By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Two major figures from L.A. Dodgers history helped launch “Dodgers: Brotherhood of the Game,” an exhibition running through Sept. 14 at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo.
An opening night reception on March 28 featured Tommy Lasorda, who has been affiliated with the Dodgers for six decades and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager, and Peter O’Malley, former president, owner, chairman and CEO of the Dodgers, president and CEO of Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., and owner of the San Diego Padres.
The exhibition focuses on the team’s role in advancing civil rights and promoting international baseball through such players as Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947; Fernando Valenzuela, who led the Dodgers to the World Series and touched off the “Fernandomania” craze of the early 1980s; Hideo Nomo, the first Japanese major leaguer to permanently relocate to MLB and the object of “Nomomania” in the mid-1990s; and Chan Ho Park, who became MLB’s first South Korean-born player in 1994. (His wife, Ri-hye Park, attended the reception.)
Lasorda and team owners Branch Rickey, Walter O’Malley and Peter O’Malley are also acknowledged in the exhibit.
Opening remarks were made by Gordon Yamate, chair of the JANM Board of Trustees, and Dr. Greg Kimura, JANM president and CEO.
Kimura said of baseball, “At its best, when it’s a level playing field, when it’s fair play, when people with talent, initiative, discipline, maybe with a little bit of fortune on their side, get together and play, it doesn’t matter what their skin color is, it doesn’t matter what the shape of their eyelid is, it doesn’t matter what their background is — that’s the place where everyone has an equal chance … We see people who are very different, who would not get together otherwise, coming together as one.”
He added, “The Dodgers have truly been a team of firsts, inspiring those who watch them to strive to overcome and to achieve. Through the Dodgers, we see the American and now global multicultural history played out, not in a textbook but in faces and names … Jackie, Fernando, Chan Ho, Hideo, in owners and leaders like Tommy, like Walter, like Peter … history that continues today in those new names and faces” such as Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Yasiel Puig and co-owner Magic Johnson.
Even for those who are not Dodgers fans or sports fans, the exhibit is “designed to tell a story to give a deeper appreciation, through the story of this team, of multicultural America,” Kimura said.
O’Malley declared that he was “overwhelmed” by the exhibition and that the museum has “done an extraordinary job.”
One of the stories told is of the Dodgers’ 1956 trip to Japan, which was O’Malley’s first visit to that country. “We saw the impact the Dodger players could make in Japan, the goodwill they could create, the friendship … with a smile, maybe by signing an autograph or posing for a picture,” he recalled. Robinson went on that trip, which marked “the last time Jackie wore a Dodger uniform,” O’Malley noted.
“I honestly believe the exhibit will get great reviews and I think you’ll get a lot of people here to appreciate and understand the story about brotherhood and the role that athletes and teams can play generating goodwill,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of the team’s current owners was Renata Simril, senior vice president of external affairs. “As a third-generation Angeleno and an African American female, the Dodgers held a special place in my heart, not just for the success they had on the field but really the success they had off the field,” she remarked. “Jackie Robinson is an icon to me and the movie (‘42’) really was a testament to his fortitude, his moral compass and his courage.”
Citing the Dodgers’ philanthropic work, Simril stressed “the great responsibility that we have to follow the legacy of the O’Malley family … not just being a baseball team but a civic institution that really connects to the community and the neighborhood outside of Dodger Stadium.”
She said she felt “an emotional bond” when she saw the exhibition because it showed “not just the success that we’ve had as a baseball team but the success that we’ve had in paving the way for civil rights, for equal rights, for fair play … not just on the field but off the field.”
Lasorda told the audience, “I’m so impressed with what I see here today. I never knew this place existed.”
Having traveled to Japan about 25 times with the team, he said, “I can remember the day that Mr. (Walter) O’Malley called me into his office and said, ‘Tommy, I want you to go to Japan and I want you to work with the Tokyo Giants and do everything you can to help them.’ … Mr. O’Malley built the bridge from here to Japan and had his son take over after he was gone.
“To be there as many times as I was, I enjoyed every bit of it because we have developed a great relationship between two countries. The Japanese and the United States are two great countries.”
Seeing these events chronicled in the exhibition “makes you feel proud,” Lasorda said.
Special recognition in the form of artwork representing the old Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, now part of JANM, was given to two groups and one individual.
One award went to the Dodgers organization, including team historian Mark Langill. “We simply could not have done this exhibit without his selfless energy, his infinite knowledge of the game, but something else as well, his ability to tell a story,” said Kimura.
O’Malley Seidler Partners LLC and the O’Malley family received the second award. “The integration of baseball, outreach to Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea — these are bold, innovative, risky and sometimes unpopular moves,” Kimura said. “They don’t happen unless the owner says so … We hope that over time the full story of the courage and the vision of your family will truly be honored.”
Acey Kohrogi, former director of Asian operations for the Dodgers and assistant to Peter O’Malley for 20 years, was the third honoree. Kimura recalled that when he arrived in L.A. from Alaska two years ago, Tammie Kanda of Toyota Motor Sales USA, a member of the JANM Board of Governors, invited him to the Long Beach Grand Prix, and it was there that he first met Kohrogi.
“We had sons about the same age, and I hit it off right away with Acey,” Kimura said. “Acey said, ‘You know, there’s a lot of history with the Dodgers that involves Japanese Americans … We ought to do something together.’ That was the genesis of this exhibit … You’re no longer with the Dodgers, but you are the spiritual father of this exhibit. You are a second-generation Japanese American employee of the Dodgers … None of this would have happened without your friendship.”
For more information, call the museum at (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.