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

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  1,144 Ratings  ·  101 Reviews
The only Major League ballplayer whose baseball card is on display at the headquarters of the CIA, Moe Berg has the singular distinction of having both a 15-year career as a catcher for such teams as the New York Robins and the Chicago White Sox and that of a spy for the OSS during World War II. Here, Dawidoff provides "a careful and sympathetic biography" (Chicago Sun-Tim ...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published May 30th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1994)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,078)
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Deborah Edwards
Sep 04, 2008 Deborah Edwards rated it it was ok
Baseball and spies. Two of my favorite subjects. I really wanted to like this book. Not only was Moe Berg a catcher for the Red Sox and one of the first Jewish players in baseball, but he also happened to do a little moonlighting in espionage on the side. It should have made for a riveting story, full of twists and turns, savory Cold war nuggets and revealing baseball lore. And in the hands of another author, perhaps it would have. But somehow, in the hands of Nicholas Davidoff, it reads like on ...more
Aug 13, 2010 Michael rated it did not like it
Shelves: sports, mystery
I have never read a book that was such a chore to finish.
I felt like making a flow chart to follow all the people and a map to keep track of all the places he went. I found it a very confusing book to read.

Many of the people quoted in the book say what a great story teller Moe Berg was, yet the story is told so poorly by the author. The people also say how secretive Berg was and that most of the time no one knew how he could afford to live let alone what he was doing from day to day and that ma
Jun 10, 2015 Randal rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, baseball
One of the dullest books I've ever read.
Part of the problem is that it's so well-researched. Berg went to London for two weeks, where, wearing his usual white shirt, grey suit and black tie, he stayed at the Claridge Hotel and dined with this person and that person, although he did not submit timely expense accounts, and then he disappeared for two weeks, turning up in Stockholm, where he dined with this scientist and still did not submit his expense accounts -- while wearing his usual white shi
Neil Pierson
May 17, 2013 Neil Pierson rated it it was ok
After his career ends, a major league baseball player becomes a spy for the U.S. government. If that isn't unusual enough, the baseball player/spy is extremely smart and extremely eccentric.

Moe Berg was the brainy son of a pharmacist. He was admitted to Princeton in 1925 and became a star baseball player there. He went on to play for the Dodgers, Red Sox, and White Sox while obtaining his law degree from Columbia.

He volunteered for government service in World War II and eventually joined the Off
I can't honestly remember how I came across Moe Berg's name, but when I first heard about him, I was immediately intrigued. A Princeton graduate, a polyglot, a professional baseball player, and an American spy, Moe Berg seemed to have all the makings for an exciting biography.

Dawidoff's account of Moe Berg's life covers quite a bit of ground, detailing Moe Berg's baseball career, his work as a spy during WWII, and finally his decline in his later years after he was let go from the espionage busi
Mark Ruzomberka
Mar 26, 2012 Mark Ruzomberka rated it it was ok
There is a reason this book was $6.50 at a used book store. It should have been a magazine article. On the surface the idea of a book about a baseball player who also was a spy was very intriguing. However, Moe Berg was neither a great baseball player nor a great spy. Granted it was still a cool story but one that was so meticulously research and told that it was very boring. The problem with the story was the lack or real conflict. At no time was Berg ever really in trouble with no issues to ov ...more
Deanna Against Censorship
Jul 18, 2013 Deanna Against Censorship rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, sports
I love baseball. I love baseball books, movies and history. Moe Berg was a baseball player and a spy. He was also a weird off the wall character with high intelligence. He was a college graduate and a law school graduate during a time when most professional baseball players were the exact opposite. He was a unique real life character. So how could a book about him be boring. I would not have finished it except I wanted to know more about Berg. The author seemed to get bogged down in minutia. I g ...more
May 11, 2016 David rated it it was ok
Shelves: completed
Author Dawidoff tells an interesting tale as he explores the truth about Catcher Moe Berg and his service to the O.S.S. during World War II as well as the CIA following the war. The author doesn't ignore Berg's professional baseball career, but suggests that Berg could have never been better than a third string backup catcher.

In fact, as the book progresses, we find that the author believes Berg to be an almost complete fake in just about everything he did. He exposes Berg as a borderline schiz
Feb 19, 2016 James rated it really liked it
I'm knee-deep in research reading for an upcoming novel and I have stumbled across a fascinating book about a totally unique individual Moe Berg, the only Major League ballplayer with his baseball card on display at the headquarters of the CIA. Moe Berg had both a 15-year career as a catcher for such teams as the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox and also as that of a spy for the OSS during World War II.

