“The Catcher Was a Spy,” a movie starring Paul Rudd, was released in June. It got us thinking about a section of our client Ralph Oko’s memoir, which we share here with his permission.
Moe Berg is one World War ll hero I wish I could have interviewed. But he died in 1972. He was a baseball catcher (mostly back-up) in the major leagues for 15 seasons. He retired in the mid-1930s. But that’s not even close to being the most interesting thing about him. Born in a Manhattan cold-water tenement to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1902, he was a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School and spoke multiple languages. (Referring to his mediocrity as a ballplayer, one of his teammates said “He can speak seven languages, but he can’t hit in any of them.”)
Moe was, by all accounts, the smartest guy in baseball; he was even on a radio quiz show where he answered far-ranging and esoteric questions, like the derivation of Greek and Latin words, and historical events in Europe and the Far East. Moe was basically introverted, but could be the life of the party, known to be charming as well as brilliant.
Because of that brilliance, he was recruited as a spy for the U.S. government. Over the next few years, he worked for different agencies (including the OSS) in different roles. One of his most significant contributions was set in motion years before—while in Japan to play exhibition games against Japanese ballplayers in 1934, he shot footage of Tokyo Bay. It was this footage which helped Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and intelligence officers plan the 1942 Doolittle Raid, the first air raid strike of the Japanese Home Islands.
Moe also parachuted into occupied Yugoslavia to evaluate the strength of the anti-Nazi resistance groups; this to help determine the amount of aid the United States would provide each group.
The radio show Ralph references is “Our Veterans Voice,” which he co-hosts in Vero Beach, Florida.