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The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg Hardcover – June 28, 1994

3.8 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Berg (1902-1972) was a third-string major league catcher for 15 seasons, but it's not for his lack of baseball skills he's remembered, but rather for his intellectualism and eccentricity. After graduating from Princeton in 1923 (he later earned a law degree at Columbia Unversity and studied at the Sorbonne), Berg joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dawidoff shows us the oddball Berg: he sometimes read 10 newspapers a day and he had "a near mania for cleanliness." With the outbreak of WW II, Berg's ability to speak perhaps 18 languages was put to use working for "Will Bill" Donovan at the OSS. Berg played an important role in supplying information on the German nuclear threat and after the war helped corral European scientists for the U.S. After the OSS was disbanded, Berg was cashiered and awarded the Medal of Freedom, which he refused to accept. For the remaining 25 years of his life he became "a vagabond, living on wit and charm and the kindness of friends." Dawidoff, a freelance writer, has done a wonderful job of unraveling the legends around the mystifying Berg. Photos.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Baseball catcher, lawyer, and spy-Moe Berg was all of these, but first and foremost he was an enigma. All the ascertainable facts concerning Berg's life are presented here, including his 19 years as the most famous journeyman catcher in professional baseball; his stint at Columbia University and subsequent abortive legal career; his investigation of Germany's atomic bomb program for the Office of Strategic Services (a predecessor of the CIA) during World War II; and his postwar years, in which he lived off the kindness of friends. Dawidoff has done a lot of research on a fascinating subject but draws few conclusions, and his overall theme seems to be the impenetrability of his subject. In the end, Berg remains a mystery. A marginal purchase.
--Terry Madden, Boise State Univ. Lib., Id.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 453 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (June 28, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679415661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679415664
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Many previous writers here appear to have preconceived notions of Moe Berg and his biographer. I do not. Moe Berg may have inflated his own importance to the war effort, but he was still a man of some importance, a true patriot, and possessed of great intelligence. To call someone who lasted all those years in the major leagues a second rate catcher is mean spirited. He may not have ever been the best catcher on any team, but he was still in the rarified air of the majors for more than a decade. Not many people can put that on their resume. To call him a second rate spy diminishes the bravery and patriotism it took for him to do what he did. And to call him a second rate human being is only to call attention to oneself. Moe Berg was not perfect, and that is precisely what makes this book interesting. Berg's ego and boastfulness and his secretive nature and the silence he felt he owed the OSS make for a remarkable character. The author does a fine job of separating the boasts from the facts, gives Berg his due, and creates an interesting tale from the details.
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Format: Paperback
Let's face it, most of us these days have never heard of Moe Berg, except in passing. Not a single one of the baseball games he played in still exists on videotape. He never saw action in a World Series game. By the end of his career as a ballplayer (variously for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Boston Red Sox), Berg plaed so infrequently, you might think him the Bartleby of baseball. When asked to play, the occasional second game of a doubleheader, he preferred not to. So he sat on the bench.
As Nicholas Dawidoff portrays him, Berg was a bizarre man who spent the final 25 years of his life essentially homeless, living off the charity of friends and family, trading his stories of pre-war baseball and wartime espionage for the offer of clean clothes, hot meals, and warm water for a bath. Trained in the law, and a skilled linguist who spoke half a dozen languages, he refused all employment, apart from the rare consulting job or intelligence mission.
While most print accounts of Berg make extravagant claims about his World War II espionage, Dawidoff boils everything down to what he can find on paper from the CIA (and its precursor agencies). The truth, as reported here, is that Berg's probing of German atomic secrets in 1945 was vital to the war effort, but that he hardly ever worked as a spy again. He simply pretended to be one, while remaining cloaked in an increasingly insular lifestyle.
The research for "The Catcher Was a Spy" is impeccable. Dawidoff interviewed hundreds of sources, and as a result the book's index is clogged with famous names -- athletes or otherwise (not too many other books quote both Ted Williams and Albert Einstein).
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Format: Paperback
Moe Berg is truly one of the most interesting, and enigmatic, characters in sports history. What always fascinated me was how, after WWII and no longer in baseball, Berg never worked. He would stay at friends and relatives' homes throughout the country, reading multiple newspapers, and maintaining strict control of those papers. My guess, and this would make for an interesting investigative study, is that he stayed on the OSS/CIA payroll and was working for them, in some capacity: Dissecting the news, dealing with Communist espionage - or who knows, maybe he was working with foreign elemnets. Berg was something. He has to be considered a major hero. Surely the fact that he was an ex-ballplayer makes him stand out from the other heroes under "Wild Bill" Donovan, as does the fact that a Jew was sent to Nazi-controlled Finland to get German scientists. This is a terrific story. (...)
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Format: Paperback
Dawidoff clearly spent much time and energy researching his subject, and by doing so he has demonstrated that Moe Berg was an enigma, but only by repeatedly retelling the same few Berg stories from every one of his numerous sources. The reader will suffer through each story as if he were present at each of Berg's recountings and then be reminded by the author that Berg was an engaging charmer. Although Berg's career as a spy is intriguing, Dawidoff lacks restraint and casts aspersions on Berg's character by suggesting he may have been a sexual deviant, but holds short of actually stating he was one because of lack of evidence. These stories retold by Dawidoff serve unnecessarily to taint the image of Berg. Dawidoff concludes his book without having illuminated his subject. Unfortunately there is simply not a sufficiently diverse body of information about Berg's life to warrant the writing of a book; this subject would have been better served as a "New Yorker" article.
(BTW, it should be a crime for the editors to have allowed the description, "the perspicacious Berg" to be used twice in the span of a book, let alone forty pages.)
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Format: Paperback
This interesting biography covers a most unusual person. Moe Berg (1902-1972) was a talented linguist, ballplayer, and U.S. espionage agent for the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) before and during World War II and briefly for the CIA after the war. Author Nicholas Dawidoff describes Berg's mysterious life, including New Jersey boyhood, studies at Princeton and Columbia, and years as a second-string catcher for the Dodgers, White Sox, Indians, Senators and Red Sox. Even as a player Berg was better know for his linguistic skills and stealth than for his baseball exploits. Then readers learn of Berg's years as a spy, which probably began when Berg toured Japan with other big leaguers in 1934. The author describes Berg's secret wartime activities, including his 1944-45 mission to ascertain the status of Nazi nuclear research. We also read of his later years, when except for brief CIA assignments, Berg chose to freeload off relatives and friends rather than employ his superb linguistic and legal talents (he had a law degree). A Overall, Berg was an enigmatic man, and this biography, written two decades after his passing, fails to uncover much about him - perhaps Berg would have wanted it that way. Still, this is an interesting and nicely researched biography.
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