By Glen Sparks
Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda once disparaged light-hitting infielder Kurt Bevacqua thusly:
“Kurt Bevacqua couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat.” (I may have eliminated some profanity from this quote.)
Bill Bergen was a worse hitter than Bevacqua. It isn’t close.
You’ll recall Mario Mendoza. He played shortstop for a few teams, most notably the Pittsburgh Pirates, in the 1970s and early ‘80s. Mendoza batted less than .200 in five of his nine seasons. Slumping hitters hated to see their batting averages dip beneath the dreaded Mendoza line. (The line was usually held to be .200, but Mario himself actually ended his career at a much loftier .215, thanks to a brawny .245 campaign in 1980.).
Bill Bergen was a worse hitter than Mendoza. It isn’t close.
William Aloysius Bergen, from North Brookfield, Mass., collected hits like a slow bartender collects tips. Infrequently and not easily.
Here is a summary of Bergen’s offensive offensive stats. Be warned: They’re pretty scary. Batting coaches and .300 hitters might be especially offended. Bergen broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1901. He batted .179 in his rookie season (308 at-bats), was just a wee-bit better his sophomore year (.180 in 322 at-bats) and hit what would be a career high in 1903 (.227 in 207 at-bats).
The Reds shipped Bergen and his woeful bat to the Brooklyn Superbas, forerunner of the Dodgers, in 1904. He hit .162 over eight years in Brooklyn. Not too superba. Bergen retired after the 1911 season with a career batting average of .170 in 3,028 at-bats, the lowest average for any player in Major League history with at least 2,500 plate appearances.
It isn’t close.
The second most feeble bat in baseball history belongs to Billy Sullivan (1899-1916). The catcher hit .213 lifetime, .43 percentage points ahead of Bergen. (Just in case you’re wondering: Mark Belanger, .228; Rob Deer, .220 Dal Maxvill, .217)
In 1909, Bergen finished at .139, the lowest batting average post-1900 for any batting-title qualifier. Bergen didn’t help himself by taking a walk, either. He had a .194 career on-base percentage. Neither did he bring any pop to the plate. His career slugging percentage was a woeful.201.
Look at this way: Bergen hit 45 doubles in his career in 3,028 at bats, or 10 fewer doubles than the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter hit in 2013 with 2,433 fewer at-bats. Bergen drove in 193 runners in his 11 seasons, just two more than Hack Wilson did in 1931. You get the idea. Anything else would be piling on. Ok, in case you’re wondering, Bergen hit two career home runs, or as many as Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton slugs on a good night.
But, this all begs a question. How did this historically inept hitter last 11 seasons in the big leagues? He must have done something right. Right? Yes. Bill Bergen was one of the most talented defensive catchers of his time.
He ranks ninth all-time among catchers in assists despite getting into more than 100 games just twice in his career. He led the league in that category three times and recorded at least 100 assists nine times (Gary Carter and Bill Dickey did it four times, Johnny Bench did it once, Yogi Berra and Carlton Fisk never got there.) Bergen also led the league in throwing out would-be base stealers in 1906 and 1909. He gunned out six Cardinals trying to steal on Aug. 3, 1909.
Woodrun’s article quotes the SABR bio article about Bergen: “Despite playing part-time, Bergen earned a reputation for the strongest throwing arm in the National League, so strong that his mere presence behind the plate was enough to intimidate base runners.”
You look up “all field, no hit” in the dictionary …