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Remembering Moe Berg: Catcher, infielder and U.S. spy

Moe Berg, who spent most of his 15 years in the big leagues (1923, 1926-'39) with the White Sox and Red Sox, passed away 42 years ago this week. The New Jersey native played in 663 games, tallying six home runs, 441 hits and a .243/.278/.299 slash line. He also made the rare switch from shortstop to catcher midway through his baseball tenure. And, oh yeah, he was also an American spy.

Berg studied at Princeton, starring on the baseball field and majoring in foreign languages (he ended up learning 12 throughout his lifetime). He actually began his espionage career on his own -- during a Major League All-Star team's 1934 visit to Japan. The catcher, who spoke fluent Japanese, skipped a game during the series to film Tokyo's industrial landscape. Here's a great snippet of his afternoon from Nicholas Dawidoff's "The Catcher was a Spy":

"He [Moe Berg] bluffs his way up onto the roof of the hospital, the tallest building in Tokyo at the time. And from underneath his kimono he pulls out a movie camera. He proceeds to take a series of photos panning the whole setting before him, which includes the harbor, the industrial sections of Tokyo, possibly munitions factories and things like that. Then he puts the camera back under his kimono and leaves the hospital with these films."

Berg then offered the video to the U.S. government in exchange for employment. They accepted and used the footage for a 1942 bombing raid on the country's capital. Later in 1944, Berg, then a member of the Office of Strategic Services, was sent to Switzerland to attend an atomic bomb conference headed by Nazi leader Werner Heisenberg. He deemed the Nazis were not close to making a nuclear weapon and an American murder plot for Heisenberg was dropped.

Although he was never a great player on the field, Berg was instrumental to his country during these and other World War II missions. In fact, his baseball card is the only one currently on display at the CIA's headquarters - and likely will remain so.