I can hardly wait for the Red Sox to get back to Boston and when people ask them what happened on this lost weekend in Detroit they’ll say: “Well, gee, the Tigers are tough, they got this cleanup hitter, Dave Bergman, and. . . .
Would you buy that? Would anybody? Surely the baseball gods are having a great time with these blue-collar Tigers who have choked the Red Sox — the latest cover boys of baseball — four times in 48 hours. And Bergman must be providing the most fun of all.
“Have you ever batted cleanup before as a Tiger?” Bergman was asked, after he drove in two runs with a double and a single in the Tigers’ 4-2 win over Boston Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
“I’ve never batted cleanup before, period,” he said. “I am not a cleanup hitter.”
He is not a cleanup hitter. And Jim Walewander is not a starting second baseman. And Pat Sheridan is not a No. 2 hitter — and yet there they were, all of them, helping to logjam the hottest team in baseball four times in a row.
OK. First things first. The biggest reason the Tigers are suddenly giant-killers is their pitching; it is almost beyond belief. The starters have earned all the wins in this series, they all have reached at least the seventh inning and have virtually shut down the Big Red offense.
And yet, the scrappy efforts of the Tigers batters are just as much fun to watch. Maybe more. Sheridan? Walewander? Dwayne Murphy? If Madonna were here, she’d be singing “Who’s That Team?” The Bosox aren’t being flattened by a truck; they’re being crushed by a bicycle. For the most part, these players succeed because of one simple rule: When they are needed, they do what is necessary.
None more than Bergman. Here is a part-timer who has batted in every spot in the order during his career, a guy who began preparing for the end “about 10 years ago,” a guy who earned a real estate license and a stock broker’s license and now owns a part-distributorship of Wispy, a low-cal frozen dessert, because, you know, baseball, especially when you’re 35, can’t last forever.
And he’s hitting .340. The cleanup man.
Stop laughing. Tigers are the no-name team
“Does it bother you when people refer to this team as no- names?” a reporter asked, as Bergman chewed on a pizza in the post-game locker room.
“No,” he said. “I am a no-name. I believe if the shoe fits, you should wear it.”
Well. That’s honest. You won’t find Bergman listed among the all-time leaders in any category in baseball, except maybe “Frozen Dessert Owners With 20 or Fewer At-Bats As Cleanup Hitter.” But who cares? Not Bergman. Not Sparky Anderson. “Hey,” says the manager, “that guy has given us a great lift. So what if he’s not a traditional cleanup guy? On this team, anybody who’s swinging a hot bat can pretty much drive to the ballpark figuring he’s gonna bat fourth.”
That’s the way it’s done around here, isn’t it? Unlike the Red Sox, the Tigers lack the luxury of six players hitting over .300. They take whoever they can get. Yet there always seems to be . . . somebody. Alan Trammell. Matt Nokes. Darrell Evans. Chet Lemon. Ray Knight. Luis Salazar. All have batted cleanup at some point this year.
And now Bergman.
“The thing is, I can help a good team, but I can’t do anything for a bad team,” said Bergman, who has always been thoughtful, intense and very direct in his answers. “That’s because I don’t do anything great, but I do a number of things pretty well.”
On Saturday, it was timely hitting — a two-out RBI double in the third, and a two-out RBI single in the fifth. He has the hottest bat on the team right now. He has also yet to make an error this year. This may not make him the opening segment on “This Week In Baseball,” but under the collective-effort approach of this Tigers team, he is more than pulling his share.
And good for him. One of the nicest things about watching these Tigers win is seeing men who might be overlooked by the glory-seekers, making a contribution, winning games, keeping the Tigers in first place.
“Was there ever a time you thought your days in baseball might be over?” Bergman was asked.
“Ninety percent of my career,” he said.
. . . And making jokes. Today it may be somebody else Now, true. Bergman isn’t the reason the Tigers have won these four games against Boston. He’s just typical of it. The Tigers needed a bat behind Trammell. They looked to Bergman. He has come through.
Today it may be somebody else. A Don Heinkel. A Larry Herndon. A Ray Knight. These are not the names that roll up first on the credits. But baseball does not care how big you are, or how famous, you’re either safe or out, in the lineup or in the dugout. It occurs to me that Bergman is 35, the same age, I believe, as Roy Hobbs when he had his one glorious season in “The Natural.”
In the Boston clubhouse, they are shaking their heads. They are looking at the box scores and wondering what is going on.
No such problem for Detroit. A no-name team, a no-name hero. Dave Bergman. Cleanup hitter.
Wispy for everyone.