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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, May 21, 1939, Image 93

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1939-05-21/ed-1/seq-93/

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The Boston bench was in an uproar. It
was a close ball game and the umpire
had just flagged a Red Socker out at
home plate. The Bostons set up an angry
clamor from their cave. But the umpire gave
no indication that he heard the insults as he
looked about for his little whisk broom to
sweep away the dust that had been scattered
over the plate by the Red Socker.
Suddenly, from the depths of the dugout,
there boomed a stream of syllables. The um
pire straightened as if shot. He flung his mask
to the ground and stormed over fiercely to
the dugout.
“Berg,” he roared, “one more crack like
that and out you go! You can’t say that to
me. Shut up. or get out!”
As the irate arbiter stalked back to the
plate, Moe Berg grinned.
“What the devil did you say?” asked one
of his teammates.
“I just told him where his whisk broom
was,” said Moe. "I just said, ‘It’s right in
back of you. Bill.’ I guess I shouldn’t have
said it in French.”
Morris (“Moe”) Berg, linguist, lawyer,
scholar, gourmet and big-league catcher, can
say lots of things in lots of languages, but
the truth is, Moe’s too much of a gentleman
and a scholar to misuse his talented tonsils:
it must be reported here that he has never
cast any aspersions on an umpire’s ancestry
or integrity, even in good plain homespun
American. Several times the umpires have
been suspicious of him, but his ability to talk
fast and in five different languages (he has a
working knowledge of a dozen more) has
preserved his record of never having been
thrown out of a ball game.
This ability stood Berg in good stead in
Moscow during one of his several around-the
world jaunts between baseball seasons. A
camera enthusiast of the first water, Moe
was arrested by two OGPU agents for taking
pictures in “Red Square." He had used up
half of the roll of film when the agents politely
but firmly suggested that he come to head
quarters for a bit of a chat.
And the bit of a chat, if you please, was
conducted in Russian at Berg’s own request.
The agents, it seemed, wanted
his film. Berg argued angrily against
giving it up. They were persistent,
though, and Moe did not relish the
idea of being waived into the Sibe
rian League, so he surrendered. But
not without a flourish. $
“All right, all right.” he barked
in Russian, snatching the camera
from the agent. "If you feel that
way about it you can have the film.
But I’m going to see the American
consul and I’m going to ...
And as he talked the ingenious Moe
deftly ripped out the unused film ^
and handed it to the satisfied agents. u
Then he stormed out of OGPL
headquarters with the pictures he
had snapped. He will show them to
you if you drop over to his Newark
home during the off-season.
For seventeen summers now
sports writers in Brooklyn, Read
ing, Minneapolis, Chicago, Washington, and
Boston, where the likable Moe Berg has dis
played his baseball ability, have been trying
to tell the fans how learned and clever the
tall, handsome catcher really is, but it has
remained for Berg himself to convince the
public.
Invited recently to appear as a guest star
on the popular radio program. “Information,
Please," which features such wise wits as
Clifton Fadiman, John Kieran, and Franklin
P. Adams, the baseball player stole the show.
If Ring Lardner had been alive to hear him
the great humorist would have felt pretty
dubious about his many dumb-ballplayer
yarns.
During the course of the evening's quizz
ing, thirty-two brain-stumping questions
were put to the three experts and Mr. Berg;
and the ballplayer emerged with a .343
batting average when he provided eleven of
the answers.
If you don’t think that is evidence of an
acute acumen, tell us, in about ten seconds,
the meaning of poi. soy, loy. and oy! And do
you know what the Bmdereau letter was?
The Willie-Nicky correspondence? And what
is the brightest comet, the brightest planet,
the brightest satellite, and the brightest star
our generation has seen?
Well, the ballplayer answered all of these
brain teasers, answered them quickly and
correctly. With the same easy assurance
that he would assume when ordering the
pitcher to keep ’em low and inside, Berg
told his astonished fellow broadcasters that
the Willie-Nicky correspondence was the
pre-War telegrams between the Kaiser and
the Czar, and that the Bordereau letter was
the one that convicted Alfred Dreyfus of
espionage He knew that poi is the Hawaiian
substitute for bread, that soy is a bean from
which we have derived the word suey, and
that loy is the ancient French spelling for
law. Venus, he said, is the brightest planet
we see; Halley's Comet of 1910 was the
brightest comet; the moon is the brightest
satellite; and the sun is the brightest star.
Speaking of bright stars, few other guest
stars have shone as brightly as did Berg
that night — and, you know, among the
program's guests have been such brilliant
and nimble minds as Heywood Broun,
Dorothy Thompson, Kathleen Norris and
Howard Brubaker.
When Berg had pegged his last puzzler out
before it could get to first base, Clifton Fadi
man, director of the program, quipped: "Mr.
Berg, are you very popular with your team
mates?”
That was one question Moe didn’t answer.
WHtWiU
The answer is simple. It is: yes, very popular.
Me is popular oecause ne won 1 u*.e uie
compliments in this story. He doesn't flaunt
his knowledge around the clubhouse and
dugout. He doesn't want to be identified as a
linguist or a lawyer or a gourmet or a lover
of fine music. He wants to be known as Moe
Berg, catcher.
He knows the restaurants that offer the
finest cuisine in each of the cities on the big
league trail, but he’ll sit on a stool and hack
away at hamburgers with a homesick rookie
outfielder. He knows the scores of several
operas and is devoted to the drama, but he’ll
go off happily to a "hoss” opera with the
mental giant who just came up from the
backwoods.
He is father confessor to teammates in
trouble, and Big Brother to bewildered
rookies. He took the blame for a midnight
escapade one training season to save one
player’s scalp, and acted as bodyguard and
shield for another buddy when an irate gentle
man was seeking to wreak considerable
damage on the lad.
He is thirty-seven now: time and knee
surgery have slowed him so that he doesn’t
catch many games through a season, but he is
still one of the most useful men in baseball.
“He’s one of our most valuable,” says Joe
Cronin, manager of the Boston Red Sox,
who was also Berg's boss at Washington.
“He's just as necessary to our team as if he
(Continood on pago 22)

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