TRENTON — As they stand, the major league credentials of Lance Berkman, five-time National League All-Star and lifetime .296 hitter, will not get him into the Hall of Fame.
That does not mean the Yankees designated hitter-for-hire does not have an opinion on what players should be allowed entry into Cooperstown.
The names on Berkman’s list may surprise anyone even vaguely familiar with the 2007 Mitchell report documenting 89 players suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs, in addition to the most vilified gambler in the history of the game.
“To me, Roger (Clemens) is a Hall of Famer no matter what,’’ Berkman said before playing the final game of his minor league injury rehabilitation assignment with the Double-A Thunder.
The 34-year-old Berkman, set to return to the Yankees from the 15-day disabled list today, went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk during tonight’s 10-4 loss to Akron at Waterfront Park.
During his two-game Double-A rehab appearance, Berkman was 2-for-8 with three strikeouts, a walk and a run scored.
“Even if they come up with irrefutable proof that (Clemens) did something, what he did even before that (steroid) period is Hall of Fame worthy,’’ Berkman said. “I don’t think that should be a question, although it’s going to be. I think Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. If you’re going to paint with a broad brush, just look at that era and make the determination that the best players go to the Hall of Fame.’’
Rose denied for years that he bet on baseball and was suspended by life by then-commissioner A. Bart Giamatti.
Rose, with the most hits of any player in major league history, later admitted he bet on the game, but remains banished.
Clemens, Berkman’s former teammate with the Houston Astros, pleaded not guilty Monday to lying to Congress regarding his alleged use of banned substances, including human growth hormone.
All-time home run king Barry Bonds is scheduled to stand trial in March for allegedly lying to a grand jury regarding his use of steroids.
“If it comes down that Barry is guilty,’’ Berkman said, “just look at what he was able to do before that period in his career _ he was a Hall of Famer. There’s no doubt. Roger Clemens? He’s a Hall of Famer. No question. What you have to do, I think, is try and determine when this (steroid era) started, or at least make your best guess, and go from there. Obviously, this is a job for the writers. Then, just say the best players from that era go in. Or you can take the other side and say they’re all out and that no one can get in because they’re tainted.’’
Then what should become of perhaps Berkman’s closest friend in the game, Yankees left-hander and current teammate Andy Pettitte?
Pettitte was named in the Mitchell report and admitted using HGH for two cycles in order to recover from an elbow injury in 2002.
Pettitte’s career statistics and postseason prowess put him in the Hall of Fame conversation, but he also may have a difficult time escaping the long shadow cast by any player ensnared in the so-called “steroid era.’’
Berkman also feels Pettitte belongs in Cooperstown.
“Andy (Pettitte) and I are as good as friends as you can possibly be; he’s probably my best friend,’’ Berkman said. “I was surprised (Pettitte was named in the Mitchell report), but there’s a difference between taking steroids for the purpose of enhancing your performance and doing what Andy did, which was for the purpose of trying to come back from an injury.
“You have to know Andy. I can sit here and tell you if Andy says it you can take it to the bank. If he said he did it to get over an injury and not to get a competitive advantage, you can believe him. Andy is truly is one of the most honest guys I know. Everybody that was ever touched by PED’s is all going to be lumped into one category and that’s that. But that’s the consequence for doing something you shouldn’t have done. Andy will tell you that just as quickly as I will.”
NOTES: The Pat Venditte watch is over. The ambidextrous pitcher is on his way to Trenton and should be in uniform tonight. Venditte (4-1, 1.63 ERA, 6 saves) will take the ride north from Class-A Tampa with another pitcher, believed to be Jonathan Ortiz (6-1, 2.39, 21 saves). Pitchers George Kontos and John Van Benschoten were sent up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre yesterday … Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Alex Rodriguez (strained calf) likely will not require a minor-league rehab assignment … Brandon Laird, Austin Romine, Craig Heyer, Corban Joseph and Kontos will play for manager Don Mattingly in the Arizona Fall League as members of the Phoenix Desert Dogs.