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.
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) during 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.”
Detroit Tigers’ Hank Greenberg’s home run on August 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? Steve Mandel has written in to say it could be Willie “Shorty” Ash, a comedian, who the Tigers signed as a publicity stunt
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.