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As a pitcher, no one was more intimidating than Roger Clemens. The Rocket’s red glare and intense demeanor on the mound made him one of the most feared and hated opponents in all of baseball. At some points during his career, the hard throwing right hander had such a commanding presence that the at bats of opposing hitters seemed to be over before they even started. This afternoon, federal prosecutors found out that Clemens is just as formidable an adversary in the courtroom as on the field

Clemens and lawyer Rusty Hardin leave court after mistrial was declared.

No sooner than it started, Roger Clemens’ perjury trial came to an abrupt end when U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial after the prosecution revealed inadmissible evidence to the jury. Like a nervous rookie stepping into the box against the seven-time Cy Young award winner, the prosecution’s first crack at Clemens ended up a disaster. However, it wasn’t the Rocket who fired the brush backs. That role was left to Judge Walton, who chided the government’s lawyers for making such a careless mistake.

I think a first-year law student would know you can’t bolster the credibility of a witness with clearly inadmissible evidence.” – Judge Reggie Walton, quoted by Les Carpenter, Yahoo Sports!, July 14, 2011

According to Yahoo! Sports reporter Les Carpenter (@Lescarpneter), who has been covering the trial on Twitter, in addition to the mistrial, Judge Walton stated that a hearing would be held to determine if Clemens could be prosecuted again. If he rules that doing so would subject Clemens to double jeopardy, the legendary pitcher will walk away scot-free.

After falling to convict Barry Bonds on perjury charges back in April, the government’s latest strike out is particularly embarrassing. Considering all the money spent, and questionable tactics used, federal prosecutors have managed to come out looking even worse than the alleged cheaters they have doggedly pursued. Sometimes justice really is blind.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

The death of Osama Bin Laden sparked a wave of patriotic fervor that swept across the United States. One of the most vivid images of this spontaneous reaction took place at Citizens Bank Ballpark, where fans started to chant “U-S-A” during the tenth inning of the Mets and Phillies’ Sunday night game.

Over the last 150 years, baseball has been no stranger to patriotism. In wartime and peace, America’s favorite pastime has always seemed to rally around the flag. Just ask Rick Monday.

The 1970s were a different time in American history. The country was still reeling from the resignation of a president and still healing from the scars of the Vietnam War. In an unstable world, confidence in the American way seemed as if it had been lost.

Amid that backdrop, which was accentuated by an election year and the bicentennial, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Chicago Cubs on April 25, 1976. The first three innings of the game were relatively uneventful, but in the bottom of the fourth, the turbulent politics of the time set the stage for one of baseball’s most memorable moments.

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Fear the Beard?

Forget “Fear the Beard”. Brian Wilson’s now infamous black mane has gained so much notoriety that his new slogan should be “Hear the Beard” because it has become nearly impossible to avoid. From print to television to video games, Wilson’s famous, and infamous, facial hair has gained so much exposure that it might soon require an agent of its own (click here for a youtube page dedicated to the Beard). Perhaps that’s why it seems as if many others in the game have decided to eschew the razor.

In the very early days of baseball, beards, mustaches, and sideburns were actually quite popular. Before the turn of the 20th century, facial hair was as common as spit balls, but sometime in the early 1910s, the clean shaven look became the norm. For most of the next 60-plus years, the beard was all but banned from the game. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to find a photo from this era showing a player with any kind of facial hair.

Mustaches were common place during the 19th century, as evidenced by the team photo of the 1885 National League champion Chicago White Stockings, who were led by Hall of Famer Cap Anson (top row, three from the left).

One of the main reasons that baseball decided to adapt a de facto clean cut mandate was so it could portray itself as a wholesome, family-oriented game. Over time, however, the growing influence of razor and shaving cream ad dollars may have also contributed to the cause. Whatever the motivation, beards and mustaches were relegated to the bush leagues. Barnstorming teams like the House of David and various copy cats*, including a Negro League counterpart, toured the country playing high quality opponents, but the main attraction was always the players’ flowing beards. Whenever these whiskered teams rolled into town, the local newspapers were sure to play up their prominent facial adornments.

