Happy Birthday, Moe Berg!

The mysterious baseball spy Morris “Moe” Berg was born on March 2, 1902.  His parents immigrated to New York from the Ukraine. When Berg passed away in New Jersey on May 29, 1972, he was 70 years old.

Moe caught and fielded for five American baseball teams from the 1920s through 1939 during baseball’s Golden Age.  Berg also had a secret life spying on Japan while participating in an exhibition game and working for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) before and during World War II. He played a prominent role in US efforts to undermine the German atomic bomb program and is now remembered most as the catcher who was a spy. Berg is considered a hero, especially to American Jews.

Moe Berg, Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame

 

A nurse recalled that his final words were “How did the Mets do today?” But his death was his final mystery and no one knows for sure everything he did during World War II or where his remains are. Although his ashes were buried in a cemetery outside Newark, it’s thought that his sister Ethel dug up the urn and had his ashes spread over Mount Scopus in Israel.  We are trying to uncover that mystery.

Berg declined receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1945, (his sister later accepted it on his behalf). Later this year he will be receiving the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously along with the rest of the WWII OSS spies.  The event will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

If you are inclined to raise a glass to toast Berg’s bravery today, we can suggest what to drink. Linda McCarthy, past curator of the CIA museum, reminded me that Pouilly-Fuissé was his favorite wine.

Here’s to Moe, 102 years after he was born, who will finally be celebrated in two films being made this year.

The dramatic film, The Catcher Was a Spy, directed by Ben Lewin, is being shot presently in Prague.  Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) wrote the script that is based on the great bio by Nicholas Dawidoff. Starring Paul Rudd as Berg, the film also features Sienna Miller, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti and Jeff Daniels.

Here at The Ciesla Foundation we are making a feature documentary on Moe Berg, another famous Jewish baseball player like the one we featured in The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.  We are already done with the research and the script treatment.  We expect the film will be out sometime during baseball season in 2018.

Thanks to William Levine, executive producer of the documentary, for making it all possible. Check moebergfilm.org regularly for news about the film.

Just remember Moe played for five baseball teams, but he spied for only one country.  Here’s to you, Moe, on your birthday.

Aviva Kempner

 

Moe with the Washington Senators in 1933

OSS Spies and the Congressional Gold Medal

Long overdue, World War II OSS spies, including baseball player Moe Berg, may finally receive the Congressional Gold Medal

award. After lobbying by OSS spies themselves, legislation has passed the Senate and House and is waiting to be signed by

President Obama. While nearly 13,000 men and women served, there are less than 100 OSS members still alive. The Office of

Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, was created by Franklin D. Roosevelt and handled some of the most “daring

operations.” These daring OSS spies played a critical role during the war. Additional famous OSS spies include: Chef Julia

Child, future CIA director William Casey and the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Ralph Bunche.

Read more on the story here.

Rare Berg Baseball Sold

A Moe Berg Inscribed Baseball (Photo courtesy of psacard.com)

A baseball signed by Moe Berg has been sold for a reported $17,029. To put this into perspective, Barry Bonds’ record setting homerun ball (homerun 756) sold for 3/4 million. This ball is the 2nd highest bid piece of baseball memorabilia. Only two baseballs signed by Berg are known to exist, two baseballs inscribed by a ballplayer who wore two hats. On the field he flashed hidden signs to his pitcher, off the field he sent hidden messages to the Allies. Perhaps one day, a Berg baseball will break Bonds’ 3/4 million benchmark.

Read more on the story here.

Moe Berg’s Final Mystery

The family plot in Bnai Jeshurun Cemetery includes the inscription for Moe Berg, whose ashes were once interred there. Photo by Tomas Dinges
The family plot in Bnai Jeshurun Cemetery includes an inscription for Moe Berg, whose ashes were once interred there. Photo by Tomas Dinges

Award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner wants to know: where is Moe Berg’s final resting place? As part of researching her new documentary about Berg, Kempner is currently in Israel trying to solve this final mystery of the man most remembered as the catcher who was a spy.

A Jewish baseball player, Berg caught and coached for five major league teams from the 1920s up until the 1940s during baseball’s Golden Age. But Berg also worked as a spy in Europe, Latin America and Japan for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) before, during and after World War II. Today he is considered a hero, especially to American Jews.

But Berg’s final resting place has become as mysterious as his double life. After his death in 1972, the urn with Berg’s ashes was interred in the family plot in a Jewish cemetery in Newark, New Jersey. His name was engraved on the stone tombstone.. However, at some point his sister Ethel apparently had the urn dug up and took it to Israel in 1974.

One story has Ethel burying her brother’s ashes in a location on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, in a grove of trees near Hebrew University. It could even be a location near where now students take breaks between classes. Other reports have his ashes spread over Mount Scopus, and another scenario is that Ethel herself buried the urn with Berg’s ashes somewhere outside Jerusalem. It is believed that a rabbi from an US/Israeli charity she had given money to guided Ethel, but who this rabbi was and the exact location of the burial are unknown.

In yet another version of the mystery, after Ethel’s death in 1987, their eldest brother Sam discovered that his brother’s remains had been moved from New Jersey. He contacted the unknown rabbi and pleaded with him to find the remains.

Years have passed. Still, the remaining mystery of Moe Berg’s life is that no one knows his final resting place. In his biography of Berg, The Catcher Was a Spy, author Nicholas Dawidoff wrote that “the final mystery of Moe Berg’s inscrutable life is that nobody knows where he is.”

 

Hank Greenberg Meets Moe Berg as Ciesla’s Past and Future Collide

 

©Leslie Jones. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License (CC BY-NC-ND).

 

Detroit Tigers Hank Greenberg’s home run on May 1 of 1937 puts him at home plate with the Boston Red Sox’s mysterious Spycatcher Moe Berg at Fenway Park! Umpire Charles Johnston looks on, but just who is the Tigers’ batboy? Can anyone identify him and solve this mystery?

Baseball writer Tom Stanton suggests it could be Joey Roggin (Roginski), the team’s batboy and Greenberg’s personal good luck charm! (but also notes he looks much older) Tom recently published Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-Era Detroit. A New York Times Bestseller which takes place in mid-1930’s Detroit. It’s described as “a stunning tale of history, crime, and sports. Richly portraying 1930s America, Terror in the City of Champions features a pageant of colorful figures: iconic athletes, sanctimonious criminals, scheming industrial titans, a bigoted radio priest, a love-smitten celebrity couple, J. Edgar Hoover, and two future presidents, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. It is a rollicking true story set at the confluence of hard luck, hope, victory, and violence.” Tom’s other novels include The Final Season and Ty and The Babe. He’s a journalist and teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy. His book is available at Politics and Prose or Amazon.

a film by Aviva Kempner

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