WASHINGTON — The Japanese American Citizens League will hold its annual gala, “A Salute to Champions,” in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 29.
This year’s gala will award Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have made outstanding contributions to the field of athletics, and Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada will be recognized posthumously.
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-Nippon Professional Baseball relations than Harada, according to a profile in the Japan Times.
Born in Santa Maria, Calif., in 1921, Harada 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 he wound up in the Army’s Military Intelligence Service, working in the Pacific.
Harada’s contributions in building the “baseball bridge across the Pacific” are noteworthy. He is credited with advising Japanese baseball officials as they set up a 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 postwar foreign player in Japan as a member of 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.
Harada 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 19-year-old left-handed pitcher Masanori Murakami to the San Francisco Giants. “Mashi” became the first Japanese player in the majors in 1964.
As late as the mid-1980s, Harada was still sending American players to Japan and doing other work to strengthen the baseball alliance, until player agents got involved and relations between the MLB and NPB commissioner’s offices began to heat up.
Harada passed away on June 5, 2010 at the age of 88 in California. Although he may not have envisioned it 50 or 60 years ago, Harada knew 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.
JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori said, “Cappy Harada is an unsung hero of bringing diversity to MLB. Not only did he bring the first player from Japan to the U.S., but he encouraged MLB to open more doors of opportunity for minorities in all aspects of the league. In addition, his promotion of the big league stars to Japan gave a war-torn Japan reason to cheer and to make baseball Japan’s national pastime.”
For more information regarding the 2011 National JACL Gala, visit www.jacl.org.