It would have been the perfect time to make a permanent transition to the law, but Berg did no such thing. He played 20 games for Chicago in '30, 10 for Cleveland in '31, and then he joined the Senators. Shirley Povich wrote in The Washington Post, "The average mental capacity of the Washington Ball Club was hiked several degrees by the acquisition of the eminent Mr. Moe Berg." Bernard Berg was disgusted. Standing outside the pharmacy one day, Dr. Sam tried to reason with him. "Look, Pa," he said, "we are in a depression, and Moe is making good money. Many of his Princeton classmates are janitors or are borrowing money from Moe."
Bernard spat on the sidewalk and said, "He's just a sport. He doesn't have a profession." Bernard died in 1941, never having attended a baseball game. The black tie that Moe wore every day for the rest of his life was to honor his father.
Baseball was as fascinated by Berg as he was by the game. "Moe was really something in the bullpen," an anonymous teammate told The Sporting News in 1972. "We'd all sit around and listen to him discuss the Greeks, Romans, Japanese, anything. Hell, we didn't know what he was talking about, but it sure sounded good."
Still, people wondered. "Most people in baseball passed bons mots about him," says Joe Cascarella, a teammate of Berg's on his next team, the Red Sox, in the late '30s. "What was this man doing playing baseball? Very puzzling. He was very, very closemouthed about any of his activities. It was hard to press him."
Berg just liked to play. "I seek no other man's shoes," he once said. "Even grandmothers should experience the pure excitement of covering home plate with an ape charging home, cleats flying high."
There was more to it, though. At heart Berg was a sybarite, and baseball was a steady job that paid well, permitted extensive travel, put him in contact with a vast variety of people and left most of each day free for reading, bathing and adventure. "It left him time to do what he did best, and that is read," says Levitt. "He wasn't, tied down." Berg traveled with two suitcases, one filled with clothes and baseball equipment, the other with books and periodicals. When the Senators played at home, Berg liked to skip up to Baltimore, where his favorite poet, Edgar Allan Poe, was buried. Berg had memorized many of Poe's verses and would stand beside the grave and recite them.
Berg's twin personas, the ballplayer and the intellectual, gave him a special cachet, and so his friends included Catholic nuns and Will Rogers, the postmaster general and the Marx brothers. For contemporary baseball writers, Berg provided material beyond their dreams, and they shamelessly embellished the exploits of "beetle-browed barrister Berg, the linguist who says 'Il fait chaud' to umpires."
"During an evening's walk," wrote Arthur Sampson in the New York Herald, "[Berg] will point out' planets, discuss politics, law, economics, music, art, drama, literature [and] current events with specialists in any of these fields."
It was true, at least, that Berg enjoyed an evening's stroll, but most likely he was arm in arm with an attractive young woman. He was a man of striking good looks, 6'1" and 185 pounds. In Washington he was a regular at black-tie embassy parties, where the Strauss waltzes, free meals and well-bred foreign women agreed with him. "Moe generally lived at the Wardman Park [Hotel] and never had to buy a meal as he dined at all the embassies, where he talked their languages and kissed the hands of more women than Valentino," said Thomas, the White Sox pitcher, to the authors of Moe Berg: Athlete, Scholar, Spy. Berg never married, but he did share a New York apartment before the war with a high-society pianist. Eventually she married someone else. "I think [Moe] was kind of happy that she got married," wrote Dr. Sam. With women, as with all people, for a brief spell he was extremely attentive. Then he was gone.
Travel was always invigorating to Berg. He first went to Japan with Lyons and Dodger outfielder Lefty O'Doul in 1932. Baseball was just catching on in that country, and the three men gave pitching, catching and hitting clinics together at six Japanese universities. Berg studied some Japanese before he left the U.S. and kept it up on the way over. He learned enough to flatter his hosts and to needle the irrepressible O'Doul. In a restaurant one day Berg wrote some Japanese characters on a napkin and handed it to a waitress, who recited phonetically, "O'Doul is ugliest mug I have ever seen. He is also lousy ballplayer. Some day he will get hit with fly ball and get killed."