His life was such an incredible story even a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have invented it. He graduated from Princeton, played major league baseball, learned a dozen languages, and became a U.S. spy during World War II.
He did that that and more in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 40’s, despite the fact as a Jew he had to overcome the era’s rampant anti-semitism.
Yet Moe Berg’s story has been virtually forgotten.
A new documentary is trying to change that. “The Spy Behind Home Plate,” which was produced, written, and directed by Aviva Kempner tells Berg’s story.
The son of immigrants, Berg was raised in Harlem. He started playing baseball as a young boy, despite his father’s disapproval. He went to NYU, and later Princeton, where he excelled academically and played baseball. It led to him being signed in 1923 by the Brooklyn Robins, which would become the Brooklyn, and later the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Berg earned his law degree from Columbia while playing major league ball. He became so well known for his intellect he was a favorite of one of the most popular radio quiz shows of the day, called “Information, Please.”
But, perhaps the most remarkable chapter in Berg’s life came after he left baseball. Because he had traveled extensively in Asia and Europe in the 1930’s, he saw the clouds of what would become World War Two forming. He became a part of the OSS, the spy agency formed by the U.S. government to help figure out what Japan and Germany were doing. Berg was sent to Europe on a secret mission to ascertain where Germany was at in its efforts to develop an atomic bomb.
Berg had orders to kill a key scientist if Germany’s atomic weapons program was nearing. But, he was able to ascertain that the Germans were years behind the U.S., so the scientist’s life was spared.
Berg never girlfriends, but never a wife or children, and remained secretive about his life, and military adventures up until his death in 1972.
Kempner says the hope is the new documentary “The Spy Behind Home Plate” will unwrap some of the mystery behind the man who was not just a Jewish-American, but an American hero.