CHARLOTTE, NC, February 27, 2018 – Every now and then a relatively unknown personality or story is made into a film and after people see it, they wonder why it took so long to tell. Such is the case of Morris Berg, also known as Moe Berg, a baseball catcher who spent 15 seasons in the major leagues playing mostly for the Boston Red Sox.
Who was Moe Berg
Berg was a marginal player who fit into the “all field, no hit” category, but he was good enough to be a backup catcher, a role that would prolong his big league playing career.
Moe Berg’s life, however, extends far beyond baseball, and that’s what makes his story so compelling. Suffice it to say if former New York Yankees manager and master of double-talk, Casey Stengel once described Berg as “the strangest man ever to play baseball” there is little doubt about the accuracy of the statement.
Among his teammates, Moe Berg was “The Professor.”
He was arguably the smartest person ever to play major league baseball.
Educated at Princeton and Columbia School of Law and fluent in several languages, Berg read 10 newspapers every day. As a contestant on the radio quiz show “Information Please”, he successfully answered questions about the derivation of words in Greek and Latin as well as historical events in Europe and the Far East.
It was not uncommon for Berg to write letters to the “New York Times” correcting English composition errors and spelling mistakes in the paper’s editorial pages.
That’s just the beginning, however.
Moe Berg World War II Spy
After his retirement from baseball and following the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor which brought about American involvement in World War II, Berg traveled to Yugoslavia as a spy, gathering information on resistance groups for the U.S. government.
Working for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during the war, his next assignment came in Italy where he interviewed numerous physicists about the German nuclear weapons program.
In the latter part of 1943, Berg’s assignment was Project Larson working for the OSS to kidnap Italian rocket specialists out of Italy and bring them to the U.S.
Continuing his information gathering efforts, Berg spent May to mid-December 1944 traveling throughout Europe meeting with various physicists in an attempt to get them to work in the United States.
Just before Christmas in 1944, a news story broke that German theoretical physicist Werner Karl Heisenberg would be giving a lecture in Zurich that some observers thought might provide information about Germany’s efforts to obtain an atomic bomb.
Armed with a pistol, Berg was to attend the lecture and assassinate Heisenberg if he provided any details about the bomb effort.
Fortunately for the physicist, Berg determined the Germans were not as close to success as first believed.
Moe Berg in Zurich
Whenever he was in Zurich, Berg often dined at the Kronehalle Restaurant, which is as popular today as it was during the war. A favorite spot for locals as well as tourists, Kronenhalle was a hotbed for espionage as well as home to an incredible collection of world-class art by the likes of Picasso, Miro, Klee and Chagall to mention a few.
James Joyce was also a frequent patron, always sitting at the same corner table where he wrote much of “Ulysses.”
By most accounts, Moe Berg was well-liked in the clubhouse by his fellow players. But he was also a loner in the sense that his intellect far exceeded the ability of his mates to carry on “normal” conversations.
At 70, and on his deathbed, Berg’s final words were, “Did the Mets win today?” For the record, they did.
The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, first a book, now a film
Twice Berg received a handful of votes for the Baseball Hall of Fame, getting 5 in one tally and 4 in another. He was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1996 however.
As an added bit of trivia, Berg’s baseball card is the only such memorabilia on display at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
In 1994, Nicholas Dawidoff’s biography of Berg cleverly titled “The Catcher was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg” spent 7 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Come July of this year, the book will, at long last, head to motion picture screens around the country with Paul Rudd playing the title role. Initial reviews say the story has been “Hollywoodized.”
Which means it plays loosely with some of the facts.
The film is said to be as intriguing as the actual story itself.
Just call it a “popcorn flick” where “truth” is stranger than fiction, sit back and enjoy knowing that much of what takes place actually happened.
As baseball season unfolds in Florida and Arizona with its annual rites of spring, the story of Moe Berg is one of those little-known tales that capture the essence of the expression, “diamonds are forever.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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