An unkind season permitted Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman only 81 at-bats while demanding two knee surgeries and the rehab and uncertainty that accompany physical problems for a 36-year-old athlete.
Berkman fondly remembers what two years in St. Louis brought him, most notably being part of a world championship team for the first time. Now he must decide where those years leave him.
Berkman took a red-eye flight to Houston the same night the San Francisco Giants eliminated the Cardinals in the unsightly Game 7 of the National League championship series. He had watched the postseason from the team's dugout while attempting a long-shot rehab of his right knee in time to be activated for the World Series.
With his team and his knee unable to get there, Berkman's next task is waiting.
Berkman said Friday he's "not real sure" about whether he will retire or pursue a short-term contract with a contending club. More than a month ago he admitted to be leaning toward retirement. Berkman says he will likely file for free agency following the World Series but has no idea what takes place after that.
"I think it would behoove me to at least listen if there is an offer out there," he said. "But honestly I don't know what is going to happen or what's going to be my thought process."
Berkman says his knees feel as bad now as at the end of a difficult 2010 season that included his July trade from the Houston Astros to the New York Yankees. Berkman, who had endured knee surgery that March, hobbled through the season before engaging in an aggressive conditioning program and signing a one-year, $10 million deal with the Cardinals.
Berkman appeared in only 19 games after his knee crumbled during a May 19 road game against the Los Angeles Dodgers this year. An abbreviated rehab allowed him 15 appearances before he required a second cleanup of the knee. He started only once more, on Sept. 5, and experienced significant swelling of the knee as a result.
Upon his return home, Berkman and his wife Cara attempted a three-mile jog around a nearby park. The exercise quickly turned into a run-walk for Berkman.
The layoff left Berkman to gain weight. His diet slipped and he lost all explosiveness in the leg.
"I'm nowhere near where I need to be," he said. "One of the things I want to do is get back in shape if nothing else for my wife. I'm a long way from where I was coming into spring training, a long way from getting back out there."
General manager John Mozeliak all but waved off the possibility of the club returning Berkman for a third year. Berkman consistently has said he would continue playing only on his terms — for a contending club and for money that outweighs shutting it down and staying home with family.
"My plan right now is to treat the offseason as if I was going to play next season by continuing my knee rehab and getting my legs back under me," he said.
It's likely Berkman will wait until December or even January before finalizing a decision. He believes he is at least a month away from performing conditioning drills that require explosive leg movement. That would put him behind the training schedule that pre-dated his early December signing with the Cardinals in 2010.
"Heck, the decision could be made for me," he said. "I may not get any offers."
Berkman managed two home runs and seven RBIs during this season's $12 million contract. The club realized it was taking a risk on a player with a complicated medical history even after he generated 31 home runs and 94 RBIs in 2011. That risk quickly became obvious this year.
"I felt bad for the Cardinals. I felt like they invested in me and I wasn't able to get out there. It makes you a little guilty, though not guilty enough to return the money. I don't have any personal regrets. Any bad feelings I have are about letting the team and the organization down even though I know it's not my fault."