*There were so many imitators of the House of David that the outfit sought to copyright the fashion statement. However, in a decision rendered on May 24, 1934, Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that “from time immemorial beards have been in the public domain”.

The House of David baseball team, depicted here in 1916, was composed of members of a Michigan-based religious colony.

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In a baseball sense, Peru is on another planet.

The Yankee logo on a window of a truck in Lima, Peru.

Despite my best efforts to propagate the faith on a trip two years ago, baseball remains a relatively unknown game in the Andean region of South America. At least some progress has been made, however. During a return trip that spanned the past 10 days, I observed nine Yankees caps atop the heads of Limeans (not including the ones I passed out two years ago) as well as two vehicle decals. In comparison, only one Red Sox’ and one Mets’ hat was observed, so although penetration remains light, at least the Yankees have an early foothold.

Even with occassional internet access, you can’t get further away from baseball consciousness than being in a country like Peru. As someone who usually doesn’t miss more than a handful of Yankees games during an entire season, being disconnected from the team was somewhat disconcerting, meaning it’ll probably take a few days to get back into the flow of the season. Nonetheless, below are some early observations culled from abroad as well as a few corresponding “what if” scenarios worth monitoring over the rest of April.

  • The Yankees have been this year’s version of the 2010 Blue Jays. Despite leading the league with 18 HRs, the Yankees rank 22nd with a paltry on-base percentage of .311. The power surge has helped compensate for the lack of base runners, but if the Yankees hope to lead the league in runs, they’ll need to stop making so many outs.
  • One of the reasons the Yankees’ offense has sputtered is because the top of the lineup has failed to get on base. In particular, Derek Jeter has done little to dispel concerns about his 2010 struggles. And, even more alarming than his .535 OPS has been the weakness of his outs. Over his first nine games, the Yankees’ captain has grounded out a  shockingly high 79.3% of the time. Meanwhile, Brett Gardner has struggled just as much as Jeter, creating a significant void before the middle of the order. If both players’ struggles persist, Joe Girardi may be forced to shake up the lineup sooner than anticipated by even the most pessimistic in the fan base.
  • Russell Martin’s early season resurgence has combined with initial contributions from Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones to portray Brian Cashman’s off season in a more favorable light. If all three wind up offering a positive contribution, the Yankees’ GM would enjoy at least a little bit of vindication. Of course, if the pitching staff continues to struggle, all fingers will once again be pointing at Cashman.
  • Even though Freddy Garcia has yet to throw a pitch as a starter, the Yankees’ rotation has shown some early cracks. Ironically, A.J. Burnett has not contributed to the concern, but his history of getting off to a fast start means the jury is still out on his 2011 comeback. In the meantime, the Yankees have to be at least a little worried by Phil Hughes’ combined loss of velocity and lack of command as well as Ivan Nova’s continued struggles after one pass through the lineup. If both problems persist, Kevin Millwood  could find himself in pinstripes before the end of the month.
  • The bullpen hasn’t been the strength most envisioned because of its inconsistency. Both Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain had high-profile blowups, but the least effective reliever has been Boone Logan. If the Yankees’ only lefty reliever doesn’t regain his 2010 form, he could forfeit his spot on the active roster when Pedro Feliciano comes off the disabled list.
  • Although the middle relief has been sketchy, Mariano Rivera remains near perfect. If the Yankees’ closer continues to rack up saves in the early going, he could become baseball’s all-time saves before the end of the year.

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Among baseball teams, the Cleveland Indians have been at the forefront in embracing social media. Instead of taking a combative position toward platforms like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, the Indians have actually gone out of their way to not only encourage, but support them. It’s time for the rest of baseball to follow their lead.

In 2010, the Indians established a "Social Deck" for bloggers to attend games at Progressive Field free of charge.

Last year, the Indians created the “Tribe Social Deck”, an information-age version of a press box with 10 seats reserved for bloggers and other social media users who create content about the team. As an encore, the Indians have chartered a more encompassing social media strategy for 2011, including the creation of Twitter accounts for several players, coaches and executives. Talk about “Progressive” Field…apparently, the Indians home ballpark is named for more than just a corporate sponsor.

