams was the Texas Rangers, which was a consideration because it would get him back to his home state, where he was born in Waco and played baseball at Rice University.
“There were some other teams that I was considering in the off-season but the Cardinals were the team that I really wanted to sign with because I think this team has a legitimate shot at winning the World Series,” Berkman says. “At this stage of my career, I would really like to win a World Championship and what better place to do that than in St. Louis? The Cardinals have a tradition of excellence and itʼs exciting for me to be a part of that tradition.”
“I just hope I can do my part to make us successful. Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols are really the big guns in this lineup and I want to make sure Iʼm contributing to our offense. But whenever you are batting in a lineup as powerful as this one is, it deﬁnitely helps you as a hitter. Hitting is contagious and when guys around you are hitting, it gives you conﬁdence so that you start hitting, too.”
Berkman added that, no matter what team he plays for, God is in control.
“One of my favorite passages of scripture is in I Peter, the ﬁrst chapter,” he says. “It promises us an inheritance that will not perish, spoil or fade no matter what happens to us here. No matter what trials we have to go through, we have an abundant inheritance that is waiting for us. So that’s comforting to me, that no matter what happens on the baseball ﬁeld, as a Christian, I have an inheritance in heaven, I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and because of that, my eternal destination is secure. That’s what you have to hang your hat on. Not the success or failures you might have on the baseball ﬁeld.”
Holliday – Leaning on God
Holliday, who drove in 103 runs last season and batted .312, says he’s excited about the Cardinals’ chances this season.
“It was great to get Lance in here this year and I think we have one of the strongest lineups in the league,” Holliday says. “On the ﬁeld, it’s great to be in the same lineup with guys like Lance and Albert, but off the ﬁeld, it’s great, too. It’s great to be around strong Christians like Lance, Albert and a lot of other believers that we have on this team because we all learn so much from each other. We formed a very tight bond in spring training and I think that is just going to get stronger as the season goes on.” The addition of Berkman, Holliday says, makes a Cardinals team that had pretty good power last season even better.
“Adding Lance makes the lineup deeper because guys can hit in spots that maybe they are better suited for and allows guys to fall into their natural hitting positions,” he says. “Plus, you deﬁnitely get better pitches to hit with a guy like Lance Berkman hitting behind you.”
“When a pitcher has to face three very tough hitters in a row, it starts to wear him down a little more and puts more pressure on him. That pressure leads to fatigue, and hopefully, that fatigue will work to our advantage, especially as the games go into the later innings.”
Like Berkman and Pujols, Holliday says he tries to keep the game in perspective. “Baseball is a game of failure,” he says. “At the plate, the best hitters fail seven out of every 10 times. So we deal with a lot of failure. But I take great comfort in the fact that God is in control of every part of my life – good, bad and everything in between.
“My favorite Bible verse is from Job 38:4. It says ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth. Tell me if you have understanding.’ And that just tells me that I deﬁnitely don’t have all the answers. But God does and I know that I can always count on that.”
And the Cardinals Nation is hoping that its 2011 edition of ‘Murderers Row’ will still be swinging in October.
By Jim Gibbs
This story was published in the Summer 2011 issue of Sports Spectrum.