Know as "the smartest man in baseball" as well as "the strangest man ever to play baseb
Mel Ostrov
Mar 15, 2015 Mel Ostrov rated it really liked it
The Catcher Was a Spy
N. Dawidoff

This book, first published in 1994, is not just about a brilliant, secular Jewish baseball star who also went on to become a U.S. spy for the OSS during WW II. More so, it is an in-depth biography of a strange but lovable character who proves to be just one of a family with similar traits of eccentricity. Here are some examples: “The younger reporters, in turn, were baffled by Berg. They wondered what he did with his time, snickered that he was a ‘freeloader’
Apr 20, 2014 Walter rated it really liked it
Shelves: sports
This book marries two of the most testosterone infused subjects in literature - sports and espionage. How could that not be great? It is the story of Moe Berg, a Jewish scholar, Princeton graduate, linguist, major league ball player and, during World War II, a spy for the allies. For the most part I really enjoyed this book. Dawidoff does a great job describing Berg, a marginal hitter but great fielder in the 1920s and 1930s world of Major League baseball. How he played for the Dodgers, the Whit ...more
Moe Berg was a baseball player who always kept his private life a mystery, but he loved baseball & was also interested in learning foreign languages & the origins & history of words. He had a brilliant mind, read armfuls of daily newspapers, graduated from Princeton, earned a law degree but never became a practising attorney. He never settled down to one career until the U.S. government hired him as a spy in the second World War, to try to find out how close the Germans were to makin ...more
General Lee Gaye
Dec 18, 2011 General Lee Gaye rated it it was ok
Holy too much detail Batman. Entire passages of this book are dedicated to details that exist exclusively to show that the author knew them. It's almost on a "At 10:52 PST, Berg took a bite of his sandwich" level. This is a fairly interesting story - although the fact that a baseball player became a spy after retiring is not like HOLY SHIT OH MY GOD - but pretty sure excising 100 pages would have served it well. Next!

I really wanted to like this book. I have wanted to read it ever since seeing Moe’s card at the Spy museum in Washington DC. The book was a little disappointing. It tells of his growing up in New Jersey his being one of the few Jewish students at Princeton and his playing of baseball there. It tells how he was drafted by the Dodgers but opted to study in Paris rather than come back for spring training. He also opted to continue Law School one year rather than go to spring training with the Cubs. ...more
Dec 17, 2014 Mandi rated it it was ok
My two passions (baseball and spies) combine to make this story intriguing and totally absorbing...this book, however, is painful to finish!
Aug 05, 2011 Scott rated it liked it
Shelves: sports
After reading, it's hard to tell what kind of person Moe Berg was, which is probably the way he would have wanted you to think.
Don LaFountaine
This was an interesting book that described, (as much as possible anyway) the life of Moe Berg,

The book seemed to me to be broken down into three parts:
- His childhood, schooling, and his career in Major League Baseball
- His life during World War II working for the OSS
- His life after the war up to his death

Moe Berg was the youngest of three children. As the youngest, he was doted upon and had what essentially was a separate set of rules from his parents. Unlike his older brother and sister,
David Gardner
Mar 29, 2016 David Gardner rated it liked it
A son of Jewish immigrants, raised in an apartment above his father's NY pharmacy, becomes a Princeton scholar and stand-out baseball star, goes on to a 17 year professional baseball career, only to leave it for a job with the CIA where he is hand selected to infiltrate Nazi Germany and find the secrets to the atomic bomb. Sounds like an incredible story, right? Well, not really. The book is sometimes interesting, often confusing, and mostly flat. There just isn't much beyond the bones of the st ...more
Jan 17, 2016 Roberta rated it it was ok
I was caught by the title of the book. While I am not interested in baseball, the spy part did sound interesting. I went back and forth between 2 stars and 3 stars but finally decided that even though Moe Berg's life was fascinating, most of the book wasn't.

The first part of the book is about Moe Berg's childhood and his career in baseball which the author handles pretty well. The second part covers WWII and Berg's involvement in the OSS, where the author kind of bounces between stuff he has re
victor harris
Aug 16, 2015 victor harris rated it really liked it
Shelves: baseball
Moe Berg may qualify as the most intriguing baseball player of all time. A weak-hitting but quality defensive catcher who kicked around with various teams for over a decade, the enigmatic Berg would make his mark on another front when he served as a spy for the OSS during WW II and for the CIA in the post-war. Unlike most ballplayers of the 20s-40s (or perhaps any era), he was a Princeton grad, had a law degree from Columbia, and was multi-lingual. He was also Jewish which made him somewhat of ...more
Oct 03, 2014 Kristin-Leigh rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009-reads
A really engaging look at a little-known individual from US history. I love all things esoteric, so I picked this up at the beginning of the summer and spent a month reading it between novels. Well-researched and interesting, if not as inspiring as one would hope (for all of his talk, Berg didn't really accomplish much in the end).

