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Moe Berg
  Intro | Maugham | Hari | Smedley | Berg | Hiss | Bentley | Fleming | Philby | Ames | Pollard

Moe Berg played a total of 15 major league baseball seasons with the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Boston Red Sox, and the Washington Senators, yet he made few accomplishments as a batter or on the field. Berg never advanced beyond playing backup catcher and substitute shortstop, and he always sat on the bench more than he played. Nevertheless, in 1934, five years before he retired from baseball, Berg was picked to join the traveling American All-Star baseball team on a trip to Japan. Fellow teammates and baseball fans wondered why a player with a lifetime average of only .243 was chosen for the All-Star team with the likes of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Why he was chosen was never disclosed, yet significantly, while the All-Star team was in Tokyo, Berg, who spoke Japanese, slipped away and took covert movies of the Tokyo skyline, Tokyo harbor, and munitions facilities from the top of the city's tallest building. The movies were later used in the planning of U.S. bombing raids over Tokyo in 1942. Whether or not this event marked the beginning of Berg's involvement in espionage, the Tokyo story forever labeled Berg as the most shadowy player in baseball history.

Born on March 2, 1902, in a Manhattan tenement to Russian-Jewish parents, Morris Berg was always somewhat mysterious. At seven, he began playing baseball on a neighborhood team under a pseudonym he invented, Runt Wolfe. A brilliant student who spoke seven languages, Berg went on to study modern languages at Princeton, where he continued to play baseball, often choosing to speak only in Latin or Sanskrit on the field. After graduating magna cum laude from Princeton, Berg studied French at the Sorbonne in Paris and law at Columbia University.

In spite of his academic and intellectual accomplishments, Moe Berg chose a career as an athlete for his love of baseball. Biographers and historians have hypothesized that Berg's entire career as a professional baseball player was merely an elaborate cover for his second occupation as a spy for the United States. However, throughout his life, Berg maintained that his involvement in espionage only began in earnest after he retired from baseball in 1942. According to Berg, he offered the Tokyo movie footage to the U.S. government on his own initiative and only after they officially employed him.

In 1942 the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA, recruited Moe Berg. He would work there for almost ten years. His first mission, cast as a goodwill tour of Latin America with Nelson Rockefeller's Inter-American Affairs Committee, was actually a means for Berg to covertly assess the willingness of Latin American political leaders to side with the U.S. in the war effort.

On returning from Latin America, Berg became a spy assigned to unveiling Nazi Germany's atomic capabilities, and he was part of a potential mission to assassinate Werner Heisenberg, the director of the Nazi atom-bomb research program. Because Berg spoke fluent German and was uniquely capable of digesting complicated scientific information, he was sent to Zurich to attend a lecture Heisenberg gave about the bomb to Nazi authorities. Berg determined that the possibility of a Nazi atom bomb was distant, and the assassination plot was called off.

Berg's biographers have often pointed out that he was a sloppy spy, famously forgetting to take off his OSS issue watch before undertaking secret missions abroad and dropping his gun at inopportune moments. But Berg was sent to use his Russian-language skills during several intelligence-gathering missions in the Soviet Union, where he was easily able to blend in and bring home useful information.

Before Moe Berg died in 1972, never having married, he planned to write his autobiography, which he said would reveal all the details about his career in espionage. However, the book was never written, and the complete story of his spy activities, particularly how and when they began, died with him.


Intro | Maugham | Hari | Smedley | Berg | Hiss | Bentley | Fleming | Philby | Ames | Pollard



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