Goro Mikami, aka Jap Mikado, was the first known Japanese national to play professional baseball in the United States. He first played in the US in 1911 when Tokyo’s Waseda University club barnstormed the country. Two years later, Mikami returned to the U.S. as a graduate student at Knox College in Illinois. He starred at shortstop there and was unanimously elected team captain after an impressive first season. After transferring to the University of Illinois, during the summers of 1915 and 1916 Mikami played for the professional All-Nations of New York, a team which also included Hawaiians, American Indians, African-Americans and others from such countries as the Philippines and China. With All-Nations he was billed as Jap Mikado. He also managed a Salt Lake City nine in this period.
Mikami was born on November 6, 1889 in Kofu, capital of the Yamanashi Prefecture in the Chubu region of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Around the turn of the last century Japanese middle schools started forming baseball teams. Mikami started playing the game about age 13. In high school he played catcher for two seasons and was the team’s main pitcher during his senior year.
In 1908 Mikami enrolled at Waseda University in Tokyo to study business. In the meantime he played left field his first two years before moving to center field. By that time, Waseda had established a strong baseball rivalry with nearby Keio University. The two schools initiated an annual series in 1903 called the Sokeisen; it became the nation’s most popular college rivalry. In 1905, before Mikami arrived, Waseda had become the first group of Japanese ballplayers to barnstorm through the United States. Four years later, the University of Wisconsin nine traveled to Japan to play a series of games. Waseda played Wisconsin on that tour, though it’s unclear if Mikami was a part of the baseball team during his freshman year.
The University of Chicago accepted a similar invitation from Waseda for the fall of 1910. Both universities prepared heavily for the matches. The Chicago ballplayers, coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg, took college classes all summer, as they would be out of the country in the fall, and also practiced baseball daily. Stagg did not travel with his club to Japan as he was also Chicago’s football coach, and the gridiron schedule kept him occupied.
In the meantime, the Waseda players took off for Honolulu at the beginning of July to practice for two months and play tune up games with an Oahu club. Former University of Chicago players Albert W. “Stuffy” Place, the Maroons top hitter for much of the 1890s until 1902, and Fred Merrifield, team captain in 1899, met Waseda in Hawaii to instruct the players. Both Place and Merrifield had coached the Waseda club in Japan prior to their first barnstorming tour of the U.S, and had first traveled to Japan in 1904 as recruiters for the Baptists Missionaries and the YMCA. They also taught classes at Waseda. Ultimately, Merrifield spent years in Japan training ballplayers during the first decades of the twentieth century, establishing himself as one of the game’s founders in that country. In 1921 he was named baseball coach at the University of Chicago.
Chicago, led (in Stagg’s absence) by player-coach Harlan Orville “Pat” Page, also a future head coach for the school, arrived in Japan at the end of September 1910, and returned home two months later having also visited China and the Philippines. The only loss Chicago suffered during the trip was to the Marine Club in the Philippines. They swept a seven game series against Waseda and also took three games from Keio. Each of their games attracted huge crowds. The New York Times commented that the Japanese clubs showed “great technical skill both with the bat and on the diamond generally.” The Times did note that the Japanese ballplayers couldn’t compete physically because of their “short legs” and general lack of stature. The Japanese players were all between 5’2″ and 5’8″. At the end of the tour the Chicago club invited Waseda to visit the United States in 1911, and Waseda accepted.
Accordingly, on March 28, 1911 sixteen Waseda players, including 21-year-old centerfielder Mikami, left Yokohama. The group was managed by English professor Takizo Takasugi, who had attended Northwestern College and taught at DePauw University. The captain of the club was 24-year-old star pitcher and leading hitter Sutekichi Matsuda. Their ship arrived in San Francisco on April 13 and was met by Chicago’s Pat Page, who would escort the Waseda club on their tour.
Waseda’s first game took place April 17 in San Francisco, when they took on a group of Waseda alumni who had relocated to California. At the time about 72,000 Japanese nationals lived in the U.S., 75% of whom resided in California. Newspaper accounts remarked that the entire contest was played without either team uttering a word. All communication was done via an elaborate signal system. Waseda played mostly college clubs on their way to Chicago, winning at least one game in California: a 4-1 victory over the University of California at Berkeley on April 22. The Waseda team arrived in Chicago on May 5 and played their host the following day, losing 6-4. The Mansfield News noted later in the month that Mikami, a right-hander, had supported his pitcher against Chicago with “heavy fielding.” On May 8 the entire Waseda team attended a Chicago Cubs-St. Louis Cardinals game.
Waseda played several college, semi-pro and amateur squads in the midwest, including their old rivals at the University of Wisconsin, before departing for the east coast at the end of June. They almost pulled off a victory over Chicago in their final faceoff on June 17, scoring five runs in the bottom of the ninth but falling short 12-11. Though game accounts are incomplete, Waseda won at least one contest in the Midwest, splitting a doubleheader with Ames College on May 20.