Baseball has never shied away from integrating itself with prevailing social trends, and has certainly never turned away from adding new sponsors. Social media presents an opportunity to accomplish both, so Bud Selig and the rest of the power brokers in the game would be wise to follow the Indians’ lead and embrace the many possibilities.

The best place to start would be by holding a league-wide “Social Media Day”. Just imagine the possibilities. Every team could host its own selection of bloggers, perhaps by inviting them to take part in the game’s broadcast. What’s more, the last name on each player’s uniform could be replaced with a Twitter handle (the Yankees could use a patch on the sleeve), and in-game segments on the big screen could feature the Facebook pages of not only players, but randomly selected fans. The possibilities are endless, and so too would be the publicity surrounding such an event. What’s more, the benefit wouldn’t be a one-way street. Although social media has enjoyed impressive penetration, the addressable market remains much larger. Who knows how may baseball fans would be introduced to Twitter, for example, if they knew their favorite players were only 140 characters away? The time has come to find out.

Baseball already has a very successful arm that is heavily involved in social media: MLB Advanced Media. In addition to running websites, fantasy services and a blog platform, MLBAM also provides streaming and archived media as well as real-time information across various platforms, including Apple’s iPhone and iPad. MLBAM has already enjoyed immense success, but additional lucrative opportunities could be created if it was even more heavily integrated with the likes of Facebook, WordPress and Twitter.

Baseball is a very traditional institution. It doesn’t take to new ideas very quickly, but the time has come to hop fully aboard the social media bandwagon, even if for no other reason than there’s a lot of money to be made along the way.

MLB and Social Media

Team Likes on Facebook Players on Twitter
Yankees 3,373,852 5
Red Sox 2,176,824 6
Cubs 1,083,096 1
Giants 864,058 4
Phillies 804,291 2
Cardinals 650,515 2
Braves 617,229 4
Tigers 559,524 4
Dodgers 554,156 1
White Sox 546,569 4
Twins 535,513 10
Rangers 518,650 2
Mets 355,534 3
Brewers 335,159 2
Reds 311,000 4
Indians 305,037 7
Mariners 281,749 5
Rockies 259,230 2
Rays 256,697 7
Astros 255,669 4
Athletics 247,274 3
Angels 231,264 9
Blue Jays 227,785 6
Padres 219,420 3
Orioles 210,281 3
Royals 184,509 3
Pirates 157,066 5
Marlins 141,782 9
Dbacks 115,561 4
Nationals 78,110 7

Note: Data as of March 24, 2011. Twitter accounts are for players verified by @MLB and consenting to be listed in the directory.
Source: Facebook.com and twitter.mlblogs.com

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The first step to addressing a problem is admitting you have it. After a fourth major league baseball player was charged with DUI in the last month, it may be time for Bud Selig to stand up and say, “I am the commissioner of baseball, and my sport has an alcohol problem”.

Although the most high profile case, Miguel Cabrera is not alone among baseball players recently arrested for DUI.

Last night, A’s outfielder Coco Crisp was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, only one week after Miguel Cabrera’s more publicized arrest on the same charge. Earlier in the winter, just before reporting to camp, Indians’ outfielder and former Yankee Austin Kearns as well as Mariners’ infielder Adam Kennedy were also cited for DUI.

Because of his status as a star player, Cabrera’s arrest was covered much more prominently, but the incidents involving Crisp, Kearns and Kennedy aren’t any less serious. What’s more, this isn’t a new problem. Although baseball players have generally managed to avoid making the same kinds of criminal headlines as their NFL and NBA brethren, DUI has been one area in which the sport has run afoul. Other high profile cases like Joba Chamberlain’s arrest in 2008 and Tony LaRussa’s incident in 2007 are further examples of a problem that is gradually getting out of control.

Baseball shouldn’t need a special reason to be vigilant regarding drunk driving. Still, you’d expect the sport to be particularly sensitive to the problem after suffering the April 9, 2009 tragedy that claimed the life of Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart. Although Adenhart wasn’t driving under the influence, his young life and promising career were ended by someone who was. As bad as the frequent arrests have been for baseball, nothing could be worse than an incident in which an active major league player tragically causes either his own death, or the death of others.

