Sunday, October 20, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 180: Moe Berg, Pitchers and Catchers (#66)

Moe Berg, "Pitchers and Catchers" (1941) from Baseball: A Literary Anthology:

"The catcher is the Cerberus of baseball."

That's how Moe Berg describes the position he played in this piece, which tells us a lot about him: he's clearly highly educated--though it's not clear that education is helping him much. I mean, sure, "Cerberus of baseball" is a fun phrase and adequately describes the gate-keeping the catcher has to do for people trying to make it to home plate. But this phrase comes after a long litany of all the skills a catcher has to have, which can't really be boiled down to "Cerberus"-style skills.

The rest of this piece likewise shows off Moe Berg's wide education and thought: in one moment, he gestures towards how World War I affected baseball by preventing foreign yarn from being used in the production of baseballs; and in another moment, he's going through a list of some of the greats and telling us why they were great. He'll go into the philosophy of baseball--moderation and balance; and he'll go into the psychology of baseball--how pitchers and batters are engaged in psychological warfare. No matter what the topic, Moe Berg can see it in baseball and has something to say about it.

Which all adds up to... well, what does it add up to? Though the thread of baseball ties this all together, this piece feels loose. The tone of edumucation prevents it from becoming chummy and conversational. For the baseball fan, it's probably an interesting though idiosyncratic inside view. For the non-baseball fan, there are moments of interest--but they remain disconnected moments.

But, thanks to this LoA piece, I know now that Moe Berg (a) went on to work for the OSS and CIA; and (b) he probably played up the erudition angle so as to brand himself since he wasn't particularly distinguished as a ball-player.

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