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Moe Berg, Major League Baseball Catcher and Spy

Wikipedia // Public Domain

When Major League Baseball players retire, they pursue all kinds of careers: manager, analyst, Congressman, actor, even photographer. Moe Berg decided to become an international spy.

Berg was a Princeton grad who appeared on quiz shows and was fluent in multiple languages—up to 12, some sources say. A New York Times columnist once called Berg “the most scholarly athlete I ever knew.” Berg's baseball skills were never quite as strong as his academic prowess, however. After 15 rather mediocre seasons in the major leagues, Berg accepted a position with the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA.

The job offer may have resulted from Berg’s first foray into international intelligence in the 1930s, when he, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other baseball luminaries traveled to Japan for exhibition games. Fluent in Japanese, Berg managed to finagle his way onto the top floors of a Tokyo skyscraper, where he used a video camera to film the city’s shipyards. According to the CIA, the U.S. “reportedly” (wouldn’t the CIA know?) used Berg’s footage to plan raids during WWII.

His successful mission led to others. In 1945, he was given the tall task of figuring out if Germany was close to having a nuclear weapon. Again, using his linguistic skills, Berg posed as a Swiss visitor and got into a lecture in Zurich by Third Reich physicist Werner Heisenberg. Though he determined that Heisenberg had “sinister” eyes, Berg didn’t believe the physicist was close to developing nukes. He confirmed this several days later, when he accompanied Heisenberg back to his hotel after a dinner party and chatted him up. Had the Germans been further along in nuclear weapon development, Berg’s mission would have changed—he was under orders to assassinate Heisenberg to prevent the Nazis from using his brain for their cause.

Though he was able to use yet another foreign language skill to gather intelligence in the Soviet Union, the OSS chose not to renew Berg’s contract in 1954. Part of their reluctance may have due to the fact that he was a bit of a real-life Maxwell Smart, repeatedly dropping his gun at the most inopportune times and forgetting to take his OSS-issue watch off before embarking on top secret missions.

There was a biography about Berg's fascinating life in the works, but he ended up nixing it when he discovered that the writer believed he was Moe Howard from The Three Stooges. Angry about the confusion, Berg backed out of the project.

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Pop Culture
The Simpsons's Classic Baseball Episode Gets the Mockumentary Treatment
Fox Sports, YouTube
Fox Sports, YouTube

Opinions vary widely about the continued existence of The Simpsons, which just began its 29th season. Some believe the show ran out of steam decades ago, while others see no reason why the satirical animated comedy can’t run forever.

Both sides will no doubt have something to say about the episode airing Sunday, October 22, which reframes the premise of the show’s classic “Homer at the Bat” installment from 1992 as a Ken Burns-style mockumentary titled Springfield of Dreams: The Legend of Homer Simpson.

As Mashable reports, “Homer at the Bat” saw Montgomery Burns launch his own baseball team and populate it with real major league players like Wade Boggs, Steve Sax, and Jose Canseco to dominate the competition. In the one-hour special, the players will discuss their (fictional) participation, along with interviews featuring Homer and other members of the animated cast.

It’s not clear how much of the special will break the fourth wall and go into the actual making of the episode, a backstory that involves guest star Ken Griffey Jr. getting increasingly frustrated recording his lines and Canseco’s wife objecting to a scene in which her husband's animated counterpart wakes up in bed with lecherous schoolteacher Edna Krabappel.

Morgan Spurlock (Super-Size Me) directed the special, which is slated to air on Fox at either 3 p.m. EST or 4:30 p.m. EST depending on NFL schedules in local markets. There will also be a new episode of The Simpsons—an annual Halloween-themed "Treehouse of Horror" installment—airing in its regular 8 p.m. time slot.

[h/t Mashable]

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Seattle Mariners Fans Are Going Crazy for These Crunchy Grasshopper Snacks
Great Big Story, Youtube
Great Big Story, Youtube

Seattle Mariners fans have more than warmed up to the newest, offbeat addition to the Safeco Field concessions menu: toasted grasshoppers covered in chili-lime salt.

The crunchy snack, which sells for $4 and comes packed in a small container, has only been available for less than a season but has already sold 300,000-plus orders to date. That's about 1000 pounds of grasshoppers. 

Frequenters of Seattle's popular Mexican restaurant Poquitos will know that this delicacy—which first started as a novelty item on its menu—has actually been available to the public for six years. But it wasn't until local chef Ethan Stowell was hired to give the Safeco Field menu a hip retooling that the salty bugs found new, fervent popularity at the ballpark. (Also on the Safeco menu: fried oysters drizzled in hot sauce.)

Great Big Story met up with Manny Arce, the executive chef of Poquitos and visionary behind this culinary home run, to discuss the popularity of these crunchy critters. You can watch the video interview below:

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