No Hit Ball Players: Adam Dunn and Bill Bergen

The title of this post does not refer to anything a pitcher might accomplish.  This is about position players, starters, who can’t hit the ball. 

We all have days when things don’t go well.  Maybe your boss chews you out for a mistake or for forgetting to do something.  Or you mess up cooking something you have made a thousand times before.  Maybe you put in a load of laundry and forget the soap.  But imagine an entire season like that.  Imagine an entire career. 

Adam Dunn is having one of those years.

The slugger, Adam Dunn, who had been a model of power and production for the past 10 years, finished Tuesday night’s game against the Yankees with a batting average of .165. That is not a typo, not a mistake, and not an easy thing for a professional player to do even if he is trying to.

The New York Times story continues

Dunn, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract to join the White Sox this past winter, has struck out 138 times this season and is on pace for 207.

He has struck out three or more times in 18 games, twice the total of anybody else in the major leagues. Of course, none of this has been made easier — for White Sox fans to believe or for Dunn to endure — by the fact that Dunn is, of all things, the team’s designated hitter.

“I hate it more than anybody can imagine,” Dunn said in an interview Monday. “But what do you do? There’s not an easy button I can push and start over. Or I would.”

Sports have forever been riveting for the wonder of athletic accomplishment, for the demonstrations of grace under pressure, for the ability of people to overcome adversity. But sports can also be riveting for their spectacular moments of failure.

Nick Cafardo had a slightly different  take in the Boston Globe when the White Sox were in town before they played the Yankees.

Dunn’s is a sad story. The more hitting experts look at his swing, the more they realize he has no chance because his hands are never in good hitting position. Dunn doesn’t exactly work overtime to correct it either, and when he recently told Jeff Passan ofYahoo! Sports that he was contemplating quitting, you can understand why. Nowadays when he walks, that’s considered a breakthrough. Nobody saw it coming, and the White Sox are saddled with a completely unproductive player.

“When a guy is going that bad, it’s just sad,’’ concurred one American League scout. “You can’t even evaluate it because the guy is so messed up.’’

Dunn’s season has been historically awful. He has a chance to finish with a lower batting average than even Rob Deer’s .179 in 1991.”


But Dunn is only having a spectacularly bad season.  If he bounces back next year, 2011 will be considered an oddity.  Think of Bill Bergen.  No, I never heard of him before today either.   Bergen played for the Brooklyn Superbas from 1901 to 1911.  Lynn Zinser has written a long and interesting story on Bill Bergen who “couldn’t hit the side of a barn.”

In 3,028 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.”

Instead, his name crops up whenever a baseline of offensive futility is needed. He does not have a line named after him like Mario Mendoza, whose paltry batting average made him synonymous with hitting .200. But Bergen is firmly installed in the history of futility.

 How did he last 11 seasons?

Bergen’s secret was playing at a time — that dreaded dead-ball era — when good defensive catchers were worth their weight in Teddy Roosevelt autographs. Bergen was a great defensive catcher. By some statistical measures, he is considered among the top five defensive catchers in National League history.

“It was an era when catchers were even more important than they are today because bunting and stealing bases were the main way teams would score runs,” said Tom Simon, who along with Jones edited the books on the stars of the dead-ball era. “So teams would carry a guy hitting .139 if he could keep the other team from scoring.”

Bergen caught a relatively modest 941 games but ranks in the top 20 in career assists by a catcher with 1,444. He threw out 47.3 percent of runners attempting to steal. He once threw out six in one game, against St. Louis in 1909

Bergen at least was good at something.  Poor Adam Dunn is the DH so he can’t point to his fielding.  His manager, Ozzie Guillen, said, “When we play him at first, he doesn’t hit either.”

So here is hoping that Dunn finds his hitting stroke and has a better season next year. 



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