It’s baseball season. Fans are filling
stadiums from coast to coast to watch America’s pastime. They hope to see
their favorite player in action, relive childhood memories, and – perhaps –
catch a fly ball.
For well over a century, summer in America has
been synonymous with baseball. The greats – Babe Ruth,
Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Joe DiMaggio
(to name just a few) – have earned a place in history for their skill and for
their dedication to the sport. But there is one – Morris “Moe” Berg – whose
spot in American history comes not from baseball, but from espionage. He was a
catcher who put his multitude of talents to work for his country as an
Brainiest Man in Baseball
Moe was born in New York City on March 2, 1902. He began
playing baseball as a child, and while majoring in modern languages at Princeton University, he played shortstop on the school
team. After graduating from college in 1923, Moe was signed by the Brooklyn
Dodgers. He started his career as a first baseman and shortstop. But, Moe was a
man of many skills (he spoke 12 languages), and baseball was by no means his
Off the field, Moe studied French at the
Sorbonne in Paris and then decided to attend Columbia University Law
School. In 1926, Moe
joined the Chicago White Sox, and changed positions from shortstop to catcher.
When asked how he did it, Moe replied that “they didn’t call me the brainiest
man in baseball for nothing.”
He received his law degree and was admitted
to the New York State bar in 1928. He joined the law
firm of Satterlee and Canfield and kept playing ball for the White Sox. Moe
injured his right knee in 1930, which eventually limited his playing time. In
1931, Moe was traded to the Cleveland Indians, and then to the Washington
Senators. The move to Washington
would change his life.
Joining a Different Kind of Team
Being a baseball player with vast
intellectual gifts, Moe was frequently invited to embassy dinners and parties.
He impressed many with his exceptional language ability and quick wit. He soon
became very well known around town and caught the attention of the Roosevelt administration.
Moe played with the Senators until 1934; that
year, he toured Japan
with the American All-Star baseball team. While in Japan,
the Japanese-speaking ball player filmed Tokyo
Harbor, military installations, and
other facilities for the US
- Moe Berg
When he returned from Tokyo, Moe began playing with the Boston Red
Sox. While with Boston,
Moe played in the inaugural Baseball Hall of Fame game in 1939. He played and
coached for the Boston Red Sox until his retirement in 1942.
Shortly afterward, Moe toured Latin America with
the Office of Inter-American Affairs, an agency set up to counter Axis
propaganda in Latin America. During this trip,
Moe used his linguistic talents to meet government officials, journalists, and
In 1943, the Office
of Strategic Services (OSS) – the forerunner of the CIA – recruited Moe into
its ranks. Although he got off to a rocky start in the OSS,
he was sent to Switzerland
to collect intelligence on Germany’s
efforts to build an atomic bomb. He met German physicist Werner Heisenberg, who
– during a lecture – let slip his belief that Germany would lose the war and that
the Nazis were not close to developing the bomb.
Moe provided the United States with incredibly
helpful intelligence during World War II.
Life After World War II
with the OSS
until it was dissolved in 1945. Afterward, he served on the staff of NATO’s Advisory
Group for Aeronautical Research and Development.
Known as a man of mystery, Moe planned to
write a book detailing his career as an intelligence officer. He never wrote
the book, and many of his secrets will never be known.
Before his death in 1972, he said, “Maybe I’m
not in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame like so many of my baseball
buddies, but I’m happy I had the chance to play pro ball and am especially
proud of my contributions to my country. Perhaps I couldn’t hit like Babe Ruth,
but I spoke more languages than he did.”