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This Red Sox Baseball Card is the only one displayed at the CIA museum. A remarkable story

Catcher-turned-spy Moe Berg
Catcher-turned-spy Moe Berg

By Kenneth J. Olson

It was said he spoke 7 languages.”And he couldn’t hit in any of ’em.” He read 10 newspapers a day. Between innings he schooled the dugout in Greek and Roman history. 

Casey Stengel said he was “the strangest man to ever play baseball.”

But while Morris Berg couldn’t steal a base, what he could do was steal enemy secrets for the United States government.

Born in Harlem in 1902 to Jewish parents, at best Moe Berg was a mediocre baseball player inserted as a shortstop or catcher for various teams during the 15 seasons he played. His lifetime batting average was .243 and he hit just six home runs before retiring as the manager of the Boston Red Sox in 1941.

With a pedigree that included Princeton, Columbia and the Sorbonne in Paris, at the outbreak of WW2 his high IQ and language abilities landed him in the wartime spy agency Office of Strategic Services (OSS.)

Trading his glove for a code book, from the get-go Berg offered the US valuable intelligence. Having travelled to Japan in 1934 as part of the All-Star baseball tour with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Berg could provide film footage of Japanese cities including port and factory installations.

Following several years in Yugoslavia and South America Berg’s superiors decided his talents were better served in Europe. 

In 1944 he was assigned to gather intelligence on Germany’s atomic program and try to lure top European scientists to work in America. At one point he was instructed to attend a lecture by German physicist Werner Heisenberg in Zurich. In a scene right out of a movie, armed with a pistol and cyanide pill his superiors ordered him to kill the scientist should it be clear he was indeed building an atom bomb for the Nazi’s. Berg determined the Germans were not close to building the bomb.

After WW2, Berg was largely forgotten by his handlers and by the 1950s was out of the spy business. He refused to cooperate with biographers who wanted to publish his life story. He also refused to accept the Medal of Freedom from President Harry Truman in 1946. However, following his death in 1972, his surviving sister accepted the award which she later donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Berg’s are the only baseball card displayed at the CIA Museum.

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