Samuel 0. Regalado. Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues.
Robert A. Moss
In Nikkei Baseball, Samuel Regalado, professor of history at California State University--Stanislaus, offers a cultural and social history of Japanese immigration and acclimatization in the United States, as refracted through the prism of Japanese American (or Nikkei) baseball. His chronology stretches from the Meiji restoration in Japan in 1870 to the imported Japanese major-league players and their Nikkei counterparts of the late twentieth century and early 2000s. In between, we get a bird's-eye view of Nikkei baseball as it developed in the cities and towns of the western United States: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Stockton, Sacramento, Portland, and Fresno.
Nikkei Baseball is highly detailed; its relatively short text is buttressed by 44 pages of notes, sources, bibliography, and index. It ably charts the growth of Japanese American baseball from the first all-amateur Nikkei team in San Francisco in 1903, through the development of regional Nikkei tournaments, which recapitulated the growth of baseball in nineteenth-century America, to the formation of Nikkei leagues in the 1920S. Regalado posits that during the Meiji restoration in Japan, the feudal Samurai code of bushido melded with Western ideas of competitiveness and modernity, so as to reorder Japanese society while preserving Japanese traditions and identity. Baseball, introduced to Japan in 1872 by Horace Wilson, an educational reformer hired by the government, came to be viewed as an accompaniment of patriotism, industrial productivity, team play, and modernization. In 1878, Hiroshi Hiraoka, an engineer who had observed baseball in the United States, organized the first team in Japan, the Shimbashi Athletic Club. By 1890, Japanese universities were fielding nines, and in 1905 the Waseda University team toured the US, playing college teams in Washington, Oregon, and California.
When the Issei (first generation) Japanese immigrants came to America, they brought baseball with them, and the generational aspect of baseball connected them with their children, the Nisei. To the Issei, the game "nourished traditional virtues of loyalty, honor, and courage" (52). In turn, the Nisei developed leagues and tournaments. By 1926, the Southern California Japanese Baseball League had formed, centered around the large Nikkei community of Los Angeles. In the Fresno area, Kenichi Zenimura organized a league of ten teams. Games were also played with Mexican American, Negro league, and Pacific Coast League teams. Trumpeted by the Japanese American press, sports--especially baseball--were seen as a bridge to assimilation and an escape from discrimination. In the absence of permitted advance in other spheres, baseball provided an outlet. The LA Nippons barnstormed Japan in 1931, compiling a record of 20-5, and the Tokyo Giants visited Los Angeles to play the Nippons in 1935 and 1936.
The Nikkei experience mirrored similar pathways followed by other immigrant groups, for example, Jews and Italians. Regalado also devotes considerable attention to the emergence of talented Japanese teams in Hawaii. By 1920, an all Japanese American baseball league was in operation there, and the first Nikkei major leaguers came from Hawaii. Nevertheless, Nikkei baseball remained a mostly segregated game through 1941, when Pearl Harbor ended an era. The "bridge" to assimilation had failed; the Nikkei were considered a nation apart. In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed the relocation order affecting all Japanese Americans on the west coast, moving them first into evacuation centers and then into relocation camps, "places where nobody had lived before and no one has lived since" (102). In these dire circumstances, all sports, especially "barbed-wire baseball: provided a virtual escape. Despite a shortage of equipment, and rude diamonds scraped from unforgiving surroundings, evacuee teams were in action by mid-1943. "To the evacuees, sport was not an 'innocuous aspect of life;' it was an essential component to their mental and emotional survival in the camps" (105). At the Jerome camp in southeastern Arkansas, population 8,500, games drew 2,000-4,000 spectators. By 1944, the War Relocation Authority had authorized intercamp travel for baseball games.
With a favorable Supreme Court decision in January 1945, and the war's end, the Nikkei began returning to their former homes, where too often they faced hostility and economic privation. Nikkei baseball never recovered its prewar vigor, although it did resume in San Jose and in Fresno, under the indomitable Zenimura. The advent of Jackie Robinson and the end of segregated baseball in 1947 opened the game to other ethnicities besides African Americans, notably Latinos, but to Japanese as well. In 1964, the first Japanese major leaguer, Masanori Murakami, pitched for San Francisco, while in 1975, Ryan Kurosaki, a Sansei (third generation) from Hawaii, became the first Nikkei major leaguer, appearing briefly with St. Louis. Other Nikkei followed with more extended careers; Len Sakata played for eleven years with the Brewers, Orioles, Athletics, and Yankees.
Major League Baseball has since recruited outstanding stars from Japan--players like Hideo Nomo, Hideki Matsui, and Ichiro Suzuki. Nikkei players have garnered less attention, but Kurt Suzuki and Travis Ishikawa have enjoyed more than the proverbial cup of coffee. Don Wakamatsu, son of a Sansei father and an Irish American mother, even became manager of the Seattle Mariners in 2009. Perhaps to demonstrate the normality of today's Nikkei in baseball, Wakamatsu was fired in 2010 when the Mariners faltered.
Nikkei Baseball joins several related books reviewed in the Fall 2012 issue of NINE: Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War; Kenichi Zenimura: Japanese American Baseball Pioneer; and Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan. In this company, Nikkei Baseball makes its own distinct contribution, although it is not without some deficiencies. In his endeavor to cycle through every Nikkei community, era, team, and league, Regalado is often repetitious. Nikkei Baseball is not a rapid read and, for the most part, the crack of the bat and the drama of the game are absent. It is more for the student of sociology than the baseball fan, but it surely brings the evolution of Japanese American baseball under a bright light and a magnifying lens.
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|Author:||Moss, Robert A.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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