The Greatest Chicago Baseball Player? | Bleader

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Greatest Chicago Baseball Player?

Posted By on 08.20.09 at 01:55 PM

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Admittedly it's an unusual definition of great, but my favorite is former White Sox catcher Moe Berg. Basically, imagine if Yadier Molina was a lawyer, and in his retirement from baseball, a spy:

"There was a protean quality to Moe Berg. He graduated with high honors in modern languages from Princeton in 1923 and then summered in Brooklyn, playing shortstop for the Dodgers. That October, he was off to Paris to study experimental phonetics at the Sorbonne. Over the next few years his time was divided between baseball and Columbia Law School in New York. He graduated and passed the New York State bar exam, but instead of signing up full time with a law firm, he devoted 13 more years to baseball, spending most of them as a third-string catcher.

"His best year was 1929, when his batting average (.288) and RBIs (47) were career highs. That season he caught 106 games for the Chicago White Sox and allowed only five stolen bases. Besides a strong arm, Berg had fast reactions and shrewd judgment. The best White Sox pitchers, Ted Lyons and Tommy Thomas, always requested Berg as their batterymate. 'In the years he was to catch me, I never waved off a sign,' said Lyons, a Hall of Fame righthander.

"When World War II began, Berg was first a U.S. goodwill ambassador in Latin America and then a spy in Europe, where, as Remus, he met Flute. They seemed an unlikely pair, but perhaps they really weren't. For Moe Berg could get along with anyone, if only for a time. 'Marvelous!' he would say, adjusting his fedora. 'Wonderful!' And then one of the most extraordinary characters in baseball or any other profession would vanish."

Nicholas Dawidoff's 1992 cover story on Moe Berg is one of the best things Sports Illustrated has ever published. The Vault, incidentally, is like if someone took most of my happy reading memories from childhood and put them all in one place for free.

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