The Nisei Baseball Research Project (www.niseibaseball.com), a Fresno-based non-profit organization founded to preserve and celebrate the history of Japanese American baseball, has announced the launch of an online registry created to document all players of the important, yet often overlooked, Japanese American baseball leagues of the past.
Family members, friends and baseball fans are encouraged to visit www.NiseiBaseball.com/Registry and share information about former ballplayers who played in the Japanese American leagues, pre- and post-war, and also inside internment camps during World War II. The intended outcome is for the Nisei Baseball Research Project to compile the information into a single resource and share it with the public in the near future.
For those unfamiliar with Japanese American baseball history, it is similar to Negro Leagues story, yet one that occurred primarily on the West Coast. Much like Jackie Robinson and his peers in the Negro Leagues, Japanese Americans were forced to play in their own leagues from the 1900s to the 1940s because of bigotry and discrimination in white America.
During this same period, Japanese American baseball teams also participated in goodwill tours to Japan and other parts of Asia, where they helped export the American style of play while building cultural bridges between the U.S. and Japan. With each visit, the Japanese American teams helped improve skill levels of their hosts, ultimately contributing to the development of Japanese professional baseball in 1936.
“Nikkei baseball is still one of the great untold stories of history,” says Bill Staples Jr., board member of NBRP. “Despite this lack of awareness, the impact of their leagues is quite visible in today’s game. The presence of players like Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and now Yu Darvish clearly demonstrates that the national pastime has officially become the international pastime. And the game wouldn’t be where it is today without the contributions of these great Japanese American baseball pioneers.”
Staples, who is also the author of “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer” (McFarland, 2011), is scheduled for a book-signing at the Japanese American National Museum, 369 E. First St. in Little Tokyo, on Saturday, March 24, at 2 p.m.
He will moderate a panel with NBRP founder Kerry Yo Nakagawa, Bobby Umemoto (Sansei/Yonsei baseball), Kenso Zenimura (Fresno State Baseball Hall of Fame and Hiroshima Carp), Tets Furukawa (Gila River Eagles), Masao Iriyama (Guadalupe All-Stars and Tule Lake), and Yukio Tatsumi (San Pedro Skippers) for a panel discussion and celebration of Japanese American baseball. Former Nikkei players, family, friends and baseball fans are encouraged to attend. To learn more, visit www.janm.org/events/2012/03/#24.
Staples’ book, which is available at the Museum Store, is the first biography of the “Father of Japanese American Baseball.” A talented player who excelled at all nine positions, Kenichi Zenimura (1900-1968) was also a respected manager and would become the Japanese American community’s baseball ambassador. He worked tirelessly to promote the game at home and abroad, leading goodwill trips to Asia, helping to negotiate tours of Japan by Negro League All-Stars and Babe Ruth, and establishing a 32-team league behind the barbed wire of Arizona’s Gila River internment camp during World War II.
The foreword was written by Don Wakamatsu, former manager of the Seattle Mariners and the first Asian American to rise to that position in Major League Baseball.
Staples is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in Arizona with a passion for researching and telling the untold stories of the national pastime. His areas of expertise include Japanese American and African American baseball history as a context for exploring the themes of religious expression, civil rights, cross-cultural relations and globalization. Visit his website at http://zenimura.com/.