When baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on tour in baseball-crazy Japan in 1934, some fans wondered why a third-string catcher named Moe Berg was included. Although he played with five major-league teams from 1923 to 1939, at best he was a very mediocre ball. He was however often regarded as the brainiest ballplayer of all time. In fact, Casey Stengel once said: “That is the strangest man ever to play baseball”. In Barringer High School, Moe learned Latin, Greek and French. Moe read at least 10 newspapers everyday. He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton where he played baseball and basketball – having added Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit to his linguistic quiver. During further studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris and Columbia Law School, he picked up Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian – 15 languages in all, plus some regional dialects. After college he went on to play baseball in the major league, first with the White Sox and then the Cleveland Indians, many people wondering how? Then in 1934 Herb Hunter arranged for a group of All-Stars, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Gomez, to tour Japan playing exhibitions against a Japanese all-star team. Despite the fact that Berg was a mediocre, third-string catcher, he was invited at the last minute to make the trip. Among the items Berg took with him to Japan were a 16-mm Bell & Howell movie camera and a letter from MovietoneNews, a New York City newsreel production company with which Berg had contracted to film the sights of his trip. When the team arrived in Japan, he gave a welcome speech in Japanese and also addressed the legislature. On November 29, 1934, while the rest of the team was playing in Omiya, Berg went to Saint Luke’s Hospital in Tsukiji, supposedly to visit the daughter of American ambassador Joseph Grew. Instead, Berg sneaked onto the roof of the hospital, one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, and filmed the city and harbor with his movie camera, particularly filming key features: the harbor, military installations, railway yards, etc. He never did see the ambassador’s daughter. Back at home, the Indians gave him his unconditional release and Beerg continued on to the Philippines, Korea and Moscow. Eight years later, General Jimmy Doolittle studied Berg’s films in planning his spectacular raid on Tokyo. I should also not that in the summer of 1943, Berg became a paramilitary operations officer in the part of the OSS that is now called the CIA Special Activities Division. He was assigned to the Secret Intelligence branch and parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia to evaluate the various resistance groups operating against the Nazis to determine which was the strongest. He talked to both Mihailović and Marshall Tito and reviewed their forces, deciding that Tito had the stronger and better supported group. In return Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered all-out support for the Yugoslav underground fighter, rather than Mihajlovic’s Serbians, which was huge turning point. In late 1943, Berg was assigned to Project Larson, an intelligence operation set up by Chief of Special Projects John Shaheen. The stated purpose of the project was to kidnap Italian rocket and missile specialists out of Italy and bring them to the U.S. However, there was another project hidden within Larson, called Project AZUSA, with the goal of interviewing Italian physicists to see what they knew about Werner Heisenberg and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. From May to mid-December 1944, Berg hopped around Europe interviewing physicists and trying to convince several to leave Europe and work in America. At the beginning of December, news about Heisenberg giving a lecture in Zürich reached the CIA. Berg was assigned to attend the lecture and determine “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 and then swallow the cyanide pill. The story is Moe managed to slip past the SS guards at the auditorium, posing as a Swiss graduate student. He then determined that the Germans were not as close as some thought to a nuclear bomb. During his time he was able to meet with members of the underground, and located a secret heavy-water plant which was part of the Nazis’ effort to build an atomic bomb. His information guided the Royal Air Force in a bombing raid to destroy that plant. Also during his time Berg became close friends with physicist Paul Scherrer and many other leading physicists who were also Jewish. Moe Berg’s reports were distributed to Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and key figures in the team developing the Atomic Bomb. Roosevelt once responded: “Give my regards to the catcher.” Berg returned to the United States on April 25, 1945. By October of that same year he was awarded the Medal of Freedom. Interestingly he rejected the award and continued to turn it down throughout his lifetime; it was re-awarded after his death, with his sister accepting on his behalf.
This is just a small excerpt of the full Van Trump Report that I send out every day. To find out what you’re missing, sign up for a FREE 30-day trial.