In Movies & TV

A story of sports and spy craft will swing into the Oriental this weekend with "The Spy Behind Home Plate."

Special MKE Film screening stars strikeouts, spy craft and Bud Selig

You don't see many sports documentaries about backup catchers who batted .243 across his otherwise unremarkable career. Then again, there are very few backup catchers who went on to become spies – and even potential assassins – for the U.S. government during World War II.

That's the true story of Moe Berg, told in the new documentary "The Spy Behind Home Plate," screening for a week-long engagement at the Oriental Theatre beginning Friday, June 14 – complete with a special showing on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. featuring both the film's director, Aviva Kempner, and former MLB commissioner Bud Selig for a Q&A. OnMilwaukee is a sponsor – along with the Milwaukee County Historical Society and Jewish Museum Milwaukee – of the screening.

Kempner's film – her second documentary about influential Jewish players from baseball's deep history after 2000's "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg" – unfolds the complicated true story of Berg, a wildly intelligent and well-spoken catcher across five teams during the '20s and '30s who didn't make much of a splash on the diamond. (When told Berg spoke seven languages, Washington Senators player Dave Harris said, "Yeah, I know, and he can't hit in any of them," according to Nicholas Dawidoff's biography, "The Catcher Was a Spy.")

But while his baseball career wasn't exceptional, his job after catching pitches was: spying on Germany's progress toward the atomic bomb in the heat of World War II as a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), at one point even tasked with shooting a key German scientist if he discovered they were close to cracking the bomb. (They weren't.)

"Milwaukee is a sports town, and Moe Berg has one of the most extraordinary stories to ever come out of baseball," said Jonathan Jackson, CEO and artistic director of Milwaukee Film, in a release. "We couldn't be more excited to have award-winning director Aviva and longtime friend of our organization Bud Selig join us at the Oriental Theatre to share this unbelievable story with our audience."

Tickets for the special Saturday screening featuring Selig and Kempner in attendance for a Q&A are currently available online at the Oriental Theatre's website.


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