Ciampaglia: Masanori Murakami, baseball’s forgotten pioneer

From Dante Ciampaglia at on July 14, 2015, with mention of SABR members Rob Fitts and John Thorn:

In baseball, not all pioneers are created equal. Some, like Jackie Robinson, are recognized immediately as formative figures whose impact reverberates forever, in the game and throughout society. Others, though, need some time — and distance — for their contributions to resonate.

Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese person to play in Major League Baseball, is decidedly in the latter category.

“For a long time, he was kind of a footnote in history. He was a trivia-question answer,” says author Robert K. Fitts, whose biography Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer was released in April. “But he was a true hero.”

This week, Fitts and Murakami will be in Cincinnati for Murakami to take part in celebrating the 2015 MLB All-Star Game. But on July 2, they had a special stop on their itinerary: Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets. Murakami threw out the ceremonial first pitch from nearly the same spot that he changed baseball 51 years ago.

In 1964, Murakami, a 20-year-old pitcher for the Nankai Hawks, was in America on a kind of cultural exchange program with the San Francisco Giants. He was called up from the Giants’ single-A team in Fresno on Aug. 30, joined the team in New York, and on Sept. 1 came in as a late-inning reliever for against the Mets at Shea Stadium. History was made.

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Originally published: July 16, 2015. Last Updated: July 16, 2015.