The story of Moe Berg is an incredible one, with nothing like it in the history of baseball. Berg, an esteemed athlete who played as catcher for numerous baseball teams in the 1920s and 1930s, also distinguished himself as an American spy who repeatedly risked his life gathering information aimed at preventing the Nazis from developing an atomic bomb during World War II.
Director Aviva Kempner has made a fascinating documentary surveying the life and exploits of Berg. “The Spy Behind Home Plate” tells Berg’s story based on research and including interviews with a host of people who fill in various details of Bergs’s unusual life. The film stands as an important testament about this unusual American athlete and hero.
Berg, who was Jewish, grew up in Newark, N.J., and in addition to his athletic achievement, had a notable education, including a degree from Princeton University and one from Columbia Law School. He also attended the Sorbonne in Paris.
His baseball record includes playing for the Brooklyn Robins (later becoming the Dodgers), the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Senators and the Boston Red Sox. Berg died in 1972 at the age of 70.
The film covers his recruitment in the OSS, the forerunner to the CIA. He was honored for his espionage service that was judged extremely valuable to the United States. Director, who previously made a film about Jewish baseball star Hank Greenberg, packs much detail and commentary in her survey of Berg’s remarkable life. It is both informative and entertaining in its dealing with such a unusual story.
Berg has long been a subject of legend. Nicholas Dawidoff, who comments in the film, wrote the book “The Catcher Was a Spy,” subsequently adapted into a feature film. Kempner further cements the Berg story with intelligence and dedication. A Ciesla Foundation release. Reviewed May 31, 2019.