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April 21: The Strangest Man in Baseball

April 21, 2014
chronology5_clip_image002Moe (Morris) Berg (1902-1972), the only Major League Baseball player whose baseball card is on display at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, played in his 117th consecutive game without committing an error, a record for an American League catcher, on this date in 1934. Described by Casey Stengel as “the strangest man ever to play baseball,” Berg was a Princeton graduate among rural farmboys in the big leagues, and worked as a spy for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, assigned to evaluate Yugoslavian anti-Nazi resistance forces and to find out if Germany was developing nuclear weapons. Berg read ten newspapers each day and was a linguist of whom it was said that he could speak twelve languages but couldn’t hit in any of them. A strong defensive catcher, he was a weak hitter (and slow runner) who batted .243 over the course of his career, which spanned sixteen years to 1939. After his spying career also ended, in the 1950s, he spent two decades as a drifter, living with family members and friends. “As early as 1934, Berg toured Japan with a group of major league all-stars, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. During the trip, Moe was invited to lecture at Meiji University, where he delivered an eloquent speech in Japanese. Few Americans at this time spoke the language, and the lecture made Berg a beloved figure among the Japanese people. It seems, however, that before the trip the U.S. government had recruited Berg as a spy, supplying him with a motion picture camera despite the fact that it was forbidden for foreigners to film in Japan. In Tokyo, ostensibly on a visit to the daughter of the American ambassador to Japan who had just given birth, Berg snuck onto the hospital roof and filmed Tokyo harbor. Berg then snuck the film out of Japan. He later bragged that the Air Force used his films to plan their retaliatory raids on Tokyo after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor . . .” -Michael Feldberg, American Jewish Historical Society