The lost art of the ol’ Hidden Ball Trick

A few weeks ago, those of us who remember the 1980s were saddened by the loss of Dave Bergman, who reached the majors in 1975 and was still playing in 1992; in 1984, he was just one of the many bench players who propelled the Tigers to their huge, ultimately championship season.

In the headlines for his obituaries, Bergman was described as a "master" of the hidden-ball trick. Curious about this, I asked Bill Deane (and why Bill, you’ll understand in a moment). Bill’s response:

Dave Bergman was one of the last players to successfully pull off the hidden-ball trick more than once.  Bergman victimized Alan Wiggins in 1986 and Ozzie Guillen in 1989.  Since then, only Jeff Treadway, Delino DeShields, Matt Williams, and Mike Lowell have executed multiple tricks.

How much have things changed? Lowell was the only player to execute a hidden-ball trick from 2000 through 2006. And since then, there have been only three. Granted, the last was sort of glorious, as Todd Helton got Matt Carpenter just before Helton retired. But there have been only five in the 21st century!

By comparison, there were 20 in the 1960s, including five in 1961 alone. And there were fewer teams back then.

How do I know all this? Because of Bill Deane’s tremendous new book, Finding the Hidden-Ball Trick: The Colorful History of Baseball’s Oldest Ruse

So what does it all mean, aside from the obvious fact that the hidden-ball trick’s vanishing from the game, which in some ways has become less interesting? I don’t know. But is it a coincidence that Frankie Crosetti, who spent 37 years with the Yankees as a player and coach, pulled off seven hidden-ball tricks? Is it a coincidence that Gene Michael executed five, and Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins seven?

I don’t know. I just know that if you dig this sort of thing, you should check out Bill’s book. It’s pretty great.