Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4, 1945: Augie Bergamo Celebrates The Fourth With A Bang

     On July 4, 1945, Cardinals rightfielder Augie Bergamo starred in both ends of a doubleheader against the Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York. The Birds belted out 16 hits in the first game with Bergamo going 3 for 5, with an RBI, and two runs scored. His teammates Buster Adams and Ray Sanders each hit home runs, as the Cardinals sailed to victory behind a complete game effort by Red Barrett. Bergamo had the game of his life in the second contest, going 5 for 6 with two home runs, four runs scored, and eight RBIs as he led the way to a 19-2 rout. His second home run was the fifth and final home run of his career, and it was a memorable one as it came in the form of a grand slam. With Bergamo guiding the ship, the Birds picked up 20 hits in the second game, which brought their total to 36 hits on the day, and once again their starting pitcher went the distance. This time it was Bud Byerly who earned the complete game victory while Bergamo and the rest of his teammates feasted on the Giants pitching staff.

     Bergamo found his way to the big leagues because of the player shortage that came with World War II. He helped the club win the World Series in 1944, by hitting .286 during the regular season, then returned in '45 and hit .316. The club fell just three games short of the National League crown in '45, but it wasn't because of a lack of effort by Bergamo and the men who surrounded him.

     Bergamo was a product of the sandlots out of Detroit. Just 5' 9" and 160 pounds, the scouts in his hometown told him he did not have the size to make it in the major leagues. Some would think the dream would end there, but that was not the case. In 1937, the Cardinals held a tryout in Flint, Michigan, and Bergamo decided to take a shot with the club. More than 800 kids had hopes of finding their way to the Cardinals minor league system, and Augie was one of the lucky ones who was handed a contract to play when the tryout came to a close. He still had his work cut out for him He was sent to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he survived an elimination camp, that guaranteed he would be playing ball with the Cardinals Class D affiliate out of Paducah, Kentucky. His star would rise.

     The 21-year-old Bergamo made his presence known in Paducah by winning the Kitty League batting title with a .358 average in 1938. His star kept rising, as he shifted to the Class B affiliate out of Columbus, Georgia where he hit .345 in 1939, before moving onto the Rochester Red Wings out of New York in 1940. Over the next several seasons Bergamo played with the Rochester club and the Columbus club before he got his chance at the big league level. He made the most of that chance, and for two seasons he helped bring smiles to many faces while he wore the Bird on the Bat in St. Louis.

     After the War ended Bergamo was sent back to the minor leagues where he played until 1951. His tale might not be a storybook tale  from baseball's past, but he did achieve his dream of playing in the big leagues, and on the 4th of July in 1945 that scrappy little outfielder had one helluva day in Cardinal Nation.

Happy Fourth of July to all of you, and thank you to our service men and women who preserve our freedoms. Be safe out there.

Check out the box score here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NY1/NY1194507042.shtml

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