Collector Bob Matthews shares his admiration for Moe Berg with JCC visitors in his extensive Matthews Sports Exhibit.
Featured photo by Corrie Colf
The Matthews Sports Exhibit: Jewish Heroes & Other Legends, a gift to the community from Dr. Robert “Bob” and Sandy Matthews at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield, is nothing short of a grand slam for local sports fans. It highlights many outstanding athletes, but none compare to Moe Berg, who is highlighted on a special wall of fame.
Bob Matthews’ admiration for Moe Berg began 25 years ago after reading a novel about the unknown Jewish spy and Major League catcher. He was fascinated by the secrecy surrounding Berg and wanted to dive right into the life of this American hero. Matthews lent his expertise to filmmaker Aviva Kempner during the making of the new documentary The Spy Behind Home Plate.
“I always have been collecting Jewish and Detroit memorabilia,” says Matthews, who is in his 80s. He started collecting sports memorabilia when he was very young, but says his collection really took off when the Detroit Tigers won the 1968 World Series.
It wasn’t until the mid-’90s when Matthews discovered Moe Berg, which fueled his fascination for the mysterious catcher. “He became my hero,” he says. “I admired his courage, bravery and his love for our country — all of things we might not have today. The man had the right values.”
His first Moe Berg collection piece was a canceled check for $100 signed by Berg in 1951. After years of gathering Berg memorabilia, Matthews now has hundreds of collectibles, both at the JCC exhibit and at his Farmington Hills home.
Matthews hopes this exhibit, the most complete exhibit in the country accessible to the public, can provide educational insight for two different generations — the first being his generation, the ones who are nostalgic and can reflect on the impact of these stellar athletes from their childhood. Yet, the most important generation to Matthews is the younger generation. He wants them to be informed and learn more about the substantial contributions from Jewish ball players.
He has a hard time picking a favorite of his collectibles. “Asking me to pick a favorite is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child,” he says.
However, his first pick is Winston Churchill’s book on World War II, The Hinge of Fate, from Berg’s private library. Secondly, he loves looking at Berg’s personal income tax return from 1934.
The rarest piece of memorabilia is the only article Berg published, “Pitchers and Catchers,” which was printed in the Atlantic Monthly. This article detailed how pitchers and catchers would work together to deceive the batters of the opposing team.
Matthews says he is looking forward to the sneak peek of The Spy Behind Home Plate at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 20, at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. At the event, he will introduce filmmaker Kempner.
“Of all of the days they could have picked, coincidentally, it’s my birthday,” he says. “This is one of the best birthday presents I could have asked for.”