Martin Bergen was an obvious choice to appear in late 19th century baseball memorabilia. But the player who appears on the 1899 Sporting News Supplement looking so serene was just months away from a triple murder-suicide that rocked baseball.
Tucked amid an impressive group of 1899-1900 Sporting News supplements in the current Huggins & Scott auction is a lot containing the image of Martin Bergen.
More than a century later, his name has been lost in time to all but the most hard core baseball historians. 100 years ago, however, most were already trying hard to forget him.
Bergen was an outstanding catcher for the National League’s Boston Beaneasters. His skill set helped Boston to two pennants and runner-up finish. Fans outside of Boston didn’t realize it, but Bergen’s toughest opponents weren’t on the playing field. They were in his mind.
His story seems almost improbable to fathom today, but with limited psychological care available at the time, Bergen’s increasingly dangerous mental condition was untreated.
He battled what were later described as schizophrenia and manic depression. It all began coming to a head after his young son’s death and by 1899, Bergen was hallucinating on the field, imagining attacks on himself.
In January of 1900, at age 28, Bergen lost control. Early on one cold New England morning, he grabbed an axe and killed his wife and two other young children at their farm near Brookline, Massachusetts. His sad tale was told in a riveting story by Sports Illustrated’s William Nack in 2001.
Bergen also appears in the 1898-99 National Copper Plate Company set.