By Gary A. Sarnoff
Moe Berg began his professional baseball career as an infielder; He finished his career as a catcher. When, How, and Why was he converted into a catcher? It happened without warning in the middle of the 1927 season and during a game. On August 5, 1927, the White Sox were in Boston. The Chicago catching staff had been decimated by injuries, and they were down to one healthy catcher. Needing a backup in case something happened Harry McCurdy, the team’s only active catcher, White Sox manager Ray Schalk intended on adding a class C or D minor leaguer to the roster. Overhearing his manager’s plan, Moe Berg decided to chime in. “Whaddya mean class C or D man when you’ve got a big-league catcher sitting on the bench?” he asked his manager.
As luck would have it, McCurdy got injured in the top of the third, but knowing the team’s shortage at his position, he had no choice but to stay in the game. In the bottom of the inning, a collision at home plate kayoed McCurdy. Now the White Sox had no choice but to use a player who was unfamiliar with the position. Who would come off the White Sox bench and fill in behind the plate? The manager didn’t hesitate with his decision. “All right, Berg, get in there!” Schalk shouted.
“The funny part of it is I wasn’t talking about myself when I told Schalk he had a big-league catcher sitting on the bench,” Berg explained when telling the story five years later. “I didn’t want to catch. I was referring to big Earl Sheeley, our first baseman. Sheeley used to catch out on the Coast and I figured he might do. I was only kidding anyway. But I couldn’t back down. I caught a few games as a kid, but played infield at Princeton. In college baseball, it’s not what you want to play, it’s what you have to play. They said I was good on ground balls, so they made an infielder out of me, but I was always a catcher. It’s the easiest position on the field to play, and you get a lot of action. That’s what I like about it.”
Berg finished the game at Boston, and the next day, when the White Sox took on Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the rest of Murderers’ Row at Yankee Stadium, Berg was the White Sox starting catcher. In the bottom of the seventh, one inning after Berg’s RBI single extended the Chicago lead to 5-3, the Yankees had a runner on second with nobody out when New York outfielder Cedric Durst singled to leftfield. Joe Dugan, the Yankees runner on second, advanced on the hit, rounded third and attempted to score. White Sox leftfielder Bib Falk fielded the ball and uncorked a perfect throw to Berg, who caught the ball and applied the tag on Dugan for an out. Impressed by Berg’s putout, the entire Chicago infield trotted over to home plate and patted Berg on the back. The White Sox added another run and beat the 1927 Yankees that day, 6-3, thanks to an emergency catcher named Moe Berg. For better or for worse, Berg was now a catcher for the remainder of his career.