Submitted by Daryl Heusinkveld
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
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 the CIA. 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.
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.
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
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
The RAF 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
Werner Heisenberg 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.” Most of Germany's leading physicists had been Jewish and had fled the Nazis
mainly to Britain and the United States.
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.
Moe Berg's baseball card is the only card on display at the CIA Headquarters in Washington, DC