Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Moe Berg: An Amazing Story

When baseball greats Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig went on tour in baseball-crazy Japan in 1934, some fans wondered why a third-string catcher named Moe Berg was included.

Although he played with five major-league teams from 1923 to 1939, he was a very mediocre ball player.

But Moe had a secret and was regarded as the oddest ballplayer of the bunch.

In fact Casey Stengel once said: "That is the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

When all the baseball stars went to Japan, Moe Berg went with them and many people wondered why he tagged along.

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth

Moe Berg was a United States spy, working undercover with the CIA and spoke 15 languages, including Japanese.

He had two loves: baseball and spying

While in Tokyo, garbed in a kimono, Berg took flowers to the daughter of an American diplomat being treated in St. Luke's Hospital - the tallest building in the Japanese capital.

He never delivered the flowers. Nope.

The ball-player ascended to the roof and filmed key features of the surrounding city: the harbour, military installations, railway yards, etc.

Eight years later, General Jimmy Doolittle studied Berg's films in planning his spectacular raid on Tokyo. 

Moe Berg
His father disapproved of baseball and never once watched his son play. In Barringer High School, Moe learned Latin, Greek and French. Moe read at least 10 newspapers every day. Dad loved that part.

He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton - having added Spanish, Italian, German and Sanskrit to his linguistic quiver. During further studies at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and Columbia Law School, he picked up Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian - 15 languages in all, plus some regional dialects.

While playing baseball for Princeton University, Moe would confuse opposing teams by calling pitches and plays using Latin or Sanskrit. A cunning skill he would later use to confuse messages in case of enemy capture. 

Tito's Partisans
During World War II, Moe was parachuted into Yugoslavia to assess the value to the war effort of the two groups of partisans there. 

His report concluded, Yugoslavian underground fighter Marshall Tito's forces "are supported widely by the people," and in turn Winston Churchill ordered all-out support for the underground rather than Mihajlovic's Serbians.

The parachute jump at age 41 undoubtedly was a challenge. But there was more to come in that same year.

Berg penetrated German-held Norway, met with members of the underground and located a secret heavy-water plant exposing Nazi efforts to build an atomic bomb.

His information guided the Royal Air Force in a raid that destroyed the plant.

The R.A.F. destroys the Norwegian heavy water plant targeted by Moe Berg.
There still remained however the question of how far had the Nazis progressed in the race to build the first Atomic bomb.

If the Nazis were successful, they would win the war. Berg (under the code name "Remus") was sent to Switzerland to hear leading German physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Laureate, lecture and his orders entailed determining if the Nazis were close to building an A-bomb. Moe managed to slip past the SS guards while posing as a Swiss graduate student.

He carried two things with him indicating the do-or-die nature of the mission: a pistol and a cyanide pill. If the scientist indicated the Nazis were close to building a weapon, Berg's orders were to shoot him dead and then swallow the cyanide pill. Talk about a suicide bunt scenario!

With Moe sitting in the front row and ready to pounce he determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal. Instead he complimented Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel, pistol and cyanide still in his pocket.

Warner Heisenberg - he blocked the Nazis from building an atomic bomb.
Moe Berg's report was distributed to Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and other key figures in the team developing the Atomic Bomb.

Roosevelt commended: "Give my regards to the catcher.”

Most of Germany's leading physicists had been Jewish and had fled the Nazis mainly to Britain and the United States. Some say it was Berg who recommended to each that they escape or stand to suffer grave consequences.

After the war, Moe Berg was awarded the Medal of Freedom - America's highest honor for a civilian in wartime. But Berg refused to accept it, because he remained adamant about keeping his mission a secret.

After his death, his sister finally accepted the Medal. It now hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown.

Presidential Medal of Freedom
Moe Berg's baseball card is the only card on display at the CIA Headquarters in Washington, DC. Not bad for "a mediocre catcher."

