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Exhibition highlights legacy of U.S.-Japan baseball ties

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Warren Cromartie, formerly of the Yomiuri Giants in NPB and the Montreal Expos and Kansas City Royals in MLB, pointed at Masanori Murakami and called him “a hero.”

Murakami, who was standing nearby, was Japan’s first-ever major leaguer, a pitcher who at the age of 20, left his native land to go play for the San Francisco Giants. Cromartie lauded Murakami’s bravery, and said he had a small understanding of what Murakami went through because of his own experience playing in Japan.

Murakami is a living piece of baseball history. So it was fitting Murakami and Cromartie, who both played the game on either side of the Pacific Ocean, were on hand for the opening of an exhibition celebrating the shared history of baseball in Japan and the U.S.

“Pacific Pitch: U.S.-Japan Baseball Diplomacy” opened at the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Library on Friday. It will be on display at the library from June 2-July 30.

“I think it’s important for people to learn about the culture, about how Japanese baseball got started,” Cromartie told The Japan Times during a preview of the exhibition on Thursday. “Ever since (baseball) was brought over, it intrigued the Japanese, and they’ve taken it to a new level. They took it, and made it their own.”

The exhibition is made up mostly of photos chronicling some of the cross-cultural history of the game between Japan and the United States. There were photos from an array of points in history. Some featured well-known greats, such as former Giants legend Shigeo Nagashima posing for a photo with the New York Yankees’ Roger Maris in 1962, or Yankees great Joe DiMaggio giving hitting tips to some of the Hiroshima Carp during a visit to Japan while honeymooning with actress Marilyn Monroe in 1954.

Other subjects may not be nearly as well-known, even to most baseball fans, like the all-female Philadelphia Bobbies, who went on a barnstorming tour of Japan in 1925. Or the Negro League’s Philadelphia Royal Giants, who in 1927 played games in Meiji Jingu Stadium.

Also on display were a few old tickets, including from the 1922 World Series at New York’s Polo Grounds. Price of admission for a seat in the lower stands? $5.50.

“For the past 145 years, our two countries experienced the ups and downs in our government-to-government relationship. But even as that happened, baseball remained an indispensable source of mutual understanding between our people,” said U.S. Embassy Minister Counselor for Public Affairs Margot Carrington.

The exhibition was curated by Meridian International Center, which is based in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, also pitched in on the project. Robert Whiting, the acclaimed author of “You Gotta Have Wa,” “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat,” and other titles, was an adviser, and Dr. Sayuri Guthrie Shimizu, Professor of History and Dunlevie Family Chair in History at Rice University was a co-curator.

Cromartie was featured in one of the photos lining the wall, a group shot of him and players from the Japan Samurai Bears, the Arizona-based independent team he managed in 2005.

He said it was important for fans in both Japan and the U.S. to see the history of the game. Cromartie said he hopes Japanese baseball fans visit the exhibition and then tell their friends to visit as well. The former Giants star said understanding the past could help deepen the appreciation fans have for the game today.

“I think it will. You have a lot of history,” Cromartie said as he pointed out some of the photos in the exhibition. “You have the very first Japanese to play in the major leagues, you have Wally Yonamine (the first American to play in Japan), you have a black baseball team that came over here to play.

“There’s two things that never change in baseball: history and numbers. This is the history. I’m very proud to be a person who played this wonderful game.”