Alcohol has long been a problem in baseball. Many of the stories that we all enjoy about the old timers were usually fermented under its influence. Jim Bouton’s “Ball Four”, for example, is full of such examples of these colorful escapades. Of course, nowadays we know these kinds of stories aren’t really funny, especially because the modern ballplayer isn’t simply stumbling back to a hotel or causing havoc on a train. What makes baseball’s current predicament even more serious is players are taking the clubhouse culture of excessive drinking and bringing with them behind the wheel of a car. This winter alone, baseball has been lucky on four occasions that one of its players didn’t cause a tragedy. The sport can’t afford to wait until one finally occurs. (more…)

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Perhaps anxious to get right to the game, Christina Aguilera’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before the Super Bowl not only improvised a few words, but removed one line altogether. Considering that the NFL has turned the game into a reality TV show (Janet Jackson has become a more notorious figure in Super Bowl history than Scott Norwood), rather than just a sporting event, the publicity following the botched Anthem probably has league suits beaming.  Not only does the NFL seem to relish every last crumb of media attention, but for at least one more day, postseason focus was diverted from the impending lockout that could shut the sport down for some time to come.

Questionable performances of the National Anthem are not unique to the NFL. Baseball, with its thousands of games each season, has had more than its fair share of debacles ever since the tradition first started during the turn of the 20th century (the custom of singing the Anthem before every game began during World War II). Undoubtedly, the worst rendition of the national song took place before a San Diego Padres game on July 25, 1990, when the team inexplicably decided to invite comedian Roseanne Barr to do the honors. In what could only be described as a desecration, Barr not only completely mangled the lyrics with a shrill vocal delivery, but then she proceeded to make lewd gestures while walking off the field to a serenade of boos.

Before Barr’s disgraceful peformance, one of the most controversial renditions of the Anthem took place before game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Amid the backdrop of a very tense time in Detroit, which had been ravaged by social unrest and racially motivated riots, Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell booked a young, blind Puerto Rican singer named Jose Feliciano to perform the National Anthem. In the past, very little liberty was taken with the song’s delivery, but on this evening, Feliciano chose a soulful rendition inspired by his Latin jazz roots.

Only moments after the unorthodox version was completed, hundreds of outraged viewers flooded television station switchboards. In the ensuing days, Harwell was widely criticized, with some even suggesting he was a Communist. Things were even worse for Feliciano, whose music was blackballed for sometime to come. Despite the controversy, both Harwell and Feliciano persevered and went on to enjoy very successful careers, and in the process, their involvement in what was once a moment of scorn was turned into a source of pride. Feliciano’s rendition is still remembered to this day, but the recollections are now mostly positive. In fact, the singer was invited back to Tiger Stadium on May 10, 2010 to once again sing the Star Spangled Banner during a tribute to the recently deceased Harwell.

Although Feliciano’s singing of the National Anthem paved the way for the more creative renditions often song today, resistance to some interpretations still remains. Of course, with the exception of debacles like Barr’s, just about any performance would probably be preferable to forgetting the words. That’s a lesson Aguilera found out the hard way…ramparts and all.

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One hundred years ago in Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Wilson Reagan began an improbable road to the presidency that culminated in one of the most successful political careers in American history. Admittedly, I have a profound admiration for the Gipper, but The Captain’s Blog likes to steer clear of politics, so this centennial tribute will focus on Reagan’s strong link to the great American past time of baseball.

Before calling the shots as commander-in-chief, Ronald Reagan did play-by-play reenactments for the Cubs.

Although Reagan’s pre-political background as a movie actor is widely known, not many people realize that his first entertainment career was in radio, most notably as the reenactment voice of the Chicago Cubs on Iowa’s WHO during the early-to-mid 1930s. In this role, Dutch Reagan, as he was known to listeners, would receive game updates via telegraph and then, accompanied by sound effects, bring the action to life with a vivid description of the details. In one famous instance, the telegraph feed went down in the ninth inning of a tight ballgame, forcing Reagan to improvise on the spot. With no updates forthcoming, Reagan anxiously described the action as Augie Galan battled Dizzy Dean in an epic batter/pitcher confrontation. Foul ball after foul ball was broadcast to the audience until the telegraph messages finally resumed. Even at an early age, the comfort and ease with which Reagan worked a microphone was evident.