I would definitely recommend this to any fan of baseball, the history of US intelligence agencies, or merely eccentric individuals. This history delivers on all count
Oct 23, 2014 Quo rated it really liked it
The title of this book sounds as if it could have been written by Mickey Spillane but it is in fact a well-crafted story of a little-known ballplayer, Morris "Moe" Berg, an exceedingly enigmatic figure who played baseball almost by default. But more than a story of a 3rd string, journeyman backstop, The Catcher Was a Spy by Nicholas Dawidoff is a deeply engaging psychological profile of a man personified by the adjective "crepuscular", as shadowy & mysterious as he was intellectually gifted, ...more
Aug 29, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it
A meticulously researched biography about the third-string Boston Red Sox catcher whom the OSS assigned to assassinate Werner Heisenberg during World War II. Oddly enough, the book's first third, which chronicles Berg's major league baseball career, is more intriguing than its second third, which traces Berg's secret missions in Europe on the trail of the Nazi nuclear program: it's as if the author found it more fascinating that an eccentric intellectual could be a professional athlete than that ...more
Alexandria Barilone
Jan 26, 2012 Alexandria Barilone rated it it was amazing
The Catcher was a spy: the secret life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff is a biography on the famous catcher Moe Berg. Throughout the book you start with the smart young Morris Berg, and learn about his amazing learning ability. As Moe grows up we learn about his passion for baseball and see him play for Princeton, The Red Soxs, Dodgers, and many other big league teams. As he grows he learns his real calling in baseball is to be a catcher, rather than the shortstop position he had previously mad ...more
Malcolm Anderson
Aug 09, 2016 Malcolm Anderson rated it it was amazing
#4 This book is quite possibly a hundred billion times better than the Awakening, almost as good as the Catcher in the Rye, better than the Great Gatsby, better than the Crucible, and not quite as good as small portion that we read of the Things We Carried, just to put this book in perspective with the others we have read this year. In this book, there is a "dream" portrayed. Moe Berg loved playing baseball more than anything else in his world. It made him happy just to be around the game, even ...more
Jan 09, 2008 Rick rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
Moe Berg was a fascinatingly enigmatic figure, an intellectual jock, a publicly private man, a journeyman baseball player of the late 20s and 30s, an OSS spy during the Second World War, a lawyer who never practiced law, a talented linguist whose most characteristic gesture was to put a raised index finger to his lips to signal silence, a curious man and born story-teller who routinely said nothing when it came to his comings, goings, doings, and personal life. He was a man whose talents opened ...more
Hannah Kirchner
Sep 03, 2011 Hannah Kirchner rated it liked it
Davidoff didn't consider the eccentric side of the Berg family far enough. They all seemed to have autistic/OCD tendencies, and I think it was a consideration worth examining.

At the end of the book, Davidoff wraps things up too briefly and neatly, too willing to pat Moe on the back for living an unusual life of his own choosing.

Yeah, the guy lived an "interesting" life, but it was largely an unexamined, deluded, lonely, and unhappy one, spent running from himself. How Davidoff deduces that Ber
Jan 17, 2013 Matt rated it really liked it
If the purpose of a biography is to produce an honest, interesting account of a life, then this succeeds very well. For those hoping for a book primarily about baseball, or espionage, this may be disappointing, because first and foremost it's a book about Moe Berg.

From my perspective the book breaks down into three parts. The first part is his childhood and baseball, the second part is the OSS and WWII, and the third part is about the strange man he became when his strongest ties (baseball and
Larry Hostetler
Dec 15, 2012 Larry Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This book portended to be ideal for me. A combination of my love of baseball, spycraft and biography, it neither disappointed nor wowed me. Moe Berg was not a name of which I was aware, since he was never a star. I don't even remember his baseball card (which is the only one on display at the CIA). I love a good character and Moe certainly qualifies as a character. Perhaps because so much of his life was inscrutable but could only be pieced together by conjecture, there was an unsatisfying natur ...more
Sep 21, 2015 Marge rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I really wanted to like this book as Moe Berg seemed to be an amazing subject. He in fact was interesting but the author was obsessed with the minute details of Moe's life that may or may not have been true - these details bogged me down. Berg was like a mystical fog - in and out of places like a ghost. Did he really accomplish all that he said or was it all embellished? We still don't know all the facts about this elusive man.
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