The Marty Bergen Tragedy

Marty Bergen in 1899.

Marty Bergen in 1899.

Baseball, as with any other course of life, has had its share of death, degradation, and disappointment. For utter horror, however, the story of Marty Bergen, star catcher of the Boston Beaneaters, is unmatched in the annals of the sport. From the New York Clipper of January 27, 1900, below.

Bergen’s Terrible Act. 
Martin Bergen, who, in a fit of temporary insanity, killed his wife and two children, and then committed suicide in his home at North Brookfield, Mass., Jan. 19, was one of the greatest, if not the best catcher of the present day. He was for several years a member of the Boston team. He lived with his family on a small farm, which he purchased a few years ago, and where he spent his Winters. His actions for some time past caused many persons to believe that he was a victim of mental derangement. In fact, his conduct during the past season fully confirmed this theory. He was of a moody disposition, and at times acted in a very eccentric manner. When in one of these spells he would imagine his fellow players were working against him, and would go for days without speaking to any of them. He caused much unpleasantness on the team last Summer, but was such a valuable man that the management patiently bore with him. His idiosyncrasies were also shown at home. His wife, who was formerly Miss Harriet Gaines, of Pittsfield, whom he married about seven years ago, tried in vain to humor him. The catcher evidently arose early on the fatal morning, and was making preparations for a fire in the kitchen stove. His wife and children were asleep in an adjoining room. Without lighting the fire he went into the bedroom and with an axe struck his wife blow upon blow, on the head. Evidently she had raised partly to defend herself, and was half out of bed when struck again, and dropped dead.

The three year old son, Joseph, who had arisen and started across the room, was struck a blow upon the head and killed. His daughter, Florence, six years old, ran into the kitchen, and her father followed her there and killed her, too. Then Bergen obtained a razor, stood before a mirror, and drew the blade across his throat, almost severing his head from the body. Not long after the tragedy Michael Bergen, father of the catcher, knocked at the door, but got no answer. He returned to his home, and again visited his son’s farm about noon. The curtains were still drawn, and finding the door unlocked the aged man entered, and beheld the horrible spectacle. He aroused the neighborhood.

Manager Frank Selee

Manager Frank Selee

When Bergen some years ago was playing with the Kansas City team, of the Western League, he acted queerly. He would leave his team without permission, and repeated this action after he became a member of the Boston team. He would leave the latter periodically without saying a word to anyone, and then return to duty when fancy led him back. This eccentric behavior was attributed to homesickness. Always in returning he would walk into the grounds fifteen or twenty minutes before the game began, nod in a friendly way to the gatekeeper and to anyone near the gate, and proceed to the dressing room, whence he would go upon the field ready to play. Finally he fancied the play-ers did not like him and complained to Manager Selee, that they tried to avoid him. When the Bostons were on their way to Cincinnati, last July, he left the team at Washington, his absence not being noticed until the trained had started. He returned to his home at North Brookfield and took no notice of the summons of Mr. Selee to join the team at once. Clarke did the catching on that trip, and had anything happened to him the team would have been badly crippled. Bergen then visited President Soden, of the Boston Club, and stated his grievance to him, but the latter informed the player that it was all nonsense to think that the players had any but the most kindly feeling toward him.

When the team returned to Boston in August, Bergen resumed his place on the nine, and received one of the greatest demonstrations ever witnessed on a ball field. The other players declared they would not put on their uniforms unless Bergen apologized, but diplomacy was used and the matter was smoothed over. From that time, however, the harmony essential to pennant winning was lost, and the Bostons finished second in the championship race. His fellow players feared him. Captain Duffy more than once said that he was afraid Bergen would attack him with a bat. The eccentric catcher had said in the dressing room that after the season ended he would like to take a bat and drub some of the men severely.

