ELECTED MEMBERS
   
Last NameSportCountryYear Inducted
MORRIS "MOE" BERG
Country: United States
Born: March 2, 1902, in New York City
Died: May 29, 1972

A Major League Baseball catcher and shortstop with five teams between 1923 and 1939, Moe Berg was a solid journeyman player with a lifetime batting average of .243. He also had a Princeton University law degree and the ability to speak 12 languages, among them Japanese, Spanish, Latin,
German, and Portuguese.

It was the language credentials, combined with his baseball persona, that motivated the U.S. government in 1942 to persuade Berg to leave his coaching job with the Boston Red Sox and undertake a secret intelligence mission in South America. Following a successful trip, he accepted a position
in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS—the U.S. World War II
covert spy organization) and was assigned to the European Theater, specializing in scientific intelligence. The complete range of his activities may never be known, but his success was so important to the war effort that Berg was awarded the United States Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in October, 1945. Two months after receiving the medal
from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he returned it, explaining that he was “uncomfortable” with it.

Berg’s first known taste of the cloak-and-dagger occurred long before World War II. In 1934, on a Major League Baseball goodwill trip to Japan with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and teammates, he was recruited by the American government to acquire some seemingly harmless information. Using his non-playing time and sightseeing tours, Berg photographed the industrial skyline and other landmarks of Tokyo. Eight years later, his V.I.P. tourist photographs served as the foundation for General Jimmy Doolittle’s renowned “thirty seconds over Tokyo” 1942 raid. After the sneak attack bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanesespeaking Berg, who enjoyed considerable popularity with Japan’s sporting public, having made several baseball-themed visits to the Far East, offered to speak to the Japanese people in an effort to inspire the populace to demand that its warlords cease further outrages of war. The offer was accepted and broadcasting arrangements were handled by the U.S. government.

In early 1942, he resigned as a coach with the Boston Red Sox, having been induced by Nelson A. Rockefeller, then chief of the Office of Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, to become a “goodwill ambassador” to Latin America. Berg’s assignment was to be a morale builder for American troops stationed in South America and teach baseball to the locals— and get a firsthand feel for Germany’s influence among America’s Latin neighbors. The six-month excursion by plane, train, jeep, and on foot took
him through 20 countries.

Upon his return to the United States, Berg was recruited by the OSS as a civilian operative. He was assigned to infiltrate European scientific circles in concert with Allied troop liberation of cities and hamlets from German occupation. Experiencing extraordinary success, Berg was given the top-secret task of learning whether or not Germany had developed an atomic bomb. Through his cunning work, which brought him within seconds of assassinating Germany’s top nuclear fission physicist, the Allies learned that Germany did not have the devastating A-bomb. Following World War II, Berg countered Soviet Union intelligence operatives, scouring Europe for prominent scientists to offer a scientific haven in America.

Although the war had ended, the very private Moe Berg adhered to the no-longer-binding wartime code of secrecy regarding recollections of his spying assignments. Only in recent years have accounts of his intelligence activities become public. Without commenting on the specifics of the former Major Leaguer’s clandestine assignments, government officials have referred to Berg as a hero and described the results of his efforts as“ invaluable to our country.”

It was Berg the athlete who inspired a baseball scout in 1922 to coin the classic remark “Good field, no hit.” He began as a shortstop but enjoyed most of his career behind the plate. Berg played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1923, the Chicago White Sox from 1926 to 1930, the Cleveland Indians in 1931 and 1934, the Washington Senators in 1932 and 1934, the Boston
Red Sox from 1935 to 1939, and was a Red Sox coach until 1942.

 
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