Curly started typing. I clutched at the slip. It said: ‘Galan popped out on the first pitch’. Not in my game he didn’t. He popped out after practically making a career of foul balls”. – Ronald Reagan, excerpted from his 1965 autobiography “Where’s the Rest of Me?”

Reagan left radio behind for the bright lights of Hollywood, but his baseball reenactment days were far from over. In 1952, Reagan starred alongside Doris Day in “The Winning Team”, a movie about pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander, who balanced a Hall of Famer career and alcoholism. Although not as famous as his portrayal of George Gipp in the classic “Knute Rockne All American”, a role that included the “win one for the Gipper” line that would give the future President one of his more endearing nicknames, Reagan’s performance as Alexander was well received.

Reagan portayed Hall of Famer Pete "Grover Cleveland" Alexander in the 1952 film, "The Winning Team".

Unfortunately for Reagan, his love of the game was not matched by his ability to play it. In his trademark self deprecating manner, he once admitted that a fear of the ball prevented him from hitting and ensured that he was always the last boy chosen in every game. In this one regard, Reagan likely wasn’t being modest. In 1938, he injured his Achilles tendon during a celebrity baseball game, and then, in 1949, upped the ante at a charity event by breaking his leg in a collision at first base with fellow actor George Tobias. In addition to a damaged ego, the latter injury not only cost the actor a $100,000 salary for an upcoming film, but also forced him to use crutches or a cane for almost an entire year. After the accident, Reagan didn’t play much baseball.

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Yankees’ CF Curtis Granderson recently returned from a goodwill tour of New Zealand, where he not only experienced the unique culture of the island nation, but also served as an ambassador to the country’s fledgling baseball community. Naturally, Granderson’s activities were mostly ignored by the New York tabloids. Wallace Mathews of ESPNNewYork did briefly cover the trip in a blog post, but only to drum up controversy by linking to video of the centerfielder riding on the backseat of a motorcycle.

Granderson tries his hand at Rugby during a visit with the Aukland Blues (Getty Images).

Fortunately, in this age of social media, fans were able to tag along on Granderson’s trip by following his travels on youtube, twitter, Yankees.com and his charitable organization’s website (grandkidsfoundation.org). In addition to the aforementioned motorcycle tour, Granderson also embarked on other cultural adventures (including meeting Prime Minister John Key, whose son plays baseball), but mostly focused on the country’s athletic scene, including visits with professional basketball, cricket and rugby teams.

Baseball was the main reason for Granderson’s visit, which coincided with the IBAF under-16 championship trials for the Oceania region. In addition to presiding at numerous camps and clinics for young baseball players from New Zealand and other countries participating in the tournament, Granderson also served as a visiting dignitary promoting interest in a game that has slowly been making inroads on the island. The trip was the center fielder’s fourth as part of Major League Baseball’s International Ambassador program. His previous visits included Europe (England, the Netherlands and Italy), South Africa and China.

Not only is baseball’s popularity at on all-time high in the United States, but the level of interest and participation abroad has been exploding. The number of foreign born players in the majors is the most obvious evidence, but the growing number of countries eager to host MLB’s ambassador visits is even more encouraging. The popularity of the World Baseball Classic has been an offshoot of this global expansion, and perhaps also a driver, but for whatever reason, interest in baseball seems to be spreading beyond the traditional strongholds of Asia and the Americas.

Granderson’s dedication to the Ambassador program is laudable because a major leaguer’s offseason seems to grow shorter each year. From the Yankees perspective, the fact that his latest visit involved him wearing the interlocking NY logo is an added bonus. As the game of baseball expands its frontiers, it is in the Yankees’ best interest to have their brand on the forefront, and trips like Granderson’s help to do just that. After all, despite previously being unknown in the country, Granderson’s travels were widely covered by the New Zealand Herald, which compared his stature to Tiger Woods, David Beckham and Roger Federer, because of the power and presence of the Yankee name.