Bergen was born Oct. 25, 1871, at West Brookfield, and stood 5 ft. 11 in. in height, and weighed, when in playing condition, about 170 lb. It was Manager Louis Bacon who started him on his professional career, which eventually landed him with one of the greatest ball teams the country had ever produced, and he soon showed himself well able to travel in the company he was with. Manager Bacon was handling the Salem team, of the New England League, in 1892, and was in need of a catcher, when Bergen applied for a chance to show what he could do. Bacon put him behind the bat, and the newcomer acquitted himself so well that he caught in almost every game the team played from that time until the end of the season, participating in all of fifty-nine championship contests.

Kid Nichols, Boston 1901.

Kid Nichols, Boston 1901.

He began the season of 1893 with the Wilkes Barre team, of the Eastern League, was shortly afterwards sold to the Pittsburg Club, of the National League and American Association, but he was not given a fair chance to demonstrate his work behind the bat, nor did he participate in enough championship games to get into the official averages. In 1894 he sought an engagement nearer home, and easily found one with the Lewiston Club, of the New England League. That season he participated in ninety-eight championship contests, and ranked thirteenth in the official batting averages of that organization. Notwithstanding his excellent work that season there was no particular effort made by any of the New England League clubs to sign him for the following season, but he was highly recommended to James H. Manning, of the Kansas City team, of the Western League, who signed him for the season of 1895, and during that campaign he participated in one hundred and thirteen championship games, and ranked sixteenth in the official batting averages of that organization. On the Boston’s last Western trip that Fall, Pitcher Charley Nichols made a flying trip to his home at Kansas City, and not only saw Bergen catch in two games, but pitched to him himself, and reported to Manager Selee, of the Boston team, the advisability of obtaining his release without delay. Nichols said that Bergen was abundantly able to hold his delivery.

Marty Bergen.

Marty Bergen.

It is seldom that Manager Manning recommends a player, and when he does it means that the man is of sterling worth. He recommended Bergen unhesitatingly, and in the latter part of September, 1895, Bergen signed a Boston contract, the latter club giving [shortstop Frank] Connaughton and $1,000 to Kansas City for his release. Although not in the best of form during the season of 1896, he participated in sixty-two championship games with the Boston team, and gave every evidence of becoming one of the greatest catchers in the professional ranks. He had been Boston’s mainstay behind the bat ever since. In 1897 he participated in eighty-three championship contests, in all of which he played behind the bat. Warner, of the New Yorks, and Wilson, of the Louisvilles, were the only other two men who caught in more championship games than did Bergen. During the season of 1898 he caught in one hundred and nineteen championship games, a greater number than any other catcher in the major league. Last season he participated in seventy-one championship contests, all of which he played behind the bat. He handled himself gracefully behind the bat, threw with wonderful speed and accuracy, and was when he felt like it a close student of the game.

Connie Mack, manager of the Milwaukee team, and William Hamilton, the centre fielder of the Bostons, were the only professional players present at the funeral of Bergen Jan. 28. The reason given for the non-appearance of other members of the Boston team was that it was expected the funeral would take place on Sunday. Only one floral token was received, and that came from a newspaper friend. The pall bearers were young men who had played with Bergen before he acquired fame on the diamond and three of the present generation of youngsters. The ceremony at the church was very brief and a few words suitable to the occasion were spoken.




Marty’s playing weight of 170 matched his brother Bill’s lifetime batting average.

Also, what does it mean that Charley Nichols made a “flying trip” to Kansas City?

I think a flying trip would be a quick trip back and forth, with a single mission.

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You’ve ruled out hot air balloon and catapult?

It’s interesting to think how the “eccentricities” of ball players back then might be diagnosed today. Was John McGraw bi-polar? Did Waddell have Aspergers? How many, like Bergen were clinically depressed?

I’m pretty certain Waddell did not have Asperger’s. I think he was just mentally challenged. When opposing teams would place toys along their dugouts and Waddell would be distracted…………that just doesn’t sound like Asperger’s.

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