The Spy Behind Home Plate is a documentary that opens this weekend. It is the story of Mo Berg, the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who went to Princeton University in New Jersey, but who really wanted to be a baseball player. While his Jewish parents were distressed that playing games was more of a priority than getting a real job, Mo’s love of baseball provided a fringe benefit for the United States of America entering World War II.
Graduating Magna Cum Laude, Berg played catcher in the 1930s. He had a talent for grasping foreign languages, which became the key to understanding foreign cultures when Major League Baseball went on international tours.
Berg toured Japan. As the Nation of Japan was becoming imperial, he secreted a camera and took pictures of city geography. These photos were eventually used by the war department and were utilized during General Doolittle’s bombing campaign that lasted 30 seconds over Tokyo.
Like Woody Allen’s Zelig and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, The Spy Behind Home Plate shows Berg meeting many celebrities. He toured with the Great Bambino — Babe Ruth, and dated the legendary baseball player’s daughter. When World War II concluded, Berg took tea with Professor Albert Einstein in Princeton.
There is a great dichotomy between the public persona of Mo Berg and with the man who worked under Colonel Donovan, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request. The film reveals photos of Berg’s radio game show appearances on Information Please! while developing espionage profiles with Ian Fleming, the author of the original 13 James Bond novels.
With The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, documentarian (and New York Mets fan), Avina Kempner has scored the hat trick with The Spy Behind Home Plate. This is a good movie to celebrate this year’s summer solstice.