Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE CATCHER WAS A SPY by Nicholas Dawidoff

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY

The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg

By Nicholas Dawidoff

Pub Date: July 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-41566-1
Publisher: Pantheon

 Magazine writer Dawidoff (Sports Illustrated, New Yorker, New Republic) reduces one of baseball's most colorful characters mostly to monochrome. What better subject for a biography than Moe Berg, a man reputed to be the sport's greatest intellectual, who iced the cake by retiring to become an espionage agent in the nation's service? Sadly, Dawidoff has taken a mythic character and exposed him as an eccentric crank whose oversized feet were made almost entirely of clay. And the author has done so in the worst fashion possible: with pedantry rather than heart. A closing ``Note on Sources'' lists the hundreds of people interviewed and archives researched; it is a fitting coup de grÉce to a book filled with the minutest details of who Berg mooched a dinner and a hotel room from in 1959, or who he regaled with exaggerated tales of wartime heroics. Dawidoff has accumulated a vast body of information in a remarkable job of research, especially considering that Berg, who died of a heart attack at age 70 in 1972, deliberately cloaked the details of his life in mystery. What Dawidoff has failed to do is distill it into a story calculated to hold a reader's interest. Rather, he presents an almost legalistic mass of evidence to prove that Berg followed up a career (1923-39) as a pseudointellectual, third- string catcher by becoming a mediocre WW II spy, and then spent the last 25 years of his life as an unemployed vagabond, living off his charm and his wit and his vast store of friends. The only mystery left at the end of the book is whether to feel pity for Berg as a tragic, unfulfilled genius or irritation with him as a boor who gets more attention than he deserved. The reader is left knowing immeasurably more about Moe Berg, and caring immeasurably less. (16 pages b&w photos)