Moe Berg - sneaky catcher

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

1912 Retro-Active Triple Crown Winner (made with Spreaker)


It is said to be one of baseball’s most coveted titles. The player who leads the league in HR, RBI and AVG at the end of a season wins it. This title I’m referring to is none other than professional baseball’s offensive version of the Triple Crown. And Major League Baseball has declared just twelve official winners since 1922. But should there be a lucky 13 added to that list?

Miller Park Offering 'No-Mess Nachos'


The next innovative ballpark food is set to hit Miller Park this season, as Milwaukee Brewers fans will have a chance to take a bite of the Inside The Park Nachos.

Chill Out! Baseball Here To Stay


Rumors rule social media. From conspiracy theories to end-of-world hyperbole, Internet users seemingly do whatever it takes to grab your attention. Well, one of these rumors just got under my skin enough to address on the airwaves. That rumor is, baseball is dead. Seriously, don't be an imbecile, that bs is just not true.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Masters of Psychology: "The Shogun" Hiro Matsuda-Johnny Weaver incident (1987)

"Let him loose!"

The Shogun
Every time a wrestler either steps in the ring, greets a fan, or barks out an interview, he/she has one job, and one job only; to sell the next match. There is no other reason to be in the business of professional wrestling, period.

The following clIp, from 1987, features "The Shogun" Hiro Matsuda demonstrating his version of the "Weaver Lock," made famous by Johnny Weaver, and serves as our example.

Context and Background

Wrestling promoters had been marketing Japanese wrestlers as sneaky rulebreakers from WWII on; they were masters of lethal holds designed to permanently cripple opponents -- they were stone faced killing machines, and in many ways, superior athletes.

By 1987, Hiro Matsuda had been around for quite some time, and promoters were looking for ways to get the most out of the cagey vet. He was a huge star in Japan, and a feared trainer (rumor has it he introduced Hulk Hogan to the business by purposely snapping his leg). Needing to sell more tickets for an upcoming match between Dusty Rhoades and Matsuda (Greensboro Coliseum October 25, 1987), J.J. Dillon conceived an ingenious plan that took just over 4 minutes to hatch, which includes the time it took for Matsuda to enter the ring.

Ring-Psychology In Action

The psychology was simple: "The Shogun" demonstrates his version of the "Weaver Lock" on a Senior Referee, so he, in turn, can inform the other referees how the mysterious hold works. By allowing this demonstration, with proper warning, Dillon essentially washed his hands of legal responsibilities should Matsuda's hold inflict grave injuries on an opponent. The ref agrees and is summarily put out. The move nearly kills the guy. 

In the meantime, Johnny Weaver rushes to the ring and resuscitates the downed ref with a few neck chops. Dillon yells, "I told you so!" Matsuda then sneaks up behind a distracted Weaver and hits him in the solar plexus. The blow leaves Weaver stunned, long enough for Matsuda to apply the lock -- with exceptional force. 

Matsuda grins, his grip tightens, Weaver's mouth fills with blood, his eyes roll and his face goes pale, Weaver is out! Dusty Rhoades and a cast of "good guys" rush to the ring and Matsuda breaks the hold before permanently damaging the poor guy.

Evidently startled, Jim Crockett Jr. immediately announces, "Dusty Rhoades will take on 'The Shogun' Hiro Matsuda October 25 at the Greensboro Coliseum..." 


The fix was on, and wrestling fans flocked to the box office for yet another USA versus the world scenario; Crockett's psychology worked; for the event sold out within hours of its national airing on TBS. Brilliant!

They just don't do it like this anymore, kids...

Enjoy this clip of "The Shogun" Hiro Matsuda taking out Johnny Weaver with a deadly sleeper hold.   