In New York City on July 1 Waseda won a game over a mixture of college students from Manhattan College and local semi-pro players at the Lenox Oval by a score of 10-4 in ten innings. Waseda scored seven times in the tenth. The game account includes a full box score, a rarity for the Japanese contests. Matsuda, pitching, induced thirteen hits back to the mound, throwing out twelve. Mikami batted second and played center field, going 2 for 4, including a hit down the right field line, a sacrifice in the tenth, and a steal. He was also tagged out at the plate trying to score on a short passed ball. The game was umpired by former major leaguer Jack Doyle.
Unlike the New York Times‘ accounts from the previous year, this time newspapers noted that the Waseda club and the Keio club, who also toured the U.S. in 1911, were extremely fast and agile athletes. The Times account had noted the less exalted state of the Japanese baseball player within the culture, suggesting that the finest Japanese athletes preferred participating in martial arts or sword fighting. A year later, the newspapers were seeing their finest players, and thought it would only be a matter of time before the Japanese squads started holding their own against their American counterparts. With the tour over Waseda departed from Seattle headed for home on August 1.
His tour completed, Mikami returned home and graduated with a B.C.S. in business from Waseda in 1912. He returned to the United States on September 1913 to study business at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, 200 miles outside Chicago. He had a terrific year with the baseball squad in 1914, playing shortstop and starring for the club. The Chicago Tribune called him “one of the fastest infielders in the middle west.” Mikami, called Mike by his fellow students, was unanimously elected captain of the 1915 team and was said to be one of the most popular men on campus. That year, he again manned the shortstop position and at times pitched a few innings.
After two years at Knox, Mikami transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He graduated there with an A.M. (Master’s degree) in economics in 1917. During the summers, he played for a traveling professional club called the All-Nations of New York in 1915 and 1916. (It should be noted that this was not the squad of the same named owned by John Wilkinson that became the Kansas City Monarchs.) As such, Mikami is the first known Japanese national to play professional baseball in the United States.
The All-Nations were a barnstorming outfit which marketed its club as an international squad. The men were purported to be Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, American Indian, Spanish-speaking, or from other exotic locales. Some of them actually were from these places, others merely played the part. There were also African-Americans on the team. With the All-Nations Mikami was billed as Jap Mikado. The nicknames Jap and Mikado were typical terms used during the era to refer to Japanese. An existing box score of a game versus the Bacharach Giants on August 2, 1916 in Atlantic City shows “Mikado” batting leadoff and playing second base. The other names on the roster included right fielder Red Cloud and pitcher Hong Long. Soon after the Bacharach game, Mikami was named player-manager of a Utah club known as the Salt Lake Nippons, an all-Japanese nine. Salt Lake City was one of the most popular strongholds for Nisei baseball, and for Japanese Americans, outside of California.
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1917, Mikami joined the Mitsui Bussan, the international trading arm of the Mitsui Company, and in so doing he ended his active career in baseball. He took up residence in Paterson, New Jersey, and worked for the Mitsui Company on Front Street in New York City as an importer.
The Mitsui Company originated as a cloth-dealing and dry goods firm in the late seventeenth century in Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). After Japanese ports were opened to foreign trade in 1858, Mitsui opened the Mitsui Bussan in 1876 in order to expand their commodity base. The company traded nearly any product that would provide a profit. Initially, the bulk of the foreign trade was confined to China. Soon though, Mitsui opened its first New York branch in 1879, then closed it briefly for lack of profitability. By 1900 the branch was reopened, sparked by Japan’s importing of American cotton and the exporting of Taiwanese oolong tea to the United States.
Mitsui Bussan performed extremely well during World War I, necessitating the hiring of Mikami and others for their New York branch. Mikami did a great deal of traveling in his position, often to the Caribbean. After a few years he returned to Japan permanently in the summer of 1920. During the 1920s, Mitsui became one of Japan’s largest business conglomerates.
In his later years Mikami enjoyed amateur baseball but apparently paid little attention to Nippon Professional Baseball. He died of a gastric perforation at age 68 in 1958.
Boston Daily Globe
Christian Science Monitor
Janesville Daily Gazette, Wisconsin
Ji, Zhaojin. A History of Modern Shanghai Banking: The Rise and Decline of China’s Finance Capitalism. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe Inc, 2003.
Le Grand Reporter, Iowa
Logansport Pharos-Reporter, Indiana
Los Angeles Times
Mansfield News, Ohio
Modesto News, California
New York Times
Salt Lake Tribune
The Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), 1918
November 16, 1889 at Kofu, Honshu (Japan)
, 1958 at , (Japan)
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