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A Timeline of Asian-American Baseball
Written by Bill Staples Jr.   
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 23:56


Asian American Baseball Timeline
  • 1872 Baseball is introduced in Japan by American school teacher Horace Wilson. By the end of the century, it becomes Japan’s most popular team sport.
  • 1878 Shiki Masaoka organizes the first baseball club in Japan—the Shimbashi Athletic Club.
  • 1897 Cleveland Spiders manager Oliver “Patsy” Tebeau attempts to sign a Japanese outfielder known in the press only as “the half-brother of Japanese wrestler Matsuda Shorakichi.” The status of the Japanese outfielder’s signing is never reported.
  • 1899 The first recorded Japanese American baseball team—soon to be renamed the Excelsiors—is formed in Hawaii by Reverend Takie Okumura. Baseball in Hawaii quickly explodes in popularity, with organized leagues flourishing by the early 1900s.
  • 1903 The First Japanese American baseball team on the mainland is founded by Chiura Obata —the Fuji Athletic Club in San Francisco.
  • 1905 Steere Noda organizes the Hawaiian Japanese American team, the Hawaiian Asahi, which became one of the longest lasting teams west of the Rockies.
  • The Waseda University baseball team arrives in San Francisco to begin the first in a series of baseball exchanges with American universities.
  • New York Giants manager John McGraw invites Japanese outfielder Shumza Sugimoto to try out for the team in Hot Springs, AR. The press acknowledges “the color line” potentially drawn against Sugimoto, so he chooses to play for the semi-pro New Orleans Creoles in LA.
  • 1906 Several players from Waseda join the Green Japanese of Nebraska, a barnstorming team in the Midwest, becoming the first professional baseball players of Japanese ancestry in the U.S.
  • 1907 The Hawaiian St. Louis team becomes the first foreign team to play ball in Japan. Keio University is their host team.
  • 1913 The Alameda Taiiku-Kai semipro team is formed.
  • 1913 The all-black 25th Infantry is stationed at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu and begins competing against the Island’s top Japanese and Chinese ball clubs.
  • 1913 The “Chinese University” ball club, a squad comprised of Chinese and Japanese players from Honolulu, barnstorms the U.S. and finishes the tour with a 120 wins and 20 loses.
  • 1914 The Asahi Club from Seattle becomes the first Nisei baseball team to play baseball in Japan.
  • The Florin Athletic Club is formed.
  • A steady flow of teams travel to Japan (including Nisei teams) and Japanese university teams regularly travel to the U.S.
  • Waseda outfielder Goro Mikami joins J.L. Wilkinsen’s “All-Nations” barnstorming club.
  • 1915 The Hawaiian Asahi embark on a tour competing with teams from Japan, Korea, and China.
  • 1915–17 Japanese American baseball teams are forming on the mainland.
  • 1919 Fresno Athletic Club is organized.
  • 1920 Stockton Yamato Athletic Club is organized.
  • 1920 Kenichi Zenimura leaves Hawaii for the U.S. mainland.
  • 1920s During this decade the Northern California Japanese Baseball league forms semipro teams and many semiprofessional “A” teams are established. This decade also sees the formation of teams for Japanese American women who make their mark on the diamond.
  • 1923 Kenichi Zenimura recruits the top players from Hawaii and encourages them to settle in cities throughout central California to help boost the level of competition for Japanese American baseball leagues.
  • 1925 Formation of the Hawaiian Baseball League (HBL).
  • 1927 The Aratani company team, the Guadalupe Packers, is sent on a goodwill tour to Japan.
  • The Fresno Athletic Club and the Philadelphia Royal Giants (all-stars of the Negro leagues) compete in Japan for a mythical championship.
  • On a barnstorming tour following their World Series victory, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play an exhibition game in Fresno including Nisei all-stars, Johnny Nakagawa, Kenichi Zenimura, Fred Yoshikawa, and Harvey Iwata.
  • 1928 Bozo Wakabayashi joins an all-Nisei team from Stockton en route to a goodwill tour in Japan. As a result he stays in Japan to attend school and becomes a professional player for the the Osaka Tigers.
  • 1930s The Golden Age of Nisei baseball continues as the Japanese Athletic Union is founded and important teams such as the San Fernando Nippon (later renamed the Aces) and the Nisei Athletic Club in Oregon are formed.
  • 1932 Kenso Nushida becomes the first Japanese American to play professional baseball in the U.S. above the “D” level when he signs with the Pacific Coast League Sacramento Solons (Senators).
  • 1934 Matsutaro Shoriki forms Japan’s first pro team the Yomiuri Shimbun Professional Baseball Team.
  • Babe Ruth arrives in Japan for an eighteen-game barnstorming tour.
  • 1935 Shoriki renames his professional team the Tokyo Giants at a suggestion from Lefty O’Doul and the Tokyo Giants make their first tour to the United States to play semipro and professional teams.
