Bill Bergen’s Awesome Record of Baseball Futility

From Lynn Zinser at The New York Times on August 3, with quotes from SABR members David Jones, Tom Simon and Joe Dittmar:

The record books will tell you that [Bill] Bergen is the worst hitter in Major League Baseball history, holding records for the lowest season batting average for a regular position player (.139, a mark making news as Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox threatens it) and lowest career batting average (.170), as well as the longest streak of at-bats without a hit (46, a mark making news because Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell is threatening it at 0 for 45).

Bergen’s career lasted 11 seasons, from 1901-1911, although he couldn’t hit the side of a barn. He did not have one slump year surrounded by many productive ones (like Dunn) or one epic bad streak (like Counsell). He was consistently and dependably, well, subpar.

In 3,228 career at-bats, he hit two home runs. In only one season did his average top .200. His career .194 on-base percentage means he didn’t walk much. His career .201 slugging percentage means he rarely hit for extra bases. Perhaps his quirkiest statistic: he was never hit by a pitch.

“He is about as bad a hitter as you can possibly imagine,” said David Jones, a baseball historian who edited two books on baseball’s dead-ball era. “But if he’d been a little bit better hitter, no one would ever talk about him.”

Read the full article here:

CORRECTION (8/9/11): For many years, the longest streak of consecutive hitless at-bats (by a non-pitcher) was thought to be held by Luis Aparicio and Tony Bernazard at 44. In the Aprill 1997 edition of the SABR Baseball Records Research Committee newsletter, Dittmar revealed that he had discovered Bergen’s streak of 46 hitless at-bats with the Brooklyn Superbas in 1909.

On August 9, 2011, after the story above was published by The New York Times, Dittmar went back to confirm his original research and discovered that Bergen’s streak was actually 45, not 46, because of a misreading of the at-bat totals in one box score. Read his correction here.

Further reading: Read Dittmar’s BioProject essay on Bergen here.

Originally published: August 3, 2011. Last Updated: August 3, 2011.