Former Astros and Rice University star Lance Berkman may play for the St. Louis Cardinals now (as Texas Rangers fans know all too well), but he doesn’t like his old team’s scheduled 2013 move to the American League West any more than Houston fans do.
Earlier this week, Big Puma ripped Major League Baseball Commisioner Bud Selig for the change. “I hate it. I feel like, basically, the commissioner extorted [new team owner] Jim Crane into moving the Astros,” Berkman told Scott Miller of CBS Sports.com.
Asked if he’d be willing to express that personally to Selig, Berkman said he would, and didn’t back down from his choice of the word “extortion:”
Yeah, because I think that’s exactly what it was: ‘We’re going to hold the sale of the team up until you guys agree to switch’. And it just so happens that the Astros were being sold right at the optimal time for that to happen.
Jim Crane kept it classy in response. “Lance can say what Lance wants to say,” the Astros owner told Miller. “He’s a good player, been around a long time, he has great ties to the Astros and was a great player there for years. We certainly understand he’s opinionated.”
As for Berkman’s use of the word extortion? “I wouldn’t use that strong of a term,” Crane said. “I’d say it was just a business deal that got renegotiated.”
Longtime baseball columnist Jon Heyman, also now of CBSSports.com, was a bit more of a literalist scold, writing:
What Selig did wasn’t unlawful, it wasn’t wrongful and he didn’t perform or threaten force, violence or fear. No, Selig actually authorized a $50 million discount for Crane to entice him to move. Berkman is a nice man, and he went to Rice University (so he’s no dummy), but the next time he suggests anyone used extortion, he may want to consider whether there was illegality, force, violence or fear involved.
Echoed Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune, “there would have been nothing wrong with [Berkman]’s position if he had said that Selig ‘pressured’ the Astros into moving.”
Rogers also argued that fault for the move may actually lie with Berkman’s own player’s association, which was more strongly in favor of rebalancing MLB–which currently has sixteen clubs in the National League and fourteen in the American League–than Selig and the owners were.
But really, all of this is secondary to the fact that Lance Berkman can’t stop loving Houston, and it’s not the first time that he’s shown it.
As Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle wrote, during a press conference last November Berkman said, regarding the Cardinals’ World Series win:
The only thing that would have made winning a world championship better is if we would have done it here … I still consider myself a Houston Astro even though I’m not playing for them anymore.
At that time, Berkman also called the Astros’ proposed move to the AL “a travesty,” saying that “even when I retire and live here in Houston, I don’t want to go watch American League baseball. I’d like to have a National League team.”
But what if he comes back before retirement? The 36-year-old will be a free agent after this season, and the Tribune‘s Rogers sees him coming home, but only because the Astros won’t be in the NL.
“The forced move of the Astros could wind up benefitting Berkman,” Rogers wrote. “He played a solid right field last season and replaces Albert Pujols at first base this year, but could be a valuable guy in Houston when the Astros start looking for designated hitters. Don’t be surprised if he ends his career back where he started.”