An unnamed buyer has paid over $17,000 for a baseball signed by Moe Berg, a journeyman catcher (and coach after World War II), polyglot, and OSS/CIA operative who was described by biographer Nicholas Dawidoff as “the brainiest guy in baseball” and Casey Stengel as “the strangest man every to play baseball.”

Berg, who was born in New York in 1902, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, played in the major leagues (mostly as a catcher) for 15 seasons with four teams: Brooklyn Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox. He was a middling player, with a lifetime average of .243. During World War II, Berg left baseball and became an operative for the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA. Reported the New York Times:

Before the United States entered the war, Berg helped hunt down Germany’s atomic energy secrets by posing as businessman in Switzerland.

This works for the Manhattan Project, carried over into a wartime mission in which Berg, who spoke fluent Italian, was dropped behind the lines in Italy.

There, he was to contact an Italian atomic scientist who would, report on Germany’s progress on atomic weapons.

After the war he later pleaded with the CIA to send him to Israel, reflecting “a Jew must do this.” Berg apparently spoke several languages. He died in New Jersey in 1972.

Paul Rudd is slated to play Berg in an upcoming film called The Catcher Was a Spy.

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