“Moe” Berg: Sportsman, Scholar, Spy — Central Intelligence Agency

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See also on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

“Moe” Berg: Sportsman, Scholar, Spy

Morris “Moe” Berg, a professional baseball player who also served his country as an intelligence officer, lived a life many can only dream of. A true Renaissance man, Berg graduated from Princeton University, passed the New York State bar exam and learned eight languages.

Moe Berg - Catching for the Senators, 1932-1934
Moe Berg – Catching for the Senators, 1932-1934

After graduating from college in 1923, Moe played 15 seasons of major-league baseball as a shortstop, catcher and coach. Pictured are his cards as coach of the Boston Red Sox in 1940 and as catcher for the Washington Senators (from 1932 – 34).

Mixing Baseball and Intelligence

Berg’s entrance into the field of intelligence began when he, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other baseball greats formed an all-star team and traveled to Japan in the mid-1930s for exhibition games.

Proficient in Japanese, Berg talked his way into one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. He climbed to the rooftop alone and used a movie camera to film the capital city’s shipyards. Reportedly, the US used Berg’s footage to plan bombing raids over Tokyo in World War II.

OSS Intelligence Career Highlights

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Berg initially joined the White House’s new Office of Inter-American Affairs but left for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1943. He became a paramilitary officer and carried out various intelligence operations in Europe, including parachuting into Yugoslavia to evaluate resistance groups there.

Moe Berg, coaching for the Red Sox, 1940
Moe Berg, coaching for the Red Sox, 1940

By 1945 Berg had been tasked to determine whether Nazi Germany was close to having a nuclear weapon. Using his language skills and charm, he managed to locate and chat with Werner Heisenberg, a top physicist in the Third Reich. Berg accurately determined that the answer was “no.”

Berg stayed with the OSS until it dissolved in 1945. Afterward, he served on the staff of NATO’s Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development.

A Word from Berg

Before his death in 1972, Berg said, “Maybe I’m not in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame like so many of my baseball buddies, but I’m happy I had the chance to play pro ball and am especially proud of my contributions to my country. Perhaps I could not hit like Babe Ruth, but I spoke more languages than he did.”

The baseball cards pictured here are held in the CIA Museum’s collection.

Afterward

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once described Moe Berg as a most unusual fellow.

When the war ended, Moe Berg found himself unemployed. He did receive occasional intelligence assignments, including a visit to the Soviet Union, where his ability to speak Russia was valuable. Traveling with other agents, when asked for credentials, by a Soviet border guard in Russian-dominated Czechoslovakia, he showed the soldier a letter from the Texaco Oil company, with its big red star. The illiterate soldier was satisfied and let them pass.

He lived with his brother Samuel for 17 years and, when evicted, spent his last final years with his sister, Ethel. A lifelong bachelor, he never owned a home or even rented an apartment. He never learned how to drive. When someone criticized him for wasting his talent, Berg responded: “I’d rather be a ballplayer than a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I thought maybe this was urban legend, but this is from the C.I.A.’s own website, so I guess not! How come this hasn’t been made into a movie? It reads like one!

See on www.cia.gov

DAILY PROMPT: CLEAN HOUSE? I TRIED. I FAILED.

Is there “junk” in your life? Are you kidding? I am human, therefore I have junk!

What kind? What would you like? I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere. Books. Photographs. Goodfers. Old dog leashes. Old empty purses and briefcases — there’s nothing wrong with them … they just aren’t in current use — don’t call them junk!

Unframed original art. Musical instruments. Posters. Dolls. More dolls. Even more dolls. Pottery, ancient and new. Clothing that’s too small. Clothing I used to wear but don’t like any more. Old bills. New bills. Envelopes for bills I’ll never use because I pay everything online. Medicine bottles with and without medicine. Empty eyeglass cases. Old tax records. New tax records. Records. Stuff you can’t throw away but just accumulates with the years. Documents. Mortgage documents, remortgage documents, official documents, unofficial documents.

How do you get rid of it? I can’t get rid of it. It’s valuable. Maybe someday I’ll be able to frame the art. I have to collect the clothing and donate it. There are people who need clothing. It’s not junk to them. And the cameras aren’t junk. They are organized and carefully packed in their bags.

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Photographers, artists, poets: show us JUNK. Junk! I beg to differ. It perhaps appears junky to the untutored eye. I look at that pile of stuff. I see a favorite poet, one to whose works I frequently refer. I spy a book I will read as soon as I finish the one I’m reading. The rest? The biggest bag, the blue one with handle and wheels contains a career’s worth of writing samples. Or maybe old doll clothing and the writing samples are somewhere else. I could open the bag and look. Nah. Then I’d have to figure out what to do with the stuff.

If only there was a room in the house with an available closet. The office is closing in on me.

The rest of the “junk”? Camera bags containing … are you ready? Cameras. And camera accessories. Set up so I can grab the medium-size yellow canvas bag, Garry can grab the black bag and we are off, each with our favorites including spare batteries and anything else we might need.

There’s a thin line between treasures and junk. Very thin and I tread the line with deep trepidation.

WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: SATURATED – FABULOUS FALL

Autumn is New England’s super saturated season. In a good year, when weather cooperates, the trees look electrified. The color can be so bright it seems impossible, unreal.

Not every year is vintage. Too much rain, early snow, too warm and autumn will be dull. Sometimes, a big storm will strip the trees before they change color, because fall is also hurricane season. But — when it comes together just right, it’s breathtaking. Amazing. These pictures are from the last great autumn. I’m hoping this year will be another. My cameras are ready.

WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: SATURATED – RED ON WHITE

Red Barn White Snow

As bright as is the autumn, winter is intensely white. A monochromatic world where the intensity of the whiteness makes any other color jump out at you. As does this red barn on a fresh white snowy field. Hadley, Massachusetts.

LEDA DOES THE SWAN

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The happy couple.

Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.

But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing getting raped by a swan. Even as Zeus, swans are not agile except in the water and their lack of hands and arms would seem to make rape difficult.

Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant by Zeus as swan. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus in his swan modality. Simultaneously (I’d like to know how she manages this) she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband her extra pregnancy was not the result of a lover. No, no! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus –not some guy — but he was in the form of a swan!

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Hey, Zeus? Is that you?

My favorite scene would be the first act closer. In a highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. She explains — to hubby, mom and dad —  it really truly was Zeus.

Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. He was disguised as a swan. You know how clever he can be.

Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In a carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … Never mind. This is a G-rated site. Suffice to say it would make a heck of a scene. Now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects? Wow. This could have the audience on its feet!

There’s more. Depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either give birth to babies … or lays eggs. Lays eggs? Really?

Zeus and Leda?
Zeus and Leda?

Eggs open up a whole new world of possibilities. If she lays eggs, does she have to sit on them until they hatch? As Queen of Sparta, can she order her court attendants to sit on the eggs while she performs her royal duties?

Does she build a nest? In the palace? Do the hatchlings feel a compelling urge to dive into lakes and ponds? Are they born knowing how to swim? Or more to the point, paddle? Do they have webbed feet? How do they feel about feathers?

I no long feel up to writing a musical comedy, but I freely offer this amazing concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?