cover image The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

Nicholas Dawidoff. Pantheon Books, $24 (453pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41566-4

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. (July)