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Remembering ‘baseball ambassador’ Cappy Harada

by Wayne Graczyk

There are many who have tried to bridge the gap between Major League Baseball in North America and the game as it is played in Japan, but perhaps no one has done more for MLB-NPB relations than Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada. He died on June 5 at the age of 88 in California, and his death from heart failure was reported on June 25.

Harada was born in Santa Maria, Calif., in 1921. He was a high school and semi-pro ballplayer supposedly scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the outbreak of World War II but, like many Japanese-Americans, he was caught in no man’s land after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and wound up in the U.S. military intelligence service working in the Pacific.

Harada’s contributions in building the “baseball bridge across the Pacific” are extremely noteworthy. He is credited with advising Japanese baseball officials as they set up the two-league system in 1950 and suggesting the Japan Series between the winners of the two league pennants be staged as the local version of MLB’s World Series.

He helped another Japanese-American, Wally Yonamine from Hawaii, become the first post-war foreign player in Japan when Wally joined the Tokyo Giants in 1951. That opened the door for the more than 850 gaikokujin who have since played, managed, coached and umpired in Japanese baseball.

Cappy was also instrumental in arranging goodwill tours of Japan by American teams, including those led by Lefty O’Doul, the minor league San Francisco Seals in 1949 and major league All-Star teams in the early-1950s.

Most notably, he brought the “Yankee Clipper,” Joe DiMaggio, to Tokyo in 1954 along with his bride Marilyn Monroe. They were on their honeymoon.

Harada continued his baseball diplomacy in the following decades, sending several former major leaguers from the U.S. to play for Japanese teams and working out the agreement whereby the Pacific League’s Nankai Hawks sent then-19-year-old left-handed pitcher Masanori Murakami to the San Francisco Giants. “Mashi” became the first Japanese player in the majors in 1964.

Nankai was over the limit with its number of organizational roster players, and it was suggested the young southpaw be sent “on loan” to Fresno, Class A minor league affiliate of the San Francisco club, to get some seasoning. But Murakami had a great year, and he was called up to the majors late that season.

Murakami recalls, “Cappy was a friend of my manager (Kazuto) Tsuruoka on the Hawks, and he arranged to have me go to Fresno. I met Cappy in spring training in 1964 when he visited our camp in Arizona for four or five days.

“When I was called up to the majors on Aug. 31 of that year, I had to fly from California to New York where the Giants were playing, by myself, not knowing hardly any English and being nervous about pitching in the big leagues. I remember checking into the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan, and I got a call from Cappy telling me not to worry; that everything would be OK.

“There’s no doubt about it. My time in the U.S. went a lot smoother because of Cappy. He worked tirelessly and always did his best to promote good relations between American and Japanese baseball. He was so skillful about bringing the two sides together.”

As late as the mid-1980s, Harada was still sending American players to Japan and doing other work to strengthen the baseball alliance between the two countries, until player agents got involved and relations between the MLB and NPB and their respective commissioner’s offices began to heat up.

However, there are many who owe the hardworking Harada a thank you for his undertaking the job of building that bridge at a time when it took a lot longer than it does today to get from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Tokyo or Osaka.

All the American players throughout the years who have extended their careers in Japan should tip their caps to Cappy and, though he may not have envisioned it 50 or 60 years ago, Harada can take pride in knowing that he had something to do with the eventual success in the majors of Japanese stars such as Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

Some day, perhaps soon, when the MLB and NPB champions get together to play that “Real World Series,” you can bet the spirit of Cappy Harada will be there.

Rest in peace, Mr. Baseball Ambassador.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com