A Story of Baseball, Espionage and Assassination

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“Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan” by Robert K. Fitts has been published by University of Nebraska Press.

In November 1934, as the U.S. and Japan drifted toward war, a team of American League all-stars that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, future secret agent Moe Berg, and Connie Mack barnstormed across the Land of the Rising Sun. Hundreds of thousands of fans, many waving Japanese and American flags, welcomed the team with shouts of “Banzai! Banzai, Babe Ruth!” The all-stars stayed for a month, playing 18 games, spawning professional baseball in Japan, and spreading goodwill.

Politicians on both sides of the Pacific hoped that the amity generated by the tour — and the two nations’ shared love of the game — could help heal their growing political differences. But the Babe and baseball could not overcome Japan’s growing nationalism, as a bloody coup d’état by young army officers and an assassination attempt by the ultranationalist War Gods Society jeopardized the tour’s success.

A tale of international intrigue, espionage, attempted murder, and, of course, baseball, “Banzai Babe Ruth” is the first detailed account of the doomed attempt to reconcile the U.S. and Japan through the 1934 All American baseball tour. Fitts’ story brings together baseball, nationalism, and American and Japanese cultural history.

The author graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received a Ph.D. from Brown University. Originally trained as an archeologist of colonial America, Fitts left that field to focus on his passion, Japanese baseball. He is also the author of “Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game” and “Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball” (Nebraska, 2008).

“Banzai Babe Ruth” won a silver medal at the 2012 IPPY Awards, sponsored by the Independent Publisher Book Awards, in the sports/fitness/recreation category.

“The history lessons in Banzai Babe Ruth go well beyond merely chronicling the games and the players,” said James Bailey of Baseball America. “This is a well-researched, fascinatingly told tale of two super powers whose shared passion for baseball wasn’t enough to maintain the peace, though it did help to restore it in the years following World War II.”

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