Monday, December 07, 2015

When Baseball Spy Moe Berg was a Dodger - Vintage pic in Brooklyn Uniform at RMY Auction

If you are a student of the game and a lover of its history then you no doubt know who this fellow is.  Featured above is a vintage 1923 original Charles Conlon photograph of famed catcher Moe Berg.  Best yet, he is seen in a Brooklyn Robins/Dodgers uniform, and according to the auction house may be the only known photograph of him in a Brooklyn uni.  It recently sold this past weekend at an RMY Auction for $383.

As you may know, Berg was not only regarded as the smartest (i.e. brainiest) ballplayer there ever was, but it was also revealed that he worked undercover as a spy for the American Office of Strategic Services (a precursor to the CIA) during and after WWII.  It is known that he traveled extensively throughout Europe to meet directly with foreign scientist in order to recruit them and evaluate forces who opposed Hitler's Germany.

As for his Baseball career, he was a star shortstop on Princeton's ballclub while in college and captained the team during his senior year.  Although he was a below-average hitter, Berg proved to be strong defensively.  So, upon graduation he was coveted by both the Dodgers and Giants - eventually signing for $5,000 to play in Brooklyn in 1923. 

That first professional season proved to be a poor one for Moe.  He slashed a measly .186/.198/.240/.439 and committed 22 errors in 47 games.  He then took a winter vacation to Europe, his first, and stayed in Paris.  It was here that he began infamously reading several newspapers in several different languages every day.  Berg would strangely refer to unread periodicals as "alive" and refused to allow other folks to touch them.  It was only when he finished reading them, referring to them as "dead," that he would allow other to check them out.

Later that Spring he returned to Brooklyn and was subsequently sent to the minors due to a lack improvement.  It is during this time that he started playing as a catcher and solidified his future on a Major League roster due to his excellent defense.  He would go on to play 14 more years in the Majors - most which with the Boston Red Sox.

Check out an excellent biography on him at SABR here.  There is also a fantastic book on his life written by Nicholas Dawidoff called "The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg" that is worth checking out.

Below are his career statistics, via Baseball-Reference:

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