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Uncle Andy's Blog

Give my regards to the catcher.


 

He was born in New York City, a few blocks from the Pologrounds, but raised in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a Jewish pharmacist who thought baseball was a waste of time and energy.   At the age of four, he began playing baseball in the street anyway and his father, Bernard, never allowed himself to watch.  His father taught him Hebrew and Yiddish at home and made sure he learned to speak Latin, Greek and French while attending Barringer High School.  It has been said that as a teenager, he read ten different newspapers a day.  No doubt he was brilliant, and he attended New York University for one year before enrolling at Princeton.  He graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University where he added Spanish, German and Sanskrit to his bag of languages.  He also played baseball while at Princeton.  He later studied overseas in Paris and attended Columbia Law School here in the States, while learning Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Arabic, Portuguese and Hungarian.  If you’re counting, that’s fifteen different languages in all, not including some regional dialects.   

Born a genius but a mediocre ballplayer on March 2, 1902, Moe Berg played fifteen seasons of professional baseball for five different Major League teams. On June 27, 1923, Berg was signed by the Brooklyn Robins.   After the season was over, Moe took his first trip abroad by sailing from New York to Paris.  Instead of returning in 1924, to get in shape for the upcoming baseball season, he decided to tour Italy and Switzerland.  Berg later played catcher with the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators, and Cleveland again, then finished with the Boston Red Sox.

In the winter of 1932, Herb Hunter, a retired ballplayer, arranged for three Major League players to travel to Japan to teach baseball seminars to the Japanese.  Those three players were Lefty O’Doul, Ted Lyons and Moe Berg.  They talked and taught baseball in six of Japan’s largest universities at that time.   Berg stayed behind when the seminars ended and continued to explore Japan.  Berg also visited Manchuria, Shanghai, Peking, Indochina, India, Egypt and Berlin.  Berg’s second trip to Japan occurred in 1934, when he was asked to travel with an American Baseball All-Star team that included future Hall-of-Fame players like “Babe” Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Jimmie Foxx and “Lefty” Gomez.  They were to play against the Japanese All-Star teams.  Berg took with him a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera to document his trip.  During this trip to Tokyo, Berg paid a visit to St. Luke’s Hospital, where the American Ambassador Joseph Grew’s daughter was a patient.  This hospital was the tallest building in the Japanese capital.  While he was there, he sneaked on top of the hospital and filmed the city, military installations, railway yards, factories and its harbor.  He never did visit the ambassador’s daughter.  So why was a third-string catcher (Moe Berg) asked to join this Hall-of-Fame group?  He was a spy for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS), to later become known as the CIA.  The film footage he shot would later be used by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to plan his famous bombing raid on Japan near the end of World War II.  Berg had two loves, baseball and spying.

During the war, Berg was also asked to parachute into Yugoslavia to assess the value of two groups of partisans.  Berg reported back to Winston Churchill that one group known as Marshall Tito’s partisans would be of value to the war effort.  Churchill ordered all-out support for these underground fighters based on Berg’s report.   Berg also later parachuted into German-held Norway and joined an underground group who helped him locate a secret heavy water plant to be used by the Nazis to build an atomic bomb.  Berg’s info helped the Royal Air Force find and destroy the plant.

Moe Berg would also receive a code name, “Remus.”  Berg was sent to Switzerland to hear a leading German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, lecture on building an atomic bomb.  Berg posed as a Swiss graduate student.  He managed to slip past the SS guards and then sat in the front row.  In his pocket were a pistol and a cyanide pill.  Moe Berg was to listen to the lecture and determine if the Germans had progressed far enough along to build an atomic bomb.  If so, he was to shoot Heisenberg and then swallow the cyanide pill.  Berg determined that the Germans were nowhere near their goal of building an atomic bomb.  So, after the lecture, he congratulated Heisenberg on his speech and walked him back to his hotel.  Moe Berg’s report was read by Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was reported that Roosevelt responded, “Give my regards to the catcher.” 

Casey Stengel never quite put it together, but he knew something was up.  Casey said of Moe Berg, “That is the strangest man ever to play baseball.”  The baseball writers also had their fun with Moe Berg, claiming that he could speak fifteen different languages but he couldn’t hit in any of them.  After the war, Moe Berg, the third-string catcher, was awarded the Medal of Freedom, America’s highest honor for a civilian in wartime.  Berg refused to accept the medal, claiming he would have to tell people about his travels and reveal his spying secrets.  In 1972, after his death, his sister accepted the medal.  It now hangs in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum. 

