Baseball’s Moe Berg Was WW2 US Spy
Morris Berg was a 15 season veteran of major league teams as catcher, but Casey Stengel called him “the strangest man ever to play baseball.” Baseball players today often come across as immigrants from Third World countries, but Berg graduated from Princeton as well as Columbia Law School. His classical education allowed him to speak several languages. His routine was to read about 10 newspapers each day.
After Pearl Harbor, Berg worked for OSS, the forerunner of the CIA. He had filmed during his trips to Japan in the 1930s, and he adapted his footage of Tokyo Bay to help the OSS prepare for the Doolittle Raid.
Berg was sent to Yugoslavia to find out more about the resistance groups, and then was sent to Italy to find out what the Germans were doing with their nuclear program. Had the Germans developed the atomic bomb first, they would have won the war.
Though Albert Einstein wasn’t around Europe then, Nobel laureate physicist Werner Heisenberg (photo) was hard at work. After all, he had developed the still famous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics.
When Heisenberg was scheduled to lecture in Switzerland, Berg traveled there and sneaked past the SS guards to become part of the audience. His mission was to see how close the Germans were to developing the bomb. Berg carried a pistol to assassinate Heisenberg if the German development of the bomb was far along. He had a cyanide capsule to kill himself as well. But Berg determined that German nuclear progress wasn’t threateningly advanced, so Heisenberg was spared.
Nicholas Dawidoff’s The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg is the standard biography.