“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1935-1939
C   MOE BERG

Casey Stengel, an eccentric man himself, called Moe Berg "the strangest man ever to play baseball. John Kieran, a former sports columnist for the New York Times, called Moe "The most scholarly athlete I ever knew." Moe attended Barringer High School and was an all-city third baseman with a rifle arm. He graduated from Barringer at the tender age of sixteen and a year later went to Princeton University. At Princeton Berg studied classical and Romance languages. He started for the Princeton in baseball for three years. During his last year he was captain and a star shortstop. That team was the best Princeton ever had, winning 18 straight games.

Moe signed with Brooklyn in 1923 and went on to be a back-up catcher bouncing from team to team. In 1934 a group of All-Stars, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Gomez, to tour Japan playing exhibitions against a Japanese all-star team. Despite the fact that Berg was a mediocre, third-string catcher, he was invited at the last minute to make the trip. Among the items Berg took with him to Japan were a 16-mm Bell and Howell movie camera and a letter from Movietone News, a New York City newsreel production company with which Berg had contracted to film the sights of his trip. When the team arrived in Japan, he gave a welcome speech in Japanese and also addressed the legislature. On November 29, 1934, while the rest of the team was playing in Omiya, Berg went to Saint Luke's Hospital one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, and filmed the city and harbor with his movie camera. Berg spent his last five years with the Red Sox, retiring in 1939.

In all he spent fifteen seasons in the majors mainly because of his defensive skills and his knowledge of baseball. In World War II, Berg was recruited into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), later to become the CIA, by General William (Wild Bill) Donovan, former commander of the Fighting Sixty-Ninth Regiment. On one mission Berg posed as a German businessman in Switzerland. His job order from the OSS was to carry a shoulder-holstered pistol and assassinate Werner Heisenberg, the top scientist suspected of working on an atomic bomb (if indeed the Germans were moving ahead on the A-Bomb). Heisenberg divulged nothing. Berg, who was to shoot him on the spot and then take cyanide to avoid capture, concluded that the Germans were nowhere close to an atomic bomb. Heisenberg and Berg were to live another day. Little about Moe Berg adds up. How did he last so long in the majors, continuously from 1926 to 1939, when he was no better than a mediocre player? Was he kept on major league rosters at the behest of the government for his undercover abilities? Maybe