ST. LOUIS -- After spending nearly 10 weeks in New York last season, Lance Berkman should have known better. Although that much time in the Yankees' media crucible is usually enough to make even the most outspoken players think twice in the presence of a microphone, Berkman couldn't resist when asked back in January why he chose to sign with the Cardinals over the Rangers.
In a radio interview, Berkman described Texas, the defending American League champion, as "average" and said the Rangers "caught lightning in a bottle" by making it to the World Series, where they lost to the Giants in five games.
Berkman, who last week was named the Comeback Player of the Year, had no regrets as he helped the surprising Cardinals earn their third trip to the Fall Classic in eight years. But the karmic payback turned out to be a showdown with the Rangers, which meant having the whole mess boomerang back around on the eve of Wednesday night's's Game 1.
"I didn't think it was a big story," Berkman said. "I said it on a Houston radio station and then I forgot they have this thing called the Internet."
That's straight from the Bronx 101 curriculum, and Berkman, realizing that he messed up, tried to make amends by leaving a written apology in the locker of the Rangers' C.J. Wilson during the All-Star Game in Phoenix. Wilson, the Game 1 starter for Texas, revealed Tuesday what Berkman wrote.
"There was a note from Lance saying, 'Hey, congratulations on you guys' success. I guess I was wrong. Not the first time,' " Wilson recalled. "I ran into him at breakfast a couple days later and we talked about it and he was really awesome. So I have no issues with what he said. Much like myself, I'm going to say what's on my mind."
That's Berkman, whose chatty demeanor stands out in what can be a buttoned-down Cardinals clubhouse. During Tuesday's media day, Berkman chimed in on a number of topics, and was amused by one about his conditioning regimen. After batting a career-low .248 last season in 123 games with the Astros, Berkman hired a personal trainer last winter and dropped weight.
This year, Berkman batted .301 with a .959 OPS for the Cardinals in 145 games, including 123 starts in the outfield. He had a two-run single in the fourth inning of Wednesday night's World Series opener.
"If you hit .300, then you're svelte," Berkman said. "If you don't, then you're fat and out of shape."
This version of Berkman, along with Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, makes for a lethal 3-4-5 combination. But for Tony La Russa, who watched him as an NL Central opponent, there's more to Berkman than just a bat and a mouth.
"The thing we didn't know in the other clubhouse was the kind of teammate he is," La Russa said. "But you've got to get him there every day from Day 1 of spring training until now to see all he contributes. There's a real good life on our club and he's got a real good temperament for playing hard and having his profession in place."
The feeling seems mutual -- sort of. When asked about playing for La Russa, Berkman, as usual, kept it real.
"He's a polarizing guy," Berkman said. "I used to hate him, but now I love him."
After their "misunderstanding" earlier this year, Wilson probably can say the same about Berkman. Love may be a little strong, but any animosity seems to have waned heading into the World Series.
"I'm happy for him," Wilson said. "He played a lot better than he did last year. So in that regard, he stepped up to his end of the bargain and we stepped up to our end of the bargain and here we are. It's kind of cool, actually."