Craig Counsell Really Did Tie Bill Bergen's Record Hitless Streak

Craig Counsell of the Milwaukee Brewers bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a Major League Baseball game at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

On June 10 in St. Louis, the Milwaukee Brewers' Craig Counsell started at shortstop and went 3-for-3 in an otherwise unremarkable 8-0 Milwaukee win.

That 3-for-3 wouldn't be remarkable, either, except that Counsell, an 18-year major league veteran, didn't get a hit the rest of June. He didn't get a hit in July, either, and by then his 0-fer streak had reached 44 consecutive at-bats.

SABR member Joe Dittmar had researched hitless streaks in 1997, and in this essay that appeared in the SABR Baseball Records Research Committee Newsletter (link opens .pdf), he wrote that Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Bill Bergen, perhaps the worst hitter in major league history, had set the record for such things, in 1909: 46 consecutive hitless at-bats.

This got us at Baseball Nation interested; I wrote this article discussing other players who had come close, and Jeff Sullivan went into detail about Counsell as a hitter. We all waited to see if Counsell could tie or break Bergen's mark.

On August 1, Counsell pinch-hit for Zack Greinke and popped up, extending his streak to 0-for-45. That might not have been much fun for Counsell, whose batting average dropped from .236 to .145 during the streak, but those of us who love baseball history were excited that a more-than-century-old record might be equalled or broken.

But on August 5 in Houston, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke sent Counsell up to bat for Yuniesky Betancourt in the ninth inning of a game Milwaukee was leading 7-1.

He singled off Enerio Del Rosario. Counsell's streak was over at 45 consecutive hitless at-bats, apparently one short of the record. However, Christina Kahrl at espn.com wrote that the Elias Sports Bureau had established the record was 45, held not only by Bergen but by Dave Campbell, a utility infielder who tied it playing for three teams in 1973.

That sent researcher Dittmar back to the original sources and he confirmed that information:

It's been more than 14 years since I did my original research on the Bergen hit-less streak, so I went back to my original files and photo copies of his day-by-day records. There was one date in particular, July 14, where the Bergen AB entry was fuzzy. Upon review it looked to be either a 2 or a 3. At the time of my original research I did not reference any play-by-play materials and interpreted that AB entry as 3. Now, upon closer scrutiny, and particularly with confirmation from the Retrosheet data, it's pretty certain Bergen had 2 ABs on that date.

Dave Smith was gracious enough to recently provide me with all the PBP data that Retrosheet has available for the Bergen streak. Although there are some gaps in that data, it seems to confirm the DBD records, including Bergen's 2 ABs on July 14, not 3 as it first appeared to me.

Therefore, it now appears that Counsell tied the hit-less streak by a non-pitcher at 45 first set by Bill Bergen in 1909.

Baseball recordkeeping 100 years ago was, as you can imagine, done far more casually than it is now -- no one back then could have imagined that in the 21st Century, baseball writers and fans would care so much about things like this -- and it was also done, largely, by hand. It could have been easy for someone to misinterpret a "fuzzy" century-old handwritten "2" as a "3", particularly trying to decipher the florid handwriting often used in those days.

Based on this new information, it does indeed appear that Counsell tied Bergen's streak and should be duly inscribed in that portion of baseball's record book.

Congratulations to Craig. Or condolences. We'll leave that up to him.

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