SABR Asian Baseball Committee: Fall 2018 newsletter

Edited by Bill Staples Jr., Committee Chairman

Photo: Shohei Ohtani, Spring Training 2016, Peoria, Arizona. 

IN THIS ISSUE:

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New Committee Co-Chair

Please join me in welcoming Eric Robinson as the new Co-Chair of the SABR Asian Baseball Committee. Eric joined SABR in 2013, lives in Fort Worth, Texas, and is an active member of the TX-DFW Banks-Bragan (Dallas-Fort Worth) chapter.

In addition to Asian Baseball, Eric participates in several other research committees. He has presented and written articles on various baseball history topics including the Central Texas Negro Leagues. Inspired by the recent introduction of Chinese baseball in Texas, Eric is currently developing a website for Chinese baseball history and news, and has plans for a potential book.

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Eric works in education, founded a monthly event series called Nerd Nite Denton (similar to TED Talks, but in a bar), and writes about baseball and pop culture on his blog, Lyndon Baseball Johnson. You can learn more about Eric and his baseball passions at http://www.lyndonbaseballjohnson.com.

Photo: Eric Robinson presenting at a SABR meeting.

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Committee Website

We recently discovered that the content management system used to update the committee website (http://research.sabr.org/asianbb/) is no longer functional. As a result, the website will be migrating to a new hosting environment (like WordPress) in the near future. If anyone would like to volunteer and help update any content before we make the move to the new site, please contact me at billstaplesjr@gmail.com.

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Expanded Committee Expertise: Taiwanese Baseball

A quick shout out to David Peng for sharing his passion for, and expertise in, Taiwanese baseball. David is a member of the SABR Los Angeles Chapter, and after attending SABR 48 he was inspired to take a deeper dive into baseball in the land of his parents: Taiwan. When he is not dedicated to family, work, and completing his MBA, David has promised to share his research findings with the Asian Baseball Committee. We look forward to learning more about Taiwanese baseball through David’s efforts.

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The Chinese National Team Joins the Texas AirHogs

The Texas AirHogs of Grand Prarie, Texas, are now powered by the Beijing Shougang Eagles. Through a partnership with the Chinese Baseball Association (CBA), the AirHogs welcomed over 30 players, coaches and trainers to the team in 2018. The team recently completed the first season of the three-year deal, and despite the language barrier everyone involved speaks the international language of baseball. The team competes in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. With clubs located in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Manitoba (Canada), you can take in a game featuring the Texas AirHogs powered by the Beijing Shougang Eagles and "watch history being played nine innings at a time." Learn more about the AirHogs in Eric Robinson's article featured in The Hardball Times.

https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/a-summer-palace-in-grand-prairie-the-chinese-national-team-joins-the-texas-airhogs/

Photo: Members of the Texas AirHogs from China, 2018 season.

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Yosh Kawano inducted into the 2018 Cactus League Hall of Fame

Thanks in part to the effort of SABR member Charlie Vascellaro, Japanese American pioneer Yosh Kawano, long-time club house manager of the Chicago Cubs, was inducted into the 2018 Cactus League Hall of Fame in Arizona. Kawano was in poor health at the time of the induction, so Charlie honored the legend with a presentation at the ceremony held last February. Charlie also collected items related to Yosh and other Japanese American baseball artifacts for display at the Arizona Spring Training Experience exhibit. Sadly, Yosh Kawano passed away four months later, on June 25 in Los Angeles.

Photo: Yosh Kawano as the club house manager with the Chicago White Sox, circa 1943.

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Baseball’s Bridge to the Pacific: Symposium on US-Japanese baseball relations

Earlier this year I was invited to Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan, to participate in the symposium titled, “Baseball’s Bridge to the Pacific.” Hosted by professor Kyoko Yoshida, the event included myself, Toyokazu Ishihara, baseball sociologist; Isao Takano, sports journalist; and Yoshikatsu Masaki, curator at the Hankyu Culture Foundation in Osaka. The baseball-focused event was a new experience for Masaki, whose expertise is in theater and the arts. He joined the panel discussion because of his recent discovery in the archive of the Hankyu Culture Foundation – a letter from Kenichi Zenimura in the U.S., sent to his Japanese colleagues, attempting to arrange a tour to Japan for Babe Ruth in 1927.  Learn more about Masaki’s discovery below, also known as “The Kataoka Letter.”