The Yankees, with their crossed over NY symbol and their pinstriped pyjamas, are the most recognisable sporting brand on the planet. Granderson, the starting centre fielder with an unrivalled skill set, is a star of the present and future.” – New Zealand Herald, January 28, 2011

Granderson’s goodwill trip was a success for the Yankees and Major League Baseball, but no one fared better than New Zealand baseball. Not only did the country’s amateur players receive tutelage and encouragement from a major league superstar, but its under-16 squad upset a heavily favored team from Guam to advance to the August world championship in Mexico. The next step for the country will be to have one of its own become a big leaguer. Toronto Blue Jays’ minor leaguer Scott Campbell, who hails from Aukland, is currently the best hope, but even if he doesn’t make it, sooner or later someone will. Trips like Granderson’s can only help in that regard.

Members of the New Zealand under-16 national team (Photo: New Zealand Herald).

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(This is the third in a series on infamous or controversial historical figures who also had a notable association with baseball. For the first installment on John Dillinger, click here, and for the second installment on Billy Sunday, click here.)

Martin Bergen’s childhood dream was to play major league baseball, but soon after realizing that goal, his career and life ended in a nightmare. In what is likely the most heinous act ever committed by a major leaguer, the former catcher awoke on the morning of January 19, 1900 and brutally murdered his wife and children with an axe before cutting his own throat with a razor. Just a stone’s throw from where he had been born, Bergen, and his entire family, lay dead amid a gruesome scene that defied description.

Bergen was considered one of the best catchers in the game during his four years with the Beaneaters.

Bergen was born in North Brookfield, Massachusetts in 1871. Just five years later, professional baseball came within 60 miles of the town when the Boston Red Caps (today’s Atlanta Braves) were inaugurated as a charter member of the brand new National League. The proximity to the town and the game’s growing popularity in the region must have had an impact on the Bergen family because Marty and his younger brother Billy became absolutely enthralled by the sport.

Both brothers exhibited considerable aptitude for the game, so it wasn’t a surprise when Marty embarked on a professional career in 1892. The elder Bergen bounced around various leagues in New England before ending up playing for the Kansas City Blues of the Western League. In addition to being an outstanding defender, Bergen also exhibited impressive ability as a hitter, so not before too long, the now firmly established National League came calling.

In the 1890s, the Beaneaters emerged as of one of the National League’s best teams. In the first five years of the decade, they finished first or second in every season. After the 1893 season, however, the team lost star catcher Charlie Bennett to a train accident that resulted in the amputation of both his legs. Since the tragedy, the Beaneaters had been unable to find a suitable replacement, so the early reports about Bergen were very encouraging. After receiving a positive scouting report, the team reportedly paid over $1,000 to the Blues for the rights to Bergen. The only problem, however, was the suspicious catcher didn’t want to come. Instead of being excited about the chance to play for his hometown team, Bergen felted unfairly treated and insisted that he be compensated as well. Only after Beaneaters’ manager Frank Selee made personal assurances that he would be treated well did Bergen decide to return home.

Bergen was the Boston Beaneaters’ primary catcher from 1896 to 1899, a period during which the team won two additional pennants. Although his batting statistics never lived up to the advanced billing, he was widely considered to be the best defensive catcher in the game. Even the immortal Cap Anson referred to him as one of the game’s best backstops, and, in its May 29, 1898 “Current Baseball News” column, the New York Times concurred, calling Bergen the equal of Deacon McGuire and “a better man than Bennett was in his best days”.

While Robinson and Clarke of Baltimore are good catchers, old Ganzel and young Bergen of Boston can have my money.” – Cap Anson, The New York Sun, June 16, 1897

Despite enjoying a fine reputation as a player, Bergen was also widely regarded as somewhat strange. From his very first days in Boston, the talented catcher exhibited erratic behavior, which included unexplained absences, mood swings, and bouts of paranoia. Most in the organization and the media attributed his behavior to eccentricity, and looked the other way in favor of his great talent…an early day version of “Marty being Marty”. So, despite the numerous trade rumors that swirled around him, the Beaneaters were never really tempted to part with their elite backstop.

