In ’84, Dave Bergman Was Clutch All Year

Dave Bergman

Have we been remembering Dave Bergman for the wrong reasons?  Do we remember his 1984 season at all?

We remember a moment, a legend.  But not a season.

A moment from Dave Bergman’s career—and from the Detroit Tigers’ Wire-to-Wire World Championship 1984 season—that has been built into fable and that stands as a monolith, is The At-Bat, June 4, 1984

Seven minutes. Thirteen pitches.  Nine foul balls.  After fencing with Roy Lee Jackson with that incredible number of pitches fought off for fouls, Bergman took a calf-high slider and drove it into the upper deck to give Detroit a 6-3 walk-off win in 10 innings.[1]  Sparky (who would never exaggerate) called it the greatest at-bat he’d ever seen.[2] 

It should be remembered, and it’s celebrated largely for its drama, for the level of relief and joy a home run gave at the end of an at-bat that seemed it would never end.  People use the magic of that at bat as a metaphor for the magic of the season.

However.  You don’t win 104 games through magic alone.

You win them through processes and developments.  By moving runners up ninety bases.  By a lot of sweat and toil.  And that was Dave Bergman in 1984. 

Processes and Developments: the Dave Bergman Story

I would like to remember Bergman’s entire season, one in which he was often involved in close games in late innings, in which he frequently made big hits, got walks, made strong defensive plays, or was otherwise a factor in big Tigers wins.

Now, he hit two three-run homers that won games against Toronto.  Aside from the one at home in June was one that was much bigger for the season overall, a 10th-inning rocket in Toronto, which broke a 4-4 tie in a game Detroit would win 7-4.[3]  The victory, in the first game of the series against Toronto, gave Detroit a 9 ½ game lead over the second-place club.

On Sunday’s game, when the Tigers completed the sweep, Bergman led off two innings by singling at the beginning of Tiger rallies.[4]  On the series, Bergman racked up 5 runs scored and 4 RBI.  It was the single-biggest series on the year.[5][6]

Clutch Hitting in Key Situation

One major (and overlooked) component of Detroit’s 35-5 ’84 start was the offense stringing together base hits, getting in guys who got on base, and doing so in a way that won games in the team’s last at-bat.  Bergman was a key player in several of these games—he had an uncanny knack of being in the center of flurries of decisive action.

One prime example took place on Apr. 24, the Tiges hosting the Twins for a double-header.  In game one, the home team was down 5-3 heading into the bottom of the 9th.  Some chilly fans were getting a jump on the line for nightcap hot dogs when Gibson tripled.  With Rusty Kuntz aboard for runners at the corners, Bergman hit one where it was pitched, inside-outing a grounder between third and short for a single to score Gibby and make it 5-4.  The team got some good fortune when veteran hurler Ron Davis uncorked a wild pitch to score Kuntz and move Bergie to second.  Two outs later, Lou Whitaker singled Bergman in to win it in walk-off fashion.

On May 14, the Tigers were up against the Mariners, and looking to push their 27-5 record.  The game went into the bottom of the 8th knotted at 5.  Barbaro Garbey had started the game a first (and was scorching the ball in the early-going, having ended April at .444 in a part-time capacity[7] and entering the game at .368[8]); when Seattle inserted righty Dave Beard, Sparky went to the lefty Bergman.[9]  The seasoned pinch hitter laced one to the right-center wall, tripling in Kuntz with the go-ahead run.  He’d again be driven in by Whitaker, and Detroit held on 7-5.

On July 14, Bergman tied a game in Minnesota in the top of the 9th with a solo homer.  Then in the 12th, with the Tigers up 1, Bergman got Parrish in with a sac-fly to make the cushion 2 runs, and they’d hold on to win 6-5—his sac fly ultimately made the difference.

Whether large or small, Bergman’s role in ’84 was so often doing something in close games in late innings, when popping up would nearly sink the team.  On Apr. 18, in the bottom of the 10th against K.C., Bergie bunted Trammell to 2nd to avoid a double play.  Trammell would eventually score the walk-off-winning run.[10]  

And, while not a late-inning heroic, on Jack Morris’s Apr. 7 no-hitter at Chicago, Bergman made a diving stab to save a hit.[11]

Bergman in a Foxhole

At the end of Spring Training, Sparky told the guys to look to their left and look to their right and see if there was anyone they wouldn’t want to go into combat with.  Bergman observed that there wasn’t anyone.[12]  But the irony was that he was the kind of guy—he perfectly exemplified—the kind of guy who had his fellow soldiers’ backs in heavy fire.

“Each person plays a particular role.”

On opening day, Eli Zaret interviewed Bergman for WDIV in Detroit.  Zaret made a somewhat strange assertion that Bergman’s role in Detroit was going to be much larger than it had been in San Francisco.  Bergman looked a bit perplexed, cocked his head, and said, “Well, I think when you got 25 men on a roster, and each person plays a particular role, I think they’re all major.”  And that’s how he played.  When he was in the game, he made a major impact.

The statistics more than bear this out, and really paint a picture of someone who was there to produce:

  • .273 BA/.351 OBP
  • 44 RBI in 271 AB—6.2 AB/RBI
  • 44 RBI on 74 hits
  • BA in wins: .305/BA in losses: .167
  • BA RISP: .267
  • BA ROB: .294
  • BA Late & Close: .375
  • BA tie game: .321
  • BA in high leverage situations: .364[13]

Bergman performed throughout the year for the Tigers.  As you can see, he was the man you wanted in the foxhole late in the game, with runners on base, and in high leverage situations.  That makes him a big component of the 1984 Tigers’ World Championship, even if he wasn’t in the lineup every day.

[1] Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers Box Score, June 4, 1984.

[2] Anderson, Sparky. Bless You Boys: Diary of the Detroit Tigers 1984 Season. Chicago: Contemporary Books. 1984.

[3] Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Box Score, Sept. 7, 1984.

[4] Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Box Score, Sept.9 , 1984.

[5] Ibid..

[6] Detroit Tigers at Toronto Blue Jays Box Score, Sept. 8, 1984.

[7] Barbaro Garbey. Batting Splits, 1984.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Zaret, Eli. 84: Last of the Great Tigers. South Boardman: Crofton Creek. 2004.

[10]Kansas City Royals at Detroit Tigers Box Score, Apr. 18, 1984.

[11] Zaret.

[12] Zaret.

[13] Dave Bergman.

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