  • 1937 The Alameda Kono All-star team makes its last tour to Japan, Korea, and Manchuria.
  • 1942 More than one hundred and twenty thousand Americans of Japanese descent are relocated into detention camps and they immediately form Assembly-center teams. Later in the year when Assembly-center internees are reassigned to permanent camps, the first thing they do is to build baseball diamonds and form teams.
  • 1943 Kay Kiyokawa becomes the starting pitcher for the University of Connecticut.
  • 1945–55 Postwar, many new teams and leagues are formed such as the Little Tokyo Giants, the LA Tigers, the Nichiren Orions, the Stockton Asahi, the San Francisco Traders, and the Sacramento All-Stars.
  • 1947 Jackie Robinson breaks the color barrier and joins the Brooklyn Dodgers.
  • 1949 Lefty O’Doul’s San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League arrive in Japan for a ten-game series.
  • A game marks the appearance of the first all-Nisei battery in U.S. professional history when Jiro Nakamura and Hank Matsubu signed contracts with the Modesto Reds, a Pittsburg Pirates farm team.
  • 1951 Wally Yonamine becomes the first foreigner to play professional ball in Japan when he signs with the Yomiuri Giants.
  • 1952 Fibber Hirayama is signed by the Stockton Ports and plays for one year in the professional leagues.
  • 1953–56 Major league teams such as the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers travel to Hawaii to play teams in the Hawaiian Baseball League.
  • 1954 Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe arrive in Japan for their honeymoon and a series of batting clinics. Nisei Kenshi “Harvey” Zenimura serves as interpreter for DiMaggio and his Hiroshima Carp teammates.
  • 1961 Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League are purchased by Nick Morgan and move to Honolulu as the Hawaiian Islanders. Over the years they serve as a farm team for several major league teams including the Chicago White Sox, the Washington Senators, and the San Diego Padres.
  • 1964 Bozo Wakabayashi is the first American Nisei to be inducted into the Japan Hall of Fame.
  • 1965 Masanori Murakami becomes the first Japanese national to play in the major leagues by signing with the San Francisco Giants.
  • Frank and Henry Ota each captain the baseball team for their class at Dartmouth.
  • 1968 George Omachi joins the New York Mets as their California scout.
  • 1974 Hawaiian Asahi upsets world champion Cuba in an exhibition game in Tokyo.
  • 1975 Sansei Ryan Kurosaki signs with the St. Louis Cardinals and becomes the first Japanese American to play in the major leagues.
  • 1977 Lenn Sakata is called up to play with the Milwaukee Brewers.
  • 1983 Lenn Sakata is the first Japanese American to participate in a World Series Game.
  • 1991 Don Wakamatsu becomes the first Yonsei to play in the majors when he is called up to the Chicago White Sox.
  • 1995 Hideo Nomo from Osaka is named National League Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • 1996 Diamonds in the Rough exhibit opens in Fresno. And, the first major league tribute to Nisei baseball is conducted at Candlestick Park by the San Francisco Giants.
  • 1997 The Los Angeles Dodgers honor Nisei legends including teammates Al Sako and Tom Tomiyama who are reunited for the first time in seventy-five years.
  • 1998 The National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown displays the exhibit, Diamonds in the Rough: Japanese Americans in Baseball and honors surviving Nisei baseball pioneers.
  • 1998 Don Wakamatsu is named Class “A” Minor League Manager of the Year with the Diamondbacks organization.
  • 1999 The Japan Hall of Fame in Tokyo honors Nisei ballplayers with the opening of the Diamonds in the Rough exhibit at the Tokyo Dome.
  • 2000 Debut of Onan Masaoka from Hilo, Hawaii with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
  • 2001 The Ichiro-era begins
  • 2006 Kenichi Zenimura is elected into the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals with Fernando Valenzuela and Josh Gibson.
  • 2006 Warner Brothers releases the major motion picture American Pastime, detailing the importance of baseball to the Japanese American internment camp experience.
  • 2008 Don Wakamatsu is named the skipper of the Seattle Mariners, and in doing so becomes the first Asian-American manager in MLB history.
  • 2010 Travis Ishikawa of the San Francisco Giants Ishikawa joins Lenn Sakata as just one of two Japanese American ballplayers to play in, and win, a World Series. Ishikawa played in a total of 10 games during the 2010 postseason, including one start at first base during Game 4 of the World Series. He finished 2 for 10 at the plate with two runs, a double and an RBI during the 2010 postseason.
  • 2011 Darwin Barney (Japanese/Korean ancestry) earns a spot on the Chicago Cubs opening day roster as the starting second baseman. After hitting .326 with 14 RBIs in his first month, he was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April.
Source: Nisei Baseball Research Project (


Last Updated on Sunday, 04 September 2011 01:59


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