THE CATCHER WAS A SPY!: WWII SPY MOE BERG’S OWN COPY OF AN ETYMOLOGICAL DICTIONARY, WITH HIS SIGNATURE AND INKSTAMPS, AND WITH HIS PENCILED NOTES NEXT TO THE ROOT WORD OF “SPY”
(BERG, Moe). An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888. Quarto, original burgundy cloth rebacked. $1200.
Later edition of An Etymological Dictionary—the history of words—owned by Moe Berg, the baseball player who first spied for the United States during the 1934 American All-Star trip to Japan, with his ownership signature, ink stamps, and annotations, including his penciled notes next to the root word of “spy.”
At Princeton, Moe Berg majored in modern languages and played shortstop on the baseball team. After graduating magna cum laude in 1923, he was signed by Brooklyn. Berg enrolled in Columbia Law School after the 1925 season, played the infield for the 1926 and 1927 Chicago White Sox, and switched to catcher in 1928. He played for the White Sox until 1930, the Cleveland Indians (1931, 1934), Washington Senators (1932-1934), and Boston Red Sox (1935-1939). Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Lyons, catcher Moe Berg’s Chicago White Sox teammate from 1926-1930, observed, “He can speak in 12 languages, but he can’t hit in any of them.”
After the 1934 season, five years before he retired as a player, Berg returned to Japan, this time as part of a traveling major league All-Star team. While in Japan, from the roof of a hospital, the tallest building in Tokyo at the time, using his movie camera which he had hidden underneath his kimono, Berg took a series of photos panning the harbor and the industrial sections of Tokyo, possibly munitions factories. His movies were used in the planning of General Jimmy Doolittle’s 1942 bombing raids on the Japanese capital; he was thanked in a letter from the U.S. government.
Moe Berg has written the date of the “Preface” to the first edition “29/IX/1881” in pencil on page v, underlining some passages and writing “Oxford Dictionary” on p. vi and “Voltaire” on p. ix. On the first page of the “Preface” to the second edition on p. xiii, Berg has penciled the date “21/XII/1883.” In the chapter “Brief Notes Upon the Languages Cited in the Dictionary,” pp xv-xxii, he has underlined some passages and written “tectum Lat > toit (Fr.).”
On page 746, in the “List of Aryan Roots” chapter, next to the word “SPAK, to spy, see, observe, behold…” Berg has written “écouter / spy / cf scout / see wit video.” Signed “Morris Berg” inside front cover, with notation nearby “Please Do Not cover signature of Moe Berg” penned by his older sister Ethel Berg (1899-1989) with whom he lived for the last eight years of his life. Rubber stamped “Morris (Moe) Berg” inside front cover, on back free-endpaper, and inside back cover.
Covers lightly worn, without title page. Internally sound. Good condition.