Moe Berg was a second-rate baseball player but a first-rate spy for America and its Allies.
When baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on tour in baseball-crazy Japan in 1934, some fans wondered why a third-string catcher named Morris “Moe” Berg was included. Although he played with five major league teams from 1923 to 1939, he was a very mediocre ball player. He was regarded as the brainiest ballplayer of all time. In fact Casey Stengel once said: “That is the strangest man ever to play baseball.” Why did Moe Berg go to Japan with all the baseball stars?
Moe spoke 15 languages, including Japanese. He had two loves: baseball and spying.
In Tokyo, garbed in a kimono, Berg took flowers to the daughter of an American diplomat being treated in St. Luke's Hospital, the tallest building in the Japanese capital.
He never delivered the flowers. The ball-player ascended to the hospital roof and filmed key features: the harbor, military installations, railway yards, etc.
Eight years later, General Jimmy Doolittle studied Berg's films in planning his spectacular raid on Tokyo.
Berg's father, Bernard Berg, a pharmacist in Newark, New Jersey, taught his son Hebrew and Yiddish. Moe, against his father’s wishes, began playing baseball on the street at age four.
His father never once watched his son play. In Barringer High School, Moe learned Latin, Greek and French. He read at least 10 newspapers every day.
He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton, with Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit added to his linguistic quiver.
During further studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and at Columbia Law School, he picked up Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian.
While playing baseball for Princeton University, Moe Berg would describe plays in Latin or Sanskrit.
heavy water plant targeted by Moe Berg.
The parachute jump at age 41 undoubtedly was a challenge. But there was more to come in that same year.
Berg penetrated German-held Norway, met with members of the underground and located a secret heavy water plant, part of the Nazis' effort to build an atomic bomb.
His information guided the Royal Air Force in a bombing raid to destroy the plant.
|March 2, 1902 – May 29, 1972|
Moe Berg’s baseball card is the only card on
display at the CIA headquarters
Moe, sitting in the front row, determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal, so he complimented Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel.
Moe Berg's report was distributed to Britain's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and key figures in the team developing the Atomic Bomb. Roosevelt responded: "Give my regards to the catcher."
Most of Germany’s leading physicists had been Jewish and had fled the Nazis mainly to Britain and the United States. After the war, Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor for a civilian in wartime. But Berg refused to accept, as he couldn't tell people about his exploits.
After his death, his sister accepted the Medal and it hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Click here for a full length book account about Moe Berg