Even if you’re a big baseball fan, the name Morris Berg probably doesn’t ring any bells. Truth be told, Morris “Moe” Berg had a pretty unexceptional career in the game, but it’s what he did away from the field that makes his story worth telling. During the Second World War, after a disappointing career with the Red Sox, Berg decided to do his part for his country. In a series of events that would sound made-up if they weren’t true, an average-at-best catcher became one of America’s most unlikely— and most fascinating — spies.
In baseball terms, Morris “Moe” Berg’s career was nothing really to write home about. He became a pretty seasoned pro, playing in Major League Baseball for 15 seasons, but his performance never reached the heights it perhaps could have done. He moved around the field quite a bit before mainly being used as a substitute backstop.
“Good field, no hit” was famed scout Mike Gonzalez’s evaluation of Berg in the early 1920s. He certainly had talent; there was no question about that. But his stats never really shone as some of his peers did. He was no Babe Ruth or Lou Gehrig.
Modest career statistics
All in all, Berg took part in just 662 games over his 15 seasons in MLB. He began his career as a utility infielder before the Chicago White Sox started using him as a catcher in 1927. He found his place in the role of substitute backstop from then until his retirement from the game in 1939.
Berg had an unimpressive hitting average of .243 by the time he packed in baseball. Over the course of his career, he’d turned out for the Brooklyn Robins, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and the Boston Red Sox. But despite Berg’s underwhelming stats, he became famous for something else in the league.
“The brainiest guy in baseball”
Instead of being heralded for his baseball talent, Berg became renowned in the game for his intelligence. He was a very smart guy, well-educated, and quick-witted. This even earned him the nickname of “Professor Berg.” In fact, people soon began referring to the player as “the brainiest guy in baseball.” It was said the man could speak 10 languages.
A commentator once famously said of Berg, “He can speak several languages, but he can’t hit in any of them.” One of his teammates allegedly once quipped, “Moe, I don’t care how many of them college degrees you got, they ain’t learned you to hit that curve ball no better than the rest of us!”
“The strangest man to ever play baseball”
As well as being incredibly intelligent, Berg was clearly an unusual guy. He was reportedly called “the strangest man to ever play baseball,” apparently by noted right fielder and future New York Yankees and Mets manager Casey Stengel. The more of a picture you paint of Berg, the clearer it becomes that this was no ordinary man, and he led no ordinary life.
Berg’s player stats may have been nothing more than ordinary, but his personality, his mind, and his talents off the field were clearly something special. These were traits that would eventually attract the attention of the newly formed Office of Strategic Services — or OSS — during World War Two.