In the early days of baseball, quite a few troubled souls found refuge on the diamond. One of those was Boston Braves catcher Marty Bergen, who on this day in 1900, killed his family before committing suicide.
Considered one of the greatest defensive catchers in baseball history, Braves backstop Marty Bergen was a rarity in the 1800’s. A catcher who could also hit the ball with some authority, Bergen posted a .265/.299/.347 batting line in his first four seasons. Known for his strong arm and incredible defense, he was the starting catcher on the Braves pennant winning teams in 1897 and 1898. Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett called him the greatest catcher in baseball history.
However, there was more to Bergen than baseball. He suffered from mental illness for years, making it difficult for his teammates to deal with him. He once slapped star pitcher and future Hall of Famer Vic Willis, for no apparent reason, during breakfast, leading to animosity amongst him and his teammates. But his condition got worse in 1899.
Bergen had suffered a broken hip that year, and it was bad enough where his future effectiveness was in doubt. He also suffered through the death of his son, causing his depression to worsen and his moods to become more erratic. Bergen began to become convinced that assassins were trying to poison him, and he would walk sideways like a crab to avoid those assailants. He would constantly ask to head home to North Brookfield, MA, and would disappear when his request was refused.
Those moments were just the beginning. As the season wore on, Bergen once disappeared from the Braves team train, leaving them with only backup catcher Boileryard Clarke during the pennant race. He appeared a few days later, and suited up as though nothing had happened. Bergen was also removed from a game once, as he dodged the pitches thrown his way, claiming they were the knife thrusts of an invisible assassin.
Bergen realized that he was having problems. He sought medical help, and the advice of the clergy. However, he refused to take his medication, even if it was prepared by his wife, because he felt his “enemies” had poisoned it. Those medications prepared by his wife would not be taken, because he did not want her hand to be the one that killed him, albeit unwittingly.
Those mental issues came to a head on this day in 1900, in one of the more gristly incidents in baseball history. Bergen, suffering from who knows what delusions, killed his wife and two children with an axe before slitting his throat with a straight razor, using enough force to nearly decapitate himself.
Only one Braves teammate, Billy Hamilton, came to Bergen’s funeral. However, in 1934, legendary manager Connie Mack and noted playwright George Cohen raised the funds needed to give Bergen a granite memorial at his gravesite. Mack had attempted to sign Bergen to the Pirates in 1894, but the deal was voided when they attempted to send him to the minors, a move that was not permitted at the time. His abilities were even remembered when it came time for the Hall of Fame, as he earned votes in all three years he was on the ballot, despite having a career that lasted just four years.