Wednesday, January 23, 2008


In this week's episode of 'Terminator: TSCC' ('The Turk'), Sarah Connor's opening narration told the story of former baseball player Moe Berg, who became a spy for the OSS during World War II. She only covered a science conference in Zurich, in which Berg was ordered to listen to a speech given by Werner Heisenberg in order to determine if it sounded as if Germany was close to developing their own atomic weapons. If so, Berg was ordered to shoot Heisenberg.

Berg was featured in a Nova series on
"Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies" and the PBS page about the ball player had this to say:

Moe Berg played a total of 15 major league baseball seasons with the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Boston Red Sox, and the Washington Senators, yet he made few accomplishments as a batter or on the field. Berg never advanced beyond playing backup catcher and substitute shortstop, and he always sat on the bench more than he played. Nevertheless, in 1934, five years before he retired from baseball, Berg was picked to join the traveling American All-Star baseball team on a trip to Japan. Fellow teammates and baseball fans wondered why a player with a lifetime average of only .243 was chosen for the All-Star team with the likes of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Why he was chosen was never disclosed, yet significantly, while the All-Star team was in Tokyo, Berg, who spoke Japanese, slipped away and took covert movies of the Tokyo skyline, Tokyo harbor, and munitions facilities from the top of the city's tallest building. The movies were later used in the planning of U.S. bombing raids over Tokyo in 1942. Whether or not this event marked the beginning of Berg's involvement in espionage, the Tokyo story forever labeled Berg as the most shadowy player in baseball history.

Here are some highlights from the Wikipedia entry on Moe Berg:

Morris "Moe" Berg (March 2, 1902, New York, New York – May 29, 1972, Belleville, New Jersey) was an American professional baseball player who later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Although he spent 15 seasons in Major League Baseball, Berg was never more than an average player, and was better known for being "the brainiest guy in baseball" than for anything he accomplished in the game. The Bergs were never religiously observant, although being Jewish did contribute to Moe's sense of being an outsider in mid- twentieth century America. Casey Stengel once described Berg as "the strangest man ever to play baseball."

A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, Berg spoke several languages and regularly read 10 newspapers a day. His reputation was fueled by his successful appearances as a contestant on the radio quiz show "Information, Please!". Berg answered questions about the derivation of words and names from Greek and Latin, historical events in Europe and the Far East, and ongoing international conferences.

As an agent of the United States government, Berg traveled to Yugoslavia to gather intelligence on resistance groups the government was considering supporting. He was then sent on a mission to Italy, where he interviewed various physicists concerning the German nuclear program.

At the beginning of December [1943] news about Heisenberg giving a lecture in Zurich, Switzerland reached the OSS, and Berg was assigned the task of attending the lecture and determining "if anything Heisenberg said convinced him the Germans were close to a bomb." If Berg came to the conclusion that the Germans were close, he had orders to shoot Heisenberg; Berg determined that the Germans were not close.

Berg returned to the United States on April 25, 1945, and resigned from the Strategic Services Unit, the successor to the OSS, in August. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on October 10, but he rejected the award on December 2. His sister later accepted it on his behalf after he died.

For more on Moe Berg, check out the full
Wikipedia article.

I found his story interesting enough that somebody should make a TV-movie about the guy! I'm not sure who would be right for the role today, but there's one picture in which a young MacDonald Carey might have been suitable.......

Toby OB

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