Bill Bergen’s record lives!
When Craig Counsell of the Brewers drilled a simple single to rightfield in the ninth inning of Friday night’s game against the Astros, it insured that Bergen’s 102-year-old record would remain on the books.
Counsel. had gone 45 at bats without a hit. He went 0-for-July, and most of June as well. His last hits came against the Cardinals on June 10, when only a home run kept him from hitting for the cycle.
"It’s been ugly. It’s been bad," Counsell told Adam McCalvy of mlb.com. "It’s a relief to just do something right!"
The 41-year-old Counsell has done plenty right during his 16-year career, including scoring the winning run in the 1997 World Series. But never had he encountered anything like 0-for-45.
"Look, I’ve played a long time," he told McCalvy. "You have great experiences in this game, and I don’t know if this is a great experience, but it was definitely an experience. I’m glad it’s over!"
It certainly was the first time Counsell experienced himself being ridiculed on The Colbert Report. Comedian Stephen Colbert decided that Counsell’s troubles traced to his new batting stance.
Colbert apparently preferred the old stance, where Counsell held his hands high above his head. According to Colbert, this "made him ineffective against curveballs, but deadly against piñatas."
Even worse than being satirized on The Colbert Report were the inevitable comparisons to William Aloysius Bergen, the worst hitter in baseball history.
Bergen was such a terrible hitter that his record had been lost over time. It took extensive research by Joe Dittmar, vice-chairman of the records committee for the Society for American Baseball Research, to uncover Bergen’s mark.
Until Dittmar’s research in the 1990’s, the record for futility was thought to be 44 at bats, held by Luis Aparicio and Tony Bernazard. Without Dittmar’s efforts, Counsell would be today’s record holder.
Interestingly, Bergen’s streak ended when he legged out an infield hit against the Cubs, beating the throw by Johnny Evers. No word on the involvement of Tinker and Chance.
We don’t mean to sell Bob Buhl short, either. While Bergen holds the mark for position players, Buhl remains the king of hitless pitchers. Buhl went 0-for-1962. He failed to notch a hit in 70 at bats that season. His streak began in 1961 and ended in 1963, lasting an amazing 88 at bats.
But when we talk about position players, Bergen remains in a class by himself. He reached the majors in 1901 with the Reds, and before the 1904 season was traded to the Brooklyn Superbas (they became known as the Dodgers in 1932). Bergen finished his career with the Superbas in 1911.
In his 11 seasons, he compiled an all-time major league worst career batting average of .170. How bad is that? The second worst career average (2,500 at bats, minimum) belongs to Davey Force at .211 — 41 points above Bergen’s!
Bergen blasted two homers in 3,028 at bats, a powerless figure surpassed only by current Giants announcer Duane Kuiper. Kuiper hit his off of Steve Stone, prompting merciless ribbing from Harry Caray in the Cubs broadcast booth whenever the Cubs played the Giants.
Clearly, Bergen reached his peak too soon. He hit a career high .227 in his third year, the only season he hit above .190. His career high in runs batted in (36) came in his second year. His career high in runs (21) also came in his third season, no doubt fueled by that outstanding .227 average.
Bergen’s on base percentage wasn’t outstanding, either; he walked 88 times in 11 seasons. Then again, he wasn’t much of a run producer. He averaged 12.54 runs and 17.54 RBI per season.
Surely by now you’re wondering how a hitter of Bergen’s caliber managed to hang around for 11 seasons. It helped that the Superbas were pitiful. During Bergen’s seven years with the team, Brooklyn compiled a 471-765 record, never finishing in the top half of the league.
Bergen also happened to be a tremendous defensive catcher. No, really. He still ranks among the top 20 catchers all-time in assists. Of course, assists were more readily available to catchers during the Dead Ball Era, when Bergen played.
Still, he did throw out six Cardinals in a single game on August 23, 1909, which is quite a feat in any era.
1909 was also Bergen’s busiest season. He caught a career high 112 games, and hit a career low .139. That average, and his .156 slugging average that season, remain season record lows for any player with at least 300 at bats.
Could we be facing another assault on a Bergen record? Through Sunday, Adam Dunn of the White Sox was hitting only .163. With a little slump, he’s got a chance.
But it won’t be easy. As Craig Counsell discovered, it’s tough to top baseball’s worst hitter.