[January 20, 2021] I’ve been a huge baseball fan, since before I can even remember. My dad would sit me in front of the radio, as a toddler, to listen to our favorite team play; the New York Yankees. Growing up, I collected baseball cards and watched every game I could. And today, I’m still in possession of a Moe Berg baseball card (worth a few hundred dollars). Unbeknownst to me, it turns out that Moe was a CIA spy.
Who was Moe Berg?
He was a man of many talents. In 1934, baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on a tour of baseball-crazy Japan. Some wondered why a third-string catcher named Moe Berg was included in the tour and he brought along his 16mm movie camera. Moe was just an average player and a poor hitter. He was, however, regarded as the “brainiest ballplayer of all time.”
Moe Berg graduated with a B.A. degree, magna cum laude from Princeton University. His area of study was modern languages. While at Princeton, he was on the baseball team and helped them in a number of championships. Moe got his big break in 1923 when the Brooklyn Robins (later the Brooklyn Dodgers) recruited him as shortstop.
Moe Berg was a spy working for the CIA:
Moe spoke 15 languages, including Japanese. On the trip, he dressed in a kimono to take flowers to an American diplomat’s daughter in St. Luke’s Hospital, the tallest building in Tokyo, Japan. He never delivered the flowers but ascended to the roof and filmed key features: the harbor, military installations, railway yards, etc. Some claim that General Jimmy Doolittle studied Berg’s films in planning for the spectacular raid on Tokyo.1
Spying during WWII:
During WWII, Moe parachuted into Yugoslavia to assess the value of the two partisan groups’ war effort. Based on his report that the people supported Tito’s forces, Winston Churchill ordered all-out support for the Yugoslav underground fighters. Later during the war, he penetrated German-held Norway, met with members of the underground, and located a secret heavy-water plant (part of the Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb). His information guided the Royal Air Force bombing raid that destroyed the plant.
Moe was then sent to Switzerland to hear leading German physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Laureate, lecture on the atomic bomb. Moe was to determine if the Germans were close to building an atomic bomb. If the German indicated the Nazis were close to building it, Moe was to shoot him. Moe determined the Germans were nowhere near their goal.2
After the war:
Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a civilian during wartime. Moe refused to accept it because he couldn’t tell people about his exploits. After his death, his sister received the medal, and 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.
- After the Japanese Naval attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Moe accepted a position in Nelson Rockefeller’s Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. His job was to monitor the fitness of American troops stationed in the Caribbean and South America. In 1943, he accepted a position with the Office of Strategic Studies (later the CIA) as a paramilitary operations officer.