Moe Berg’s 1933 Goudey baseball card #158 is the only baseball card on display at CIA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Billy Ripkens Bat


 

In 1988 Fleer Baseball Card Company sent Bob Bartosz into the field to take pictures of the Major League baseball players for their 1989 issue.  Second baseman Billy Ripken, younger brother of Cal Ripken, stood proudly with his bat on his right shoulder, his right hand on top of his left hand as he gripped the bat.  Billy was the third member of the Ripken family to be associated with the Orioles as his dad Cal Sr., was the manager.  It is interesting to note that Billy was known more for his glove than his bat as he had only hit four home runs in first two years with the Orioles. So, why did they picture him with a bat instead of fielding a ground ball?  That is the real question.  But, on this day, his batting stance would be the least of his worries and probably shed some light on how he felt about his hitting in general.  You see, there were two words written on the bottom of the handle of his bat that were clearly legible, F___ Face.  How this got by the proof readers is beyond my imagination.  Nevertheless, When Fleer discovered the error, they rushed to correct.  Many cards had already been released to the public and of course Billy was questioned over and over by the media.  He denied knowing anything about the curse words written on the bat handle. 

Fleer released versions in which the text was scrawled over with a marker, whited out with correction fluid; the card was also cut by machine in an effort to take out the explicative words and also airbrushed.  On the final corrected version, Fleer obscured the offensive words with a black box.  Many of these corrected cards have become collector’s items with some cards reaching as high as $1,200 in mint condition.  There are at least ten different variations of this card, #616.  Years later, Ripken finally admitted that the bat was his and he only used it in batting practice.  The words written on the handle were to help him distinguish it from his game used bats and he had never intended to use that bat for the Fleer baseball card.

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Shoot the President


 

It was July 4, 1976, Independence Day.  The Philadelphia Phillies and the rest of the country were celebrating the two hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  They invited the President, Gerald Ford, to throw out the first pitch.  At the time, Pat and Bob Bartosz lived in Philadelphia where he had been a cop.  He was now a professional photographer, and Pat was a proofreader.  They were also huge baseball fans.  In fact they would later be hired in 1980 by Fleer Baseball Card Incorporated, to take pictures of professional baseball players for their sports cards.  But on this day, Bob had asked and received clearance from the President’s Secret Service to be on the field taking pictures of the event for the Philadelphia Enquirer.  Bob left for the ballpark early.  He had not been gone very long when the phone rang and Pat answered.  The president of the Gannett Company (a news service marketing company) would also be in attendance and would be on the field as a guest of President Ford during the throwing out of the first pitch.  The Gannett Company wanted a picture of their president and President Ford together.  This was before cells phones so Pat hurried to the ballpark to get word to her husband, Bob.  Pat did not have clearance to be on the field so she wrote a note to Bob and handed it to a policeman.  He gave the note to the Secret Service.  As soon as they read the note, the Secret Service whisked Bob off the field into the dugout where they frisked him briskly.  The note said, “Bob if you shoot the President shoot the guy in back of him, too.” 

Wives, don’t you just love them?

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

Last View from Shortstop


 

 

Do you believe now?  “Wait till next year” does not apply.  The Fall Classic just came early.  Do you believe in magic?  How about ghosts?  Some say the ghost of Yankee Stadium intervened.  Who knows?   The forecast had been a 75% chance of rain, but not a drop fell that night.  There is no doubt that in the years to come only a few will remember who won the 2014 World Series, but everyone connected to the game of baseball will remember the night of September 25, 2014.  Under the circumstances, last night’s results will go down as one of the greatest final home games in the history of baseball.  You see, the magic of sports are those moments that can’t happen in real life.  Of all the great Derek Jeter moments, tonight’s topped them all.  I hope you took a good look, because that’s what a baseball player looks like.  Then he kissed and hugged his parents before celebrating with his teammates.

It was the bottom of the first inning with Jeter batting second, when he hit an RBI double.  Derek later scored the second Yankee run.  With the Yanks leading 5-2, New York closer David Robertson blew a three-run lead in the top of the ninth inning, as the Orioles tied the score 5-5.  In the bottom of the ninth, José Pireta began the inning with a single and was replaced by pinch runner, Antoan Richardson.  Antoan was bunted over to second base by Brett Gardner.  Then Jeter used his inside-out swing to hit a walk-off single to right field, scoring Richardson.  The roar of the crowd was so loud the dust flew off of the back of my TV.  It was over; Yankees won 6-5, a story-book ending.  For twenty years, Jeter has never played on a losing team.  People will relive that day for years to come. 

