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O’Malley-Japan baseball exhibit opens

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Former Los Angeles Dodgers president Peter O’Malley was in Tokyo on Saturday morning to celebrate the opening of a special exhibition of Dodgers memorabilia at the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

O’Malley and NPB commissioner Ryozo Kato were among those who participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the exhibition, “Baseball in Japan and the O’Malley Family: A Lasting Friendship,” which features a number of items that highlight the relationship between the O’Malley family, the Dodgers and Japan.

The exhibition runs until July 15.

“I’m very happy to be able to be here,” O’Malley said during the ceremony.

The O’Malley family has shared a long history with Japan. Patriarch Walter, former president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, only visited Japan on two occasions, but Peter O’Malley, who took over for his father in 1970 and ran the team until 1998, has traveled to the country 85 times by his own estimate and joked that he’s “aiming for 100.”

“Our friendship in Japan began in 1956, in the spring” O’Malley said. “The late Matsutaro Shoriki sent Sotaro Suzuki to New York to see my father, to convince my father, not just invite him but to convince him, that it was a good idea for the Dodgers to come to Japan in the fall of 1956.

“My family had never been west of California in 1956, and it took some convincing. I remember the evening I was with my dad and Mr. Suzuki, and my dad said, ‘OK, the Dodgers will go to Japan in 1956.’ “

That goodwill tour was among the final appearances as a player by Brooklyn Dodgers legend Jackie Robinson, who broke MLB’s color barrier in 1947. A bat Robinson used during the tour is among the items on display in the exhibition.

The relationship between O’Malley and Japan would continue throughout the years as he helped facilitate Japanese teams working out in Vero Beach, Florida, the spring training home of the Dodgers from 1948 until 2008.

He was also, and perhaps most famously, instrumental in the signing of pitcher Hideo Nomo in 1995.

“In this exhibition, about 30 items are being displayed to highlight the important role the O’Malley family has played in promoting a warm and friendly relationship with Japanese baseball,” Kato said, reading from a prepared statement.

The items on display include a World Series ring from the Dodgers’ 1988 title run, a signed picture of former Dodgers pitchers Nomo and Park Chan-ho; a uniform worn by Nomo during his time with the Kintetsu Buffaloes; a uniform worn by former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda; and many other pieces of history.

The exhibit also features items from Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara, a Waseda University graduate who was hired by the Dodgers in 1965 and later became an assistant to Peter O’Malley. Ikuhara was posthumously inducted into the Japanese Hall of Fame in 2002.

Ikuhara “played a prominent role in the team’s many international amateur and professional baseball exchanges, such as spring training camp visits to work out with the Dodgers in Vero Beach, Florida, by the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons, and in the realization of the annual Japan-U.S. College Baseball Championships,” Kato said. “He was truly a person who brought American and Asian baseball together.”