Baseball Moe Berg may have been an unremarkable catcher, but his indelible contributions to the U.S. effort in World War II and close friendships with baseball legends from Lou Gehrig to Babe Ruth made him one of the most interesting sports figures of his era.As a U.S. spy, Berg gathered valuable intel during a baseball trip to Japan, sneaking away from a string of exhibition games to capture footage of Tokyo's skyline. That information would become important to the U.S. as it searched for weaknesses amid the Japanese capital. Later, he spent time on assignment in South America before monitoring Germany’s progress toward building a nuclear weapon. All the while, he served as a backstop for the White Sox, Senators, Indians and Red Sox. MORE: Watch 'ChangeUp,' a new live whiparound show on DAZNFilmmaker Aviva Kempner tells Berg’s story in the film “The Spy Behind Home Plat
e,” which debuted in theaters May 24. Sporting News spoke to Kempner about the film, which aligned with her deep interests in Jewish history and sports.This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.Sporting News: As someone with a filmmaking interest in 19th century era American history, this film seemed to match your interests well. So first off, where did the idea to make “The Spy Behind Home Plate” originate as a continuation of that work?Aviva Kempner: (Executive producer) William Levine, who supported in a minor way two of my films, said to me one day, ‘Why don’t you make a film about Sid Luckman, the Jewish football player?’ And I said, ‘Well I don’t really like football.’ Then he said, ‘Why don’t you write about Barney Ross, the Jewish boxer?’ And I said, ‘Well I like boxing even less.’ And then he said, ‘What about Moe Berg?’ The third time was the charm, and I said absolutely. It just turned out to be the perfect person.SN: The film has all sorts of archived videos and photographs from the time period? Which was your favorite to include in your work?AK: It was the footage obviously taken on the trip over to Japan when you had stars such as Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth and Moe amongst them. It’s off the field, but it really is a great part of history.SN: I know you’ve always held a personal connection to baseball. Can you explain why it’s such an important sport to you?AK: My father was an immigrant and taught my brother and me to love baseball. The (local) players were very good growing up, and it’s just always been a sport I’ve enjoyed watching and still do in Washington D.C. My brother sadly has moved more to hockey, but I’ve stayed true to the sport.SN: Where might the story of Moe Berg demonstrate a historical connection between sports and politics or larger, non-entertainment issues?AK: Moe was fact-finding what was happening in Europe at that time. I also think that his knowledge of the game as well and his ability to figure out what the scenery was (crucial). I mean his whole taking (secret) footage of the Tokyo skyline (during the baseball tour) was crucial. He used a sports trip to get research for America.SN: And finally, what impression do you hope viewers get from “The Spy Behind Home Plate"? Any specific lessons you're hoping they take away?AK: Well, today we're worried about whether North Korea has nuclear capabilities and whether countries in the Middle East have nuclear capabilities. I think we need to know our history of how at a time when the world was in peril, and how a sports hero, someone in baseball, wound up being a real American hero. You know for me also, having done a Hank Greenberg film but also knowing about Ted Williams and Joe Dimaggio going off to war, their stats are not what they would have been if they hadn't sacrificed for their country. Moe would have probably ended up being a manager afterward. They not only sacrificed their lives, but also their sports standing.