Bergman, remembered for marathon at-bat, dies

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
First baseman Dave Bergman played nine seasons with the Tigers.

Detroit — Dave Bergman, the left-handed-hitting first baseman whose acquisition in spring training 1984 was a pivotal move for a Tigers team that would go on to win the World Series, passed away Monday, the Tigers confirmed.

He was 61, and had been in a long fight with bile-duct cancer, the same disease that Ernie Harwell battled.

"Dave was as spirited a person as he was a player," the Tigers said in a statement. "He will forever hold a special place in Tigers history for the versatile roles he played, and his significant contributions as a member of the 1984 world champion Tigers. We will miss sering Bergie at the ballpark and in the community."

Bergman's most famous moment with the Tigers, by far, came June 4, 1984, when, in the bottom of the 10th inning of a tie game, he locked into a marathon battle with Roy Lee Jackson of the charging Toronto Blue Jays.

After fouling off one pitch after another, on the 13th pitch of the at-bat, Bergman sent a winning, three-run home run into the right-field upper deck at Tiger Stadium. The at-bat lasted nearly seven minutes. Today, every Tigers fan claims to have been there, even though the attendance was 26,733.

Bergman played 17 seasons in the major leagues, the last nine with the Tigers. He was acquired March 24, 1984, in a three-way trade with the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies that also netted the Tigers closer Willie "Guillermo" Hernandez, who would go on to win the MVP award in 1984.

An Evanston, Ill., native, Bergman was drafted by the New York Yankees in the second round of the 1974 draft. He played for the Yankees, Houston Astros and Giants before coming to Detroit.

He was a smooth-fielding first baseman — he was one of the best at the old hidden-ball trick, with Alan Wiggins of the Orioles and Ozzie Guillen of the White Sox his two famous victims — and carried a repuation as a great teammate, on and off the field. He also was a longtime union rep.

"Bergie, going back to my rookie year (1987), he took me under his wing," said Mike Henneman, a teammate of Bergman's from 1987-92. "He was just a 100-percent class man, in every aspect of life. A huge loss."

Bergman last was at Comerica Park this past summer as part of the 1984 World Series reunion. While he wore his trademark smile, it was clear the illness was taking its toll, as he'd lost so much weight and hair. While battling the illness, though, Bergman always chose not to discuss his health.

Asked again at the World Series reunion, he smiled but declined again so not to take attention away from the 1984 team. During the pregame ceremony June 30 at Comerica Park, Bergman put on a glove and played first base while Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker turned one more double play.

"Dave served as a beloved mentor to me, a patient sounding board, a brave coach and a wise counselor," said Robert Bilkie, Bergman's longtime business partner. "He inspired me with his humility and decency. I believe that the true measure of a man is the cumulative success that he breeds in others. In this regard, Dave truly belongs in the Humanity Hall of Fame."

For his career, Bergman batted .258 with 54 home runs and 289 RBIs in 1,349 games. He walked more times (380) than he struck out (347).

After retiring after the 1992 season, Bergman stayed in Metro Detroit, starting a successful career as an adviser with Sigma Investment Counselors in Southfield. He always was astute with financial matters, even during his playing days, and he was always willing to help out teammates — like when Henneman was looking to buy a car early in his career. It was between a white Lexus and another car, and Bergman, after crunching the numbers and safety features, recommended the Lexus.

"And he was right," Henneman said. "David, he was just a great man."

Bergman also founded the Grosse Pointe Redbirds baseball club 20 years ago, and was pivotal with C.A.T.C.H., the Metro Detroit kids' charity started by Bergman's former manager, Sparky Anderson.

Bergman is survived by his wife Cathy, children Troy, Bria and Erica, grandchildren Avery and Jackson, and three siblings. The family asks in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Grosse Pointe Redbirds. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Stay tuned to detroitnews.com for more on this developing story.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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