During the 1898 season, Bergen’s worst tendencies offered an early glimpse at his potential for violence. First, in the middle of the season, the catcher struck rookie pitcher and future Hall of Famer Vic Willis in the head during breakfast. Then, after an altercation on the bench toward the end of the season, the catcher expressed the desire to bludgeon some of his teammates with a bat. It was hardly the reaction you’d expect from a sane man…even one still angered by a fight. After the incident, the whispers about Bergen’s mental state grew louder. However, the Beaneaters won their second consecutive pennant in 1898, so even these drastic incidents were overlooked.

The 1899 Boston Beaneaters

When the 1899 season rolled around, the growing divide between Bergen and his teammates had not abated. As a result, Bergen’s feelings of paranoia were exacerbated, and his behavior became even more erratic. Then, when his son Willie died of diphtheria at the start of the season, and he missed the funeral because he was on the road, Bergen’s demeanor became even more morose.

Finally, in July, everything came to a head while the team was traveling from Boston to Cincinnati. Earlier in the month, the weary catcher had requested a leave of absence from Selee, but was turned down. So, when the train came to a stop in Washington D.C., Bergen simply hopped off.

Despite pleas from club president Arthur Soden and demands from manager Selee to immediately rejoin the club, Bergen remained on his North Brookfield farm until the team returned to Boston on August 4. In the interim, the weary catcher gave a scathing interview to former Beaneaters’ player and current Boston Globe sportswriter Tim Murnane. In the exchange, Bergen talked about being mistreated by his teammates and threatened with fines by Selee whenever he would request time off.  

Upon the team’s return to Boston, the desperate Beaneaters immediately placed Bergen back into the lineup, and, to everyone’s surprise, the hometown crowd greeted him like a conquering hero. When Bergen knocked in the game winning run, the cheers were even wilder. Apparently, Bergen’s interview had won the sympathy of the crowd. Needless to say, his teammates were not impressed.

Catcher Bergen got out of a row with the Boston players by claiming that Tim Murnane ‘incorrectly’ quoted him.  That’s an old dodge, resorted to by all shades of men when reflection brings  for things that had better be left unsaid. But will Murnane stand for being made out a prevaricator and news fakir?” – Deseret Evening News, August 23, 1899

In order to avert a strike by the rest of the team, Bergen claimed that he was misquoted, but the writing was already the wall. Over the final months of the season, there would be more unexplained absences, louder whispers from disgruntled teammates and increasing examples of bizarre behavior. Finally, in October, Bergen suffered from a mental breakdown during a game. According to reports at the time, the troubled catcher feared that someone was trying to stab him as each pitch was thrown, causing him to move out of the way after each delivery. After numerous passed balls, Bergen was lifted from the game and then derided by the Boston press.

After the crazy events of 1899, there was little doubt that Bergen would be traded. The Cincinnati Reds were rumored to be in hot pursuit that December, but no deal had been reached as of January 19. According to the press accounts, Bergen awoke before dawn on that fateful morning and committed the three grizzly murders. In what can only be assumed was a psychotic stupor, Bergen struck down his wife Hattie and three-year old son Joseph with the forceful blows of an axe before cutting the throat of his six year old daughter Florence and then doing the same to himself. When Bergen’s father Michael discovered the bodies that afternoon, the house was covered with blood. Before much longer, the newspapers were filled with ink.

Unlike many other incidents of extreme violence, everyone who had known Bergen didn’t seem that surprised. “Tragedy Explains All” blared The Boston Globe’s banner. The signs of impending tragedy were everywhere. Bergen knew it; his family knew it; and his teammates knew it. For some reason, however, no one was able to do anything about it.

Almost the entire town of North Brookfield bid farewell to the Bergen family at the funeral on January 21, but only one teammate, Billy Hamilton, attended. In a sad touch of irony, Bergen’s feelings of abandonment by his teammates, which in life were born of paranoia, were finally confirmed by his death.  

At the time of the tragedy, Marty’s brother Bill Bergen was on the verge of making it to the majors. Although he spent 11 years playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Brooklyn Superbas, one wonders if Billy would have traded it all in for just one more game with his older brother?

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