Photo: Participants in the symposium “Baseball’s Bridge to the Pacific” at Ristumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan, March 22, 2018. Left to right: Yoshikatsu Masaki, Bill Staples, Jr., Toyokazu Ishihara, Kyoko Yoshida, and Isao Takano.

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Discovery of the Kataoka Letter: Laying the Foundation for Ruth’s ’34 Tour of Japan

According to Yoshikatsu Masaki, curator at the Hankyu Culture Foundation, a 1927 letter from Kenichi Zenimura was tucked away in a collection of photos donated by the family of Masaru Kataoka, a former executive with Daimai (Osaka Mainichi Newspaper). Kataoka was also once a member of the Nihon Undo Kyokai (Shibaura Association), Japan's first pro team, which disbanded after the 1923 Tokyo earthquake, and reorganized as the Takarazuka Athletic Club.

Located on the back of a re-print of the famous photo featuring Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and all-stars from the Japanese Fresno Athletic Club, was the following hand-written letter from Zenimura:

This picture was taken at Fresno when Babe Ruth and Gehrig of the New York Yankees visited us on October 29th. We played against them and made a wide reputation for our team.

Babe Ruth is interested to visit Japan and has asked me to try and line up things in Japan so that he may be able to come to Japan with our team. I wrote to the Meiji University asking them to what extent they can offer to have Babe Ruth in Japan. I believe that it will draw to have Babe Ruth in Japan.

I am sending this picture to you so that you may have this picture in your leading page. It’s my remembrance to you. Kindly extend my best wishes to all of your players. Hoping to meet you again in Japan.

I am yours truly,

K. Zenimura

Based on the contents of the letter, and what is known about Zenimura’s connections in Japan, Zenimura also sent letters to Takizo Matsumoto at Meiji University, and reporters at other newspapers. According to Masaki, Zenimura sent the photo/letter to the Daimai sports department – as indicated by the Japanese characters written with a pencil on the photo:

Lower-left: 大毎運動部所蔵 means “in Daimai sports department's possession"

Lower-right:  運動年カン  means "Sports year book"

The photo was later included in the 1928 Sports Yearbook published by Daimai. That document is available to view online in the National Diet Library Digital Collections. See: http://dl.ndl.go.jp/info:ndljp/pid/1129396/10

PHOTO FRONT:

PHOTO BACK: (click on image to enlarge)

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Sharing research with “The Big Fella”

Like the rest of the baseball community, the SABR Asian Baseball Research Committee is eager to read the new book, The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created, from SABR member Jane Leavy, the award-winning New York Times bestselling author.

In the book, Leavy depicts Ruth as the “blueprint for modern athletic stardom,” and focuses on his 1927 post season barnstorming tour of the west coast. She describes the event as “the mother of all barnstorming tours, a three-week victory lap across America, accompanied by Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig.”  In The Big Fella, Leavy “recreates that 21-day circus and in so doing captures the romp and the pathos that defined Ruth’s life and times. Drawing from more than 250 interviews, a trove of previously untapped documents, and Ruth family records, Leavy breaks through the mythology that has obscured the legend and delivers the man.”

Leavy reached out to the committee to learn more about Ruth’s interaction with Zenimura. The timing was serendipitous, as we had just received word from Masaki about the Kataoka Letter. With that, Leavy’s new book about Babe Ruth will be the first to feature Zenimura’s letter written in 1927.

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On the Horizon

BOOKS:

  • The early history of Japanese-American baseball, by Rob Fitts (in-progress)
  • English translation of “Gentle Black Giants”, by Kazuo Sayama, edited by Bill Staples, Jr. (NBRP Press, early 2019)

EVENT:

“Playing and Talking about Baseball across the Pacific”
Library of Congress
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, May 9, 2019 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. (tentative date/times)
Featuring: Robert Fitts, William Kelly, Bill Staples Jr.

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ONLINE RESOURCES

Social media

Blogs

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Questions, comments, recommendations for future stories? Contact Bill Staples Jr., at billstaplesjr@gmail.com.