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 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 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.

  

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.

 

 

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."

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.

 

 

Presidential Medal of Freedom: the highest award given to civilians during
wartime.

  

Moe Berg's baseball card is the only card on display at the CIA Headquarters
in Washington, DC.