Remembering Japanese Baseball, an Oral History of the Game is the title of a new book by Robert K. Fitts, the creator of RobsJapanese Cards.com, the world’s largest Web site dedicated to Japanese baseball cards and memorabilia.
The book consists of a series of personal accounts by former players in Japan, mostly foreigners, each telling his own personal story before coming to Japanese baseball and the experiences, good and bad, while playing in the Central or Pacific League.
There are 25 first-person recollections from a cross-section of ex-players, including the successful and not-so-successful, guys who played in Japan for a year or two and others who managed to excel in Japanese baseball for 10 or 12 years, spanning the decades of the 1950s through the 1990s.
Included are the remembrances of Wally Yonamine, Gene Bacque, Daryl Spencer, Clyde Wright, Leron Lee, Boomer Wells, Animal Lesley, Ralph Bryant, Orestes Destrade, Alonzo Powell and the late Don Blasingame.
Besides foreigners, Fitts threw in comments from a few former Japanese greats such as Futoshi Nakanishi and Masanori Murakami, the first nihonjin to play in the major leagues when he joined the San Francisco Giants in 1964.
The Japanese-American element is also given representation from former players Dick Kashiwaeda and Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama, and Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada, once known as the “Baseball Ambassador” for his promotion of Japanese-U.S. baseball relations, who was the mediator in negotiating contacts and contracts between American players and Japanese teams in the days before agents and representation of athletes became big business.
Fitts opens each section with a brief third-person profile of each character’s background, listing dates and places of birth and teams played for in the majors and in Japan and a biographical paragraph telling where each man was prior to coming to Japan and where they are now. Then he lets them loose to share their experiences, pleasant and unpleasant, in Japanese baseball.
Some of the more interesting episodes include Jack Howell’s description of the time he got his Yakult Swallows buddies to pitch in 10,000 yen apiece to watch teammate Rex Hudler eat an earthworm at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium in 1993.
Then there is Spencer’s lament about the day in 1964 when he was battling for the Pacific League home run title with Katsuya Nomura of the Nankai Hawks.
Daryl, playing for the Hankyu Braves, left home on his motor scooter for the train station and the ballpark but got hit by a delivery truck, sustained a broken leg and missed the remainder of the season while Nomura won the PL batting triple crown.
Wright, who played for the Yomiuri Giants and whose nickname in Japan was “Crazy Clyde,” remembered the night he and Swallows outfielders Charlie Manuel and Roger Repoz were in a bar in Tokyo’s Roppongi district and went to the aid of a young Japanese lady who, it appeared, was being bothered by some foreign guys.
It turned out they were members of the then-East German national hockey team, and there were 15 burly battlers ready to engage in fisticuffs with the three American ballplayers. Ouch!
The book also features lots of funny tales about incidents that actually happened on the baseball field, and it is a delightful read that will keep you laughing and waiting for Volumes II, III and IV, as there have been more than 700 foreign players in Japan since Yonamine joined the Giants in 1951.
Fitts, by the way, is currently working on a Yonamine biography.
Robert Whiting wrote the foreword for the 232-page Remembering Japanese Baseball, published by the Southern Illinois University Press in Carbondale, Ill..
A pre-section Japanese Baseball Timeline chronicles the history and evolution of the game in this country from the time Horace Wilson introduced baseball to Japan in the 1870s. Great idea.
The Chiba Lotte Marines, in first place in the PL, will hold an “American Day” promotion on Sunday, July 3, during their game against the Seibu Lions at Chiba Marine Stadium. Game time is 1 p.m., and the theme is an American experience at the ballpark, emphasizing the friendship between Japan and the U.S.
Features include a pre-game Fourth of July-style barbecue in the fan plaza outside the ballpark, with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, corn on-the-cob . . . a pre-game parade across the field featuring Americans (military color guards, motorcycle clubs, other American clubs/groups) and Japanese (marching band, Little Leaguers, fire trucks, beauty queens, kids dressed as historical American figures).
It’s going to be a hodge-podge of people waving and smiling to John Philip Souza music; basically an Anytown, USA, style parade.
There will also be a special English-language insert in the program magazine, including a letter from U.S. Ambassador to Japan Tom Schieffer, plus photos of great Americans players in Lotte franchise history, pictures of Babe Ruth and others on tour in Japan.
All public address announcements will be made in English, with a few special celebrity guest P.A. announcers for a half inning. Music related to America (songs such as “Surfin’ USA,” “Born in the USA,” “We’re an American Band” and “New York, New York”) will be played.
A Yankee Stadium-style “roll call” from the Marines cheering section will take place, whereby the fans will call the name of each player in the top of the first inning, and the player will acknowledge with a wave or tip of the cap.
English language video content will be shown, including Japan-U.S. baseball history and video messages from players. The American and Japanese national anthems will be sung by an American high school student, and former sumo ozeki Konishiki will throw the first pitch.
Any group of 20 or more Americans or America-Japan related can apply for a special discount on tickets.
Contact Marines promotions director Larry Rocca by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (043) 297-2101.
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