The Spy Behind Home Plate, the first feature-length documentary about Moe Berg, will open in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 24, followed by New York on Friday, May 31 and Los Angeles and San Francisco on Friday, June 7 before rolling out to theaters across America throughout June and early July. The Spy Behind Home Plate is the newest film about an unknown Jewish hero from award-winning documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner, and tells the real story of the enigmatic and brilliant baseball player who turned spy for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. The Spy Behind Home Plate will also play at film festivals and theaters internationally throughout the baseball season.
For more information on The Spy Behind Home Plate, including events and speaker programs related to the film, visit www.spybehindhomeplate.org.
Berg not only played for the last Washington Senators team to play in a World Series (1933), but he also trained with the OSS not far from the D.C. team’s home, Griffith Stadium. The Spy Behind Home Plate features rare historical footage as well as revealing interviews with an All-Star roster of celebrities and other individuals from the worlds of sports, spycraft and history. Interviewees include Berg’s relatives, fellow baseball players, biographer Nicholas Dawidoff, authors David Ignatius and Thomas Powers, MLB historian John Thorn, film professor Dr. Annette Insdorf, playwright Michael Frayn, sports commentator Larry Merchant, sports columnist Ira Berkow, OSS Society president Charles Pinck, Los Angeles Angels manager Brad Ausmus, U.S. Senator Ed Markey and baseball executives Jerry Reinsdorf and Bud Selig.
Kempner, who produced, wrote and directed the film, describes it by saying, “Moe Berg is finally achieving the recognition he so deserves as a World War II hero. This full-length feature documentary explores the broader landscape of his immigrant Jewish upbringing, why he was called the brainiest man in baseball, and his many courageous OSS missions geared towards preventing the Nazis from developing the atomic bomb. Berg is the American hero we all need to know more about!”
Born in New York, Berg grew up in Newark, New Jersey. The erudite major league catcher played on five different baseball teams in the 1920s and ’30s, spoke a multitude of languages, earned degrees from Princeton University and Columbia Law School, and attended the Sorbonne. In 2018, Berg and the 13,000 heroic men and women of the OSS finally received a well-deserved Congressional Gold Medal during a moving ceremony where Berg’s heroism was cited.
Berg played for the Brooklyn Robins (which became the Dodgers), the Chicago White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Washington Senators, and the Boston Red Sox during baseball’s Golden Age. In 1934, Berg joined the All Americans, an All-Star baseball team comprised of Hall of Famers, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, and manager Connie Mack, for a barnstorming exhibition tour in Japan. Berg came back with more than the usual souvenirs. He also brought back film he secretly shot of the panorama of Tokyo skyline, including factories, military installations and Tokyo Harbor. Why Berg put himself in harm’s way to shoot this film in militaristic Japan is anyone’s guess, but years later, it was believed to have been viewed by military personnel planning Jimmy Doolittle’s daring bombing raid of Tokyo in 1942.
Berg may have only had a .243 batting average during his 15-year Major League career, but it was the stats he collected for the OSS that made him a most valuable player to his country during World War II. In 1942, after serving two years as a coach for the Red Sox, Berg got back in the game as a “player” when he was selected by the OSS to go behind enemy lines in Europe and spy for them. Two of his most dangerous missions included going to Italy to interview top Italian physicists and assess their knowledge of the German bomb program. The second mission was in 1944 where the OSS assigned him to attend a lecture by German physicist Werner Heisenberg in Zurich. For the Swiss trip, Berg was given a gun and a cyanide pill to take with him and was instructed to shoot Heisenberg if he was convinced that the renowned scientist was constructing an atomic bomb for the Nazis. He later worked for the OSS in a prominent role in U.S. efforts to undermine the German atomic bomb program. After WWII, Berg remained elusive and later became reclusive.
Based in Washington, D.C., Kempner, a director-writer-producer dynamo, boasts a resumé of critically acclaimed and award-winning documentaries, including Rosenwald; Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, and Peabody winner The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. She also produced another WWII documentary, Partisans of Vilna.