You never know what you’ll unearth as you work on a story.

I’m writing a brief news item about the graduation of the State Bar’s Bar Leadership Institute class of 2009-2010. (I wrote about it briefly the day it occurred; see the story and pictures here.)

A graduation story is a recurring task for writers, especially those who cover the same beat for a long time. So you do not often expect to hear something you haven’t heard before. But the May 14 graduation included a speech by Vice Chief Justice Andy Hurwitz, which was rousing and even informative.

The informative part came when he spoke about Morris “Moe” Berg. He was a baseball player in the majors and occasionally in the minors. He was a spy for the OSS. And, oh yeah, he was a lawyer.

For those of you aiming to become a Renaissance man or woman, the line forms here. A pretty good entry about Moe Berg is here.

Am I impressed? Sure. But the fact that he was a catcher probably caught my eye first. For the catcher is the linchpin of the whole operation, if you ask me. He’s the camshaft that keeps it all working. He is hidden beneath the flashier parts of the engine, and it all rotates around him. After all, who’s at home?

Growing up in upstate New York, the New York Mets were my team (Yankees? Yankees who?). And on that team, especially the World Series-winning 1969 team, was Jerry Grote, the catcher.

Sure, their pitcher, Tom Seaver, was great. But there’s a part of me that’s always appreciated the person who accomplishes much without having to occupy the highest point in an organization, be it a corner office or a mound. I admire the person who operates a well-oiled machine, all while squatting and spying the world from a lower view.

In fact, that may be a telling test:

  • Do you admire the ship captain who navigates her vessel across the ocean’s expanse, or the harbor pilot who takes the helm when things get really difficult?
  • Do you admire the individual talented at one discrete skill and who rests when it’s not his turn? Or the one who performs at top capacity while keeping an eye on every part of the operation?

Well, the possibility of a baseball career may be a declining possibility. But maybe I could send the ol’ resume to a spy organization or two. Either that or return to law practice. Hmmm.

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