Major League Baseball history is littered with strange people, which means there are a lot of strange stories. But perhaps nothing is as strange or disturbing as the story of Marty Bergen, who played for the Boston Beaneaters from 1896-99. After a few name changes and relocations, the Beaneaters would eventually become the Atlanta Braves.
Bergen helped lead the Beaneaters to two National League championships, which at the time was the best a team could do, before the World Series originated in 1903. But the focus on Bergen isn’t because of his play, despite being called the “best catcher the world has ever produced” by Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett. Bergen is noted as one of the oddest characters to ever play the game, and his death is certainly the most horrific.
Bergen was a solid player during his brief four-year career in the big leagues. He hit .265/.299/.347 with 339 career hits, 10 home runs, 176 RBIs, and 180 runs scored. Not numbers that would blow anyone away, but solid nonetheless. He was also said to have been very good defensively, and had a “bull whip of an arm who could snap the ball to second without having to move his feet.” He had established himself as one of the best at throwing out runners early in his career.
Bergen suffered from a mental illness, which worsened throughout his career despite seeking help from doctors and even clergymen. He was believed to have schizophrenia and manic depression, but that was never confirmed. He would snap at random at his teammates, so bad that the team president urged other players to avoid him for fear of what he might do next. He would walk off the team’s train during road trips and disappear for days at a time, before showing up at the ballpark unannounced days later, minutes before game time and suiting up to play without saying a word to his teammates. During one game, he began dodging the pitches instead of catching them because he thought his pitcher was throwing knives at him, not baseballs.
He was convinced that people were out to kill him, going so far as walking sideways so “he could see assassins coming at him from both sides.” He was aware of his condition but refused medication because he thought players from the other league found out who his doctor was and had arranged to have him poisoned. This mental condition would lead to his death, which is the most horrific ever in the history of Major League Baseball.
There have been over 100 deaths of active players in baseball history, including some odd ones. Like Doc McJames, who was hit by a runaway carriage; Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty, who was swept over Niagara Falls; or Geremi Gonzalez, who was stuck by lightning. But none compare to Marty Bergen.
If you are sensitive or squeamish, I would suggest not reading this paragraph.
The short story is he died as a result of a murder-suicide. The long story is much more complicated than that. His mental condition worsened during and after the 1899 season. On January 19, 1900, Marty Bergen committed a murder-suicide, ending his own life, as well as the life of his wife, three-year-old son, and six-year-old daughter. To keep from getting too graphic, Bergen used an axe on his family and a razor blade on himself, nearly decapitating himself in the process.
Marty Bergen is one of a handful of players to take their own life during their playing careers, but is the only man ever to take the lives of his loved ones in the process. Despite a short and solid career, Bergen received one vote to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1938 and 1939.
In a game filled with oddballs and weirdness, the tale of Marty Bergen goes far beyond that, and for the most part has gone unheard by the modern baseball crowd simply because he played almost 120 years ago. Bergen was a solid catcher, but he is mostly remembered for his horrific final act. Let’s hope he remains the only player to be remembered that way.