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Mid-Summer Musings: Berkman Alone in the 40-40 Club

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First off, here's the link to MLB.com's coverage of Anthony Rendon winning the 2010 Dick Howser Trophy

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With his recent home run splurge as the backdrop and as MLB prepares for the All-Star Break, it seems as good a time as any to delve a little deeper into Lance Berkman's 1997 season and those of the other notable NCAA home run hitters.

            For several years, I've enjoyed tossing out the following trivia question: "Who is the only player to hit 40 home runs in a season in both Division I  baseball and the major leagues?"     The answer is Berkman, whose 41 homers as a junior at Rice in 1997 rank third on the NCAA single-season list and who hit 42 in 2002 and 45 in 2006 for the Astros.

            While many baseball fans toss out Pete Incaviglia's 48 homers in 1995 (more on that later) as the logical place to start, and given all the hype that surrounded his debut, they are surprised to learn he never came within shouting distance of that total in the majors.   The other two names on the list of players to have topped 40 homers in an NCAA season are less easily recalled, but here's the list:

1.     Pete Incaviglia, Oklahoma State, 1985         48 (75 games)   

2.     Jeff Ledbetter, Florida State, 1982               42 (74 games)   

3.     Lance Berkman, Rice, 1997                          41 (63 games)   

4.     Bandon Larson, LSU, 1997                           40 (69 games)

Incaviglia made the jump directly to the majors in 1986 after forcing a trade from Montreal (who had drafted him with the #8 selection in 1985) to Texas.  He hit 30 homers as a rookie and topped 20 in each of his first five seasons with the Rangers, but only topped 20 once over his final seven seasons (hitting 24 while helping the Phillies reach the World Series in 1993).  His final appearance at the major league level was with Houston in 1998, when he hit .125 in 17 at bats.  

Ledbetter never advanced past the AA level in five minor league seasons, and hit just one more homer (43) over that period than he did when he became the first player at the Division I level to top 40 homers at Florida State in 1982.

Larson joined Berkman as the last two players to reach at least 40 homers in an NCAA season in 1997, and the pair faced off in the opener for both teams at the 1997 College World Series, a 5-4 LSU victory.  Larson's career peaked in Omaha, earning Most Outstanding Player honors while leading the Tigers to the NCAA title. He went on to play just 109 career games in the majors and hit a total of eight home runs.

Berkman has enjoyed an incredible career after being drafted by Houston in 1997. He ranks fifth in major league history with 325 home runs as a switch hitter and is second only to Chipper Jones (432) in terms of National League switch hitters.  

Of the players who have hit at least 32 homers in season on the Division I level, only Troy Glaus of UCLA (34 in 1997) and Mark McGwire (who hit 32 in 1984) have gone on to show similar production at the major league level.  Glaus' 34 homers in 1997 would have easily led the country this past year, but was no better than third that season behind Berkman and Larson.  Entering play on Friday, Glaus, who has revitalized his career this season with Atlanta, has hit 318 career homers.

Since 2000 only three players have hit at least 30 homers in a season, thanks to the changes in the aluminum bats.   Nate Gold of Gonzaga's 33 in 2002 (in 56 games) stands as then high-water mark this century, which begs the question:  In college baseball, is 30 the new 40?

Back to Incaviglia and his 1985 power display for a minute.....  One of the ironic twists of his amazing season was the fact that the player who hit in front of him in the Oklahoma State lineup, Mike Day, finished second in the nation (and ranks second on the NCAA single-season list) with 102 walks.  How was it that with such fearsome hitter up next that college pitchers could not find the plate when facing Day?   In large part, it was because of the intimidating show that Incaviglia put on while standing on deck, something as the baseball SID at Nebraska at that time, I had the chance to witness in person. The burly outfielder used a sledgehammer to loosen up and would flip it from one hand to other with minimal effort.  It was impossible to miss, and Day no doubt benefitted from the distraction, as did Incaviglia, who was setting his own table.

So what are your favorite memories of college sluggers who have face Rice or favorite stories of power displays by the Owls? 

 

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Chuck, great info on Berkman! He was truly a great player at Rice and every major league team would have been happy to have him.

Keep it coming!

thanks... had the chance to finally run down Jimmy Comerota from somewhere in the Northwest League and will be posting something in the next day. David Sayler sent some thoughts about his time at Rice, which we just posted, so I want to give them their proper time in the lead spot before I post something else.

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