Rob Fitts receives 2013 SABR Seymour Medal at NINE Conference banquet

Author Rob Fitts accepted his 2013 Dr. Harold and Dorothy Seymour Medal for Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan on Saturday, March 16, 2013, at the NINE Conference banquet in Tempe, Arizona.

“It’s a dream come true,” Fitts said. The resident of Bronx, New York, also authored the award-winning Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball and Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game. In 2012, Fitts won the Doug Pappas Award for top SABR 42 presentation based on the same subject, “Murderers, Spies, and Ballplayers: The Untold Story of the 1934 All American Tour of Asia.” You can listen to audio of his presentation from SABR’s Minneapolis convention here.

“For just about all baseball book writers, the Seymour Medal is something you strive for,” he said. “Especially because it’s from the Society for American Baseball Research, and being associated with Dorothy and her husband, people who understand research and appreciate research.”

Fitts expressed special thanks to Yoichi Nagata, a SABR member in the Tokyo Chapter and the “foremost expert on Japanese-American baseball relations”; Robert Whiting, author of the groundbreaking You Gotta Have Wa; and Rob Taylor, sports editor at University of Nebraska Press; and his wife Sarah, whose job was transferred to Japan in 1993 and gave Fitts a chance to focus his research on Japanese baseball.

At the SABR Asian Baseball Committee’s first meeting, Fitts said, he wanted to focus a group project on Japanese baseball in the post-war era but he was outvoted 8-1 in favor of the 1934 All-American tour. “Don’t we already know everything about Babe Ruth?” he thought. Not quite, as he soon learned.

Fitts said his goal for Banzai Babe Ruth was to educate American baseball fans on the Japanese game and “simply to entertain, to tell a good story.”

“It’s a great story,” he said. “You have Babe Ruth going over there being a diplomat. You have Moe Berg going over there pretending to be a spy. You have the origins of professional baseball in Japan. … And when I came across one sentence that said in November 1934, some army officers tried to overthrow the Japanese government … the light bulb went off in my head. For me it was like a strobe light. Babe Ruth in Tokyo at the same time these officers are planning to overthrow the government? I’ve got a book.”

Hosted by NINE: A Journal of Baseball History & Culture, the NINE Spring Training Conference promotes the study of all historical aspects of baseball and centers on the cultural implications of the game wherever in the world baseball is played.

A highlight of the 20th annual NINE Conference was a Thursday night session with Bob Motley, 90, the last living Negro Leagues umpire and a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal. Research presentations at the NINE Conference included “Who Exempted Baseball, Anyway? The Curious Development of the Antitrust Exemption That Never Was” by Mitchell Nathanson; “Hardball: The Fight Over Professional Baseball in Salt Lake City” by Larry Gerlach; “Chasing the Pennant” by Stephanie Liscio; “Graphic Novels and the Visual Literacy of Baseball” by David M. Pegram, and more.

At Saturday night’s banquet, SABR member Chris Lamb delivered a powerful keynote speech, “Let Them Play! The Cannon Street All-Stars and the 1955 Little League World Series,” on a team of all-black youths from Charleston, South Carolina, who were barred entry from the Little League World Series.

Check out photos from the conference below:

SABRphotos's 2013 NINE Conference and Seymour Medal banquet album on Photobucket


Originally published: March 18, 2013. Last Updated: March 18, 2013.