Moe Berg

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 Moe Berg was included. Although he played with five major-league teams from 1923 to 1939, he was a very mediocre ball  player. But Moe was regarded as the brainiest ballplayer of all time.     

  In  fact, Casey Stengel once said: “That is the strangest man ever to play  baseball.” 

  When  all the baseball stars went to Japan, Moe Berg went with them and many  people wondered why he went with the team.” 

 The answer was simple: Moe Berg was a United States spy, working undercover with US Intelligence.   Moe  spoke 15 languages – including Japanese. And 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. 

image
Moe Berg

His  father disapproved of his baseball career and never once watched his son   play. In Barringer High School, Moe learned Latin, Greek and French. Moe read at least 10 newspapers every day. 

He   graduated magna cum laude from Princeton – having added Spanish, Italian,  German and Sanskrit to his linguistic quiver. During further studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and Columbia Law School, he picked up Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian – 15 languages in all, plus some regional dialects 

While   playing baseball for Princeton University, Moe Berg would describe plays   in Latin or Sanskrit. 

image
Tito’s Partisans

During   World War II, Moe was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assess the value to   the war effort of the two groups of partisans there. 

He reported back that Marshall Tito’s forces were widely supported by the   people and Winston Churchill ordered all-out support for the  Yugoslav underground fighter, rather than Mihajlovic’s Serbians. 

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 that  plant. 

image
 The   R.A.F. destroys the Norwegian heavy  water plant targeted by Moe Berg.

 There  still remained the question of how far had the Nazis progressed in the race to build the first Atomic bomb. 
If  the Nazis were successful, they would win the war. Berg (under the code   name “Remus”) was sent to Switzerland to hear leading German physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Laureate, lecture and determine if the Nazis were close to building an A-bomb. Moe managed to slip past the SS guards at the auditorium, posing as a Swiss graduate student. 

The  spy carried in his pocket a pistol and a cyanide pill.

If  the German indicated the Nazis were close to building a weapon, Berg was to shoot him – and then swallow the cyanide pill. 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. 

image

Werner  Heisenberg – he blocked  the  Nazis from acquiring an atomic bomb. 

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.” 

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 it, because he couldn’t tell people about his exploits. After his death, his sister accepted the medal. It now hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown. 

image

Presidential  Medal of Freedom:  the highest award given to civilians during  wartime. MoeBerg’s baseball card is the only card on displayat the CIA Headquartersin Washington, DC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s