The O-ferocity of Craig Counsell

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
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When the Brewers resume play in Houston tonight, beyond the sturm und drang of their fight to win their division, there’s another, less-happy possibility that history will be made at some point during the series. Per Elias, Craig Counsell is hitless in his last 45 at-bats, matching the longest single-season hitless streaks by a position player in history going back to 1900. Which practically speaking may as well be forever, because the 19th century’s record-keeping might defy even the hardy researchers of Retrosheet.

This ignominious feat puts Counsell in rare company. The record already had a tie, between Bill Bergen of the Dodgers in 1909, and Dave Campbell for three different teams in 1973. Bergen is a famous non-hitter, but also carried a primo defensive reputation during the Deadball Era, recently meriting a ranking as the fourth-best receiver of all time from Michael Humphreys in his book on all-time fielding greatness, "Wizardry." Like Counsell, Campbell was a utility infielder nearing the end of his career, but unlike Counsell he never had a good bat rep; “Soup” was strictly employed for his glove, and flitting from the Padres to the Cardinals to the Astros, may have struggled to keep up on his streak as it happened.

[+] EnlargeCraig Counsell
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireCraig Counsell hasn't had a base hit since June 10.
This three-headed tie between position players is not the pinnacle of hitlessness. The record set by anybody tasked with playing baseball, not just the people who have to hit something for a living, is property of pitcher Bob Buhl, after his 0-for-70 over the entire 1962 season, which he split between the Braves and the Cubs.

Counsell’s ill bat hasn’t just produced an ohfer-45, of course. Counsell’s actually zero for his last 50 plate appearances, with a walk and a hit by pitch, a sacrifice fly and a couple of sac bunts. He’s scored a couple of runs, and plate the one on that sac fly, so it hasn’t been an entire high-five-less experience. But his last base hit was back on June 10, when he reached base four times against the Cardinals in an 8-0 win. He’s now nearly two months removed from his last hit.

Think on that, and you recognize a problem: Counsell isn’t playing every day. He’s gotten eight starts in two months, games in which the Brewers have gone 5-3. He’s been sent up as a pinch-hitter 18 times. That’s no easy gig, even if he wasn’t creeping up on his 41st birthday and handicapped with increasingly slow bat speed. There’s a chicken-and-egg issue, of course: More starts would inevitably end the streak, but might not do the Brewers any good if the fork sticking out of Counsell’s bat remains there. But in Rickie Weeks’ absence, it isn’t the sort of thing the Brewers can carry indefinitely, not with a playoff roster to compose at the end of the month.

This is a glum thing, even if you don’t remember when Counsell was a rookie back in 1997, the guy lucky enough to get traded to the Marlins who went on to score the winning run in Game 7 of the World Series. He was on the field for another Game 7 World Series win in 2001, standing at first base when the D’backs’ Luis Gonzalez dumped that two-out single to score Tony Womack from second, made all the more memorable because it was hit off of Mariano Rivera.

Thinking about those early moments in a man’s career, maybe this is a wee bit of karma. Few players have been so fortunate in their careers, let alone super-utility infielders, and Counsell has obviously been very lucky. If he can rediscover some of his stroke and maybe chip in one last postseason moment, you’d like to see him end his career on the same sort of high note it started with. You just never like to see the career of a player who has been as reliably useful as Counsell come to such an ugly and abrupt end.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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