Friday, March 2, 2018

Tinker, Tailor, Catcher, Spy?: Moe Berg And The Red Sox

(Getty Images)
The Red Sox have had many, shall we say, enigmatic players over the years. Bill Lee, Jimmy Piersall, Oil Can Boyd. But one in particular was really enigmatic—Moe Berg. Had he lived, Moe would have been 116-years-old today. Berg played 15 seasons in the major leagues—five of those in Carmine Hose. He was a below-average hitter (.243 lifetime), but a terrific defensive catcher with a rocket arm. But, what really makes Moe stand out is what he might have been—specifically, a spy for the United States Government. His most interesting exploit came in 1934, while he was on tour with other ballplayers in Japan. Using a ruse to get to a rooftop, Berg took pictures of the landscape of the Japanese capital. Many years later, General Jimmy Doolittle's pilots used Berg's reconnaissance to help guide their bombing raids on Tokyo. Berg was brilliant—attending Princeton and also getting a law degree from Columbia. While at Princeton he refused membership in an elite society—when the condition for his membership was that he not recruit more Jewish students to join. Moe didn't take crap like that. His Red Sox career slightly over-lapped with that of Ted Williams. Reportedly, Berg schooled the young phenom on what made great hitters great—the patience of Lou Gehrig, the good eye of Babe Ruth. Then he told The Kid this, "You are better than all of them. When it comes to wrists you have the best." There's certainly nothing "enigmatic" about that. Happy birthday, Moe!