Moe Berg: Major League Catcher to Spy for the CIA

There are a lot of interesting people who play professional sports. Some have crazy backstories about how they grew up, others who became stars after getting only one scholarship offer, and others who have very interesting talents. However, there may be no player in MLB history more interesting than Moe Berg. There was nothing truly special about Berg when it came to his baseball talent. However, he was a far more interesting person off the field.

Baseball Career

As I said above, Berg did not have the greatest career in MLB history. Over the course of his 15 year Major League career, Berg accumulated -4.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). He debuted in 1923 at the age of 21 and played for 5 different franchises. Over those 15 years, he hit a grand total of 6 home runs and drove in 206 runs. Nothing against Berg as he is a far better baseball player than I could ever dream to be, but I think it is a safe assumption to say he did not make the Hall of Fame.

Education and interests

Berg did however, excel in academics. Berg was highly educated. He graduated from Princeton University and then went on to earn his law degree from Columbia Law School. It was at Princeton where he became proficient in 7 different languages. He learn Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Sanskrit. He also read 10 different newspapers a day. Berg demonstrated his vast amount of knowledge of word origin when he appeared on the game show Information, Please.

Post-Baseball Career

This is where things get really interesting for Berg. About a month after Pearl Harbor, Berg joined the war efforts and accepted a position with Nelson Rockerfeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Initially, Berg was stationed in South America where monitored the health and fitness levels of American troops. After spending about a year there, Berg moved on to the Office of Strategic Services. Specifically, he was a part of the organization that later became the CIA. In other words, after his baseball career, Berg became a spy for the United States.

Basically, Berg’s job was to discover what other countries knew about in regards to nuclear weapons. In 1943, he was assigned to Project Larson; a mission to kidnap Italian rocket and missile specialists and bring them to the United States. He was also a part of Project AZUSA, a hidden project within Project Larson. The goal of that project was to gather information on Werner Heisenberg and Carl Friedrich von Weizäcker, two prominent German physicists during the war.

The OSS learned of a lecture that Heisenberg was to give in Zürich. Berg was tasked to attend the lecture and determine if the Germans were close to building an atomic bomb. If Berg determined that the Germans were close, he was directed to shoot Heisenberg right then and there. He determined they were not close and therefore, everyone left the lecture alive.

Awards and Accolades

Berg may not be a decorated baseball player, but he is a decorated spy. After World War II ended, President Truman awarded Berg with the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians during wartime. However, Berg declined to accept the award, and did so with no explanation. In addition, in 1996, Berg was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. His Jewish faith played a big role in his requests for his stations during his time in the CIA. He often requested to be stationed in Israel, but hs requests were denied.

Final Thoughts

Moe Berg led a very interesting life. Many MLB players served in WWII, but not many became spies for the CIA. Berg is the only player to have his baseball card displayed in the CIA Headquarters. According to reports, he was not the easiest person to be around after the war. He was often caught up in his books and at times, it was all he cared about. Despite this, Moe Berg did live one of the most interesting lives anyone could live. His life is now being portrayed in different forms of media. There have been a handful of books and movies written about Berg and his career post baseball. Although very unlikely, the next great spy for the CIA could be suiting up to be behind the plate of opening day in 2021.

-Pete Chatterton (@Pchat12)

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