Masters of Psychology: Johnny Valentine v. The Crusher (1960s)

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Masters of Psychology is a new commentary and desiderium dedicated to professional wrestling's masters of ring psychology. These ring physicians, whose precision derived more from infidelity than calculation, truly understood the ignorance imbued for appearing in the ring other than to sell the next match and the dithyrambs which ensured its raptness. Enjoy...      
"We want Crusher!"
When it comes to captivating an audience, Seattle's Johnny Valentine was among the best. Especially when he tangled with "the greatest rassler' to ever step in the ring here in Chicago or any place," The Crusher. As my friend and former writer for the Wrestling Observer, Dick Deluxe, proclaimed, "never the more has a single video been so perfect for a Ph. D. candidate to write their dissertation on." And I cannot disagree with the man. It is ten minutes of, well, nothing and everything. It is the epitome of dialogism under the thundering unison of "We want Crusher! We want Crusher!" Ten minutes of fans screaming for the Crusher's head on a stick. Ten minutes of Johnny Valentine stomping around the ring, his subtle body language keeping the fans from jumping the rail. "Let me handle the bum!" he implies with a few fist pumps. A wrestler by the name of "Badboy" Joe from Minnesota is introduced as The Crusher's replacement and is swiftly disposed of in a mere twenty seconds with five arm drags and a "skull buster." All the while Valentine keeps his eyes fixated on the gorilla position anticipating The Crusher's return to ringside. The Crusher returns and all hell nearly breaks loose. The ensuing interview, which is nearly drowned-out by the crowd, becomes one of wrestling's all time classics.

Valentine and The Crusher managed to stretch a couple of weak kicks into ten minutes of pandemonium and months worth of sellouts. Neither man did a damn thing to each other and assuredly left the venue that evening relatively unscathed and a few bucks richer. This is American professional wrestling at its finest. Enjoy the video of Johnny Valentine v. The Crusher and feel free to share your observations in the comments section below.      

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pro Wrestling's first super-villains: Asian-American roles in TV wrestling's infancy

Kinji Shibuya
The juxtaposition is concise yet complex enough to serve as the archetype: the monolithic swagger of world heavyweight champion Bobby Maganoff; a working-class tough from the Windy City chiseled from the choicest granite defending his world title against a ruthless foreigner, The Great Togo. This is not an atypical bout over mat superiority or fair play; it's a full blown socio-political street fight viciously fought in front of 15,000 screaming fans: an American champion who literally bleeds working-class values taking on a sneaky, rule-breaking savage from the Pacific. Yes folks, America's fears were defeated safely in the controlled confines of a stiff wrestling ring that night. The success was such that Maganoff v. Togo for the NWA world title would happen 11 more times over the next 7 years.

Conceived by wrestling promoters in the immediate post-WWII era, Maganoff v. Togo serves as the chief model for professional wrestling's high drama throughout North America in the mid-20th century. Although war in the Pacific had officially ended on September 2, 1945 with the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, the perception of Imperial Japanese warriors invading Allied wrestling rings continued well into the 1960's. Asian wrestlers not only helped popularize professional wrestling during this period, they became the industry's first super villians!

A dichotomy existed in Japan during this time; though advertised as brutish and clumsy, wrestlers from European backgrounds were cast against wizened - highly disciplined - judo masters and sumo elites. When Japanese-American wrestlers like Kinji Shibuya and The Great Togo went to work in Japan, they checked their US passports and unflattering personalities at the door. Under the auspices of promoter/wrestler, Rikidozan - one of the business's most respected ring generals, Asian-American wrestlers were cast as pure athletes, highly disciplined, intelligent wrestling machines. The Destroyer, a barrel-chested masked European-American grappler, and one of the most popular stars of Japan Pro Wrestling (JPW) in the '60's and New Japan Pro (NJPW) in the '70's, said of Rikidozan, "He wanted wrestling - and his wrestlers - to be tough like he was." American wrestling became spectacle, but in Japan, it was wrestling.California and its large Asian-American population played exception to the rule; Shibuya explained, "[it] was the only other place outside of Honolulu where a Japanese wrestler could be himself, a babyface... it started with Rikidozan, then Toyonobori and these guys got amazing reactions... I was sometimes jealous that they didn't have to play the WWII sneaky Japanese heel."       

Writing about pro wrestling is my unique way of writing about the American experience; by presenting some of pro wrestling's unsung heroes - specifically wrestling's first super villians - I hope to be able to give new voice to those experiences, and hopefully provide an entertaining medium in the process. More on pro wrestling's first super villains soon! Stay tuned!