Who was Moe Berg?

By | January 20, 2021

[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.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moe_Berg
  2. 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.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Who was Moe Berg?

  1. Jeff Blackwater

    Question from Gen. Satterfield, “Who was Moe Berg?” Don’t know? Why don’t’ you know? Just come to this website for more insights into leadership than you will find with any politician in America. Just looking out for the little guy.

    Reply
  2. Fred Weber

    As a huge baseball fan, I want to say this was one of the best articles on “WHO WAS ______” from Gen. Satterfield that I’ve read. For those who are new to this leadership website, type in “who was” in the search engine to get more. I recommend that Gen. Satterfield create a tab that allows us to easily read these stories. Right now, doing a search is the only way. Just a suggestion.

    Reply
  3. Valkerie

    At great risk as a Jew, Berg spent parts of 1944 and 1945 in Germany, helping arrange for the capture of several prominent German atomic scientists by U.S. troops before the Russians got them. You gotta give it to the guy, he was a hero.

    Reply
    1. Dale Paul Fox

      … and Berg made a radio broadcast to the Japanese people over the radio in which, to quote his biographers Harold and Meir Ribalow, “In fluent Japanese, he pleaded at length, ‘as a friend of the Japanese people,’ for the Japanese to avoid a war ‘you cannot win.’” The Ribalows report, “Berg’s address was so effective that several Japanese confirmed afterwards they had wept while listening.”

      Reply
      1. rjsmithers

        An amazing American hero in his own rights and to think I never knew.
        Oh, Gen. Satterfield, keep the baseball card.

        Reply
  4. Randy Goodman

    I’m surprised. And, maybe the Japanese leadership of the time were surprised too that a baseball player would be a spy. Hmmmm. Thanks Gen. Satterfield. Much appreciate this article.

    Reply
  5. Randi Jamison

    Good work, Gen. S. Hey, thanks. I too am a baseball fan, player, and supporter.

    Reply
    1. Janna Faulkner

      Me too. I really like this leadership website. I really like the folks also who post in the leadership comments forum. A lot of the comments don’t really tell me much. Some do a little and a few – like Max – tell me a lot. I keep reading because it doesn’t take much time, is entertaining, and I do learn a bit each time I come to this website. Keep up the comments, folks. I love it.

      Reply
  6. Greg Heyman

    Gen. Satterfield, you long-running series on “Who was…” is really great. You’ve had some real humdingers on it and I’m always surprised and entertained. While I do learn something, it is a break from the routine of learning about leaders.

    Reply
  7. Eric Coda

    Great comment on baseball, the good old American pasttime. I too love baseball and have been a fan of the New York Yankees, also since before I can recall. Our family was into baseball and basketball. Today, I do not watch professional sports at all since they decided to be anti-American. The world is certainly changing and not, in my opinion, for the better.

    Reply
    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Yes Eric, you and I think alike on this topic. While I’m no fan of baseball, I do like the story of Moe Berg. He must have been a man of many talents that he used to help the free world overcome true fascism and other dictators.

      Reply
      1. H. M. Longstreet

        Today’s youth are into fighting “fascism” yet 1) they have no idea what fascism is, 2) they use fascist methods to silence others, and 3) they are being led around by the nose hairs to crush democracy. They don’t even see it. Moe Berg truly fought fascism.

        Reply
  8. Stacey Borden

    Wow, I never knew. Frankly, I never heard of Moe Berg anyway. Looking him up on the Internet, I see he was a really smart guy. I just wonder why he took up baseball when he could have done so many other things.

    Reply
    1. Yusaf from Texas

      Same here. Never heard of him. I asked my neighbor, who is a Boston Red Socks fan, and has heard of Moe Berg but that’s all.

      Reply
      1. Wilson Cox

        Morris “Moe” Berg (March 2, 1902 – May 29, 1972), was an American catcher and coach in Major League Baseball who later served as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Although he played 15 seasons in the major leagues, almost entirely for four American League teams, Berg was never more than an average player, usually used as a backup catcher, and was better known for being “the brainiest guy in baseball” than for anything he accomplished in the game. Casey Stengel once described Berg as “the strangest man ever to play baseball”.

        Reply

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