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I believe that the attraction to Derek Jeter comes not so much from his being a great baseball player, on the winningest franchise in sports history, but in the fact that he reminds us all of what being an American means.  He is hardworking, loyal, honest and morally sound.  He shows good judgment, is kind, law abiding, considerate of others and respectful.  He never embarrassed anyone about anything.  Jeter believed he could overcome any obstacle placed in front of him.  I believe he would have been great at anything he chose to do in life.  His story will be shared by generations.  Unfortunately, it’s sad to realize that Jeter is not the norm anymore; he’s the exception.  As my dad, Gordon, would say, “This guy was a real piece of work.”

On May 29, 1995, Derek Jeter debuted in his first game as a New York Yankee, compliments of Yankees’ Manager, “Buck” Showalter.  Jeter started at shortstop and batted ninth in the lineup that day.  He struck out once and recorded no hits.  The Yankees lost to the Seattle Mariners that night, 8-7 in 12 innings.  The Yankees lost five games in a row before winning at home against the Los Angeles Angels, on Sunday, June 4, 1995.  The rest, as they say, is history.

On August 13, 1995, less than three months after Jeter became a Yankee, my childhood hero, Mickey Mantle, died.  In 1964, as a 13 year-old kid, I saw Mantle play at Yankee Stadium and thanks to my two sons, Bill and Harry, who took me on vacation in 2010 to Baltimore to see the Yankees play the Orioles, we saw Derek Jeter.  Not many people can say they have seen their two heroes play in person, forty-six years apart.  Jeter made baseball better.  The old saying goes, “It’s good to be king,” but in this case, it was also good to be his subjects.  I think Ozzie Smith summed it up best when he said about Jeter, “He’s a play-off player.”  I just hope there are more Derek Jeter’s around the corner.

I am reminded of a great poem written by Grantland Rice, a sports writer from the 30’s, 40’s and early 1950’s.

 

“For when the One Great Scorer comes,

To mark against your name,

He writes -- not that you won or lost,

But HOW you played the Game.”

 

So Jeter rested on Friday and claimed the designated hitter spot in Boston this past weekend to finish out his career.  On Sunday, in his final at-bat, Jeter did what he does best.  He hit an RBI single and left us on our feet thanking him for his time.  “I wanted my last view from shortstop to be in Yankee Stadium,” said Jeter.  On Friday night, Jeter finally shared with the media his most personal thoughts.  He said, “I know that there are a lot of people that have more talent than I do, but I can honestly say I don’t think anyone played harder.”

It was Buck who suggested that Jeter be given the #2 to wear.  Owner George Steinbrenner was concerned, as only the best of the best in Yankee lore had worn the lower numbers.  You’ve heard the names, Billy Martin, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, “Yogi” Berra, Bill Dickey, Roger Maris, and Phil Rizzuto.  Only the #2 and #6 had not been retired.  “You had better be right,” said Steinbrenner to Showalter.  Buck was right.   Joe Torre, Jeter’s second manager, who wore #6, has just had his number retired for all time by the Yankees.  Now Jeter’s #2 will take its rightful place in Monument Park. 

Joseph Campbell once said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  Now Derek wants to be an owner.  Will he be a good owner?  I don’t know, but I wouldn’t bet against him.  He will continue to oversee his Turn 2 Foundation, which funds programs that discourage drug and alcohol use among young people and promote healthy lifestyles. 

Unfortunately, Father Time always has the last at bat and when Derek Jeter enters the Baseball Hall-of-Fame Museum, he will join Lou Boudreau as one of only two Hall-of-Fame players to record a walk-off hit for a win in their final home game.   

And to all you Jeter critics, I say, “Perhaps you should just sit quietly and let everyone think you are uninformed instead of opening your mouth and removing all the doubt.”

 

 

 

Andy Purvis is a local author.  His books "In the Company of Greatness","Remembered Greatness" and “Greatness Continued” are on the shelves at the local Barnes and Noble and online at many different sites including Amazon, bn.com, booksamillion, Google Books, etc.  They are also available in e-reader format.  Contact him at www.purvisbooks.com, or purvis.andy@mygrande.net.

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