Wally Yonamine and the Integration of Japanese Baseball

From SABR member Rob Fitts at Seamheads.com on September 16, 2011:

A rock whizzed by Wally Yonamine’s head. Jeers and taunts followed. “Yankee Go Home!” “Go Back to Hawaii!” Some yelled insults in Japanese, while a few yelled the only English they knew, “One, Two, Three!” The abuse had begun the minute Wally took his position in Koshien Stadium’s left field. The home-town Hanshin Tiger fans have always hated the Yomiuri Giants, but as the first new American to play pro ball in Japan since the end of World War II, Yonamine received special attention. Wally ignored the fans and concentrated on the game. From time to time, objects shot from the left field bleachers toward him, but none found its mark. Yonamine knew that he could not react.

Instead, he channeled his anger into the game, smacking a double and triple, and running the bases with abandon. As the Giants poured on the runs, the crowd grew more belligerent. Late in the game, the stadium lost power. Yonamine stumbled in the blackness toward the infield but the lights soon returned. Arriving back at his position, he starred down at a large rock jutting from the place he had been moments before. Had he not moved, the projectile would have hit him and the attempt to integrate Japanese baseball might have failed.

Ethnic pioneers are among the most revered sports heroes. And rightly so. These individuals are required to excel under extreme pressure—often battling the bigotry of teammates as well as hostile fans. They have to endure taunts and other injustices without comment as their behavior both on and off the field must be exemplary. Many ethnic pioneers become symbols—heroes to their ethnic groups embodying pride, hope, and sometimes assimilation. To their detractors, however, they represent unwanted cultural change and are the targets of abuse.

Wally Yonamine’s integration of Japanese baseball in 1951 seems unusual to Americans as it lacks a racial element. Yonamine was ethnically Japanese—the son of an Okinawan immigrant and a Japanese-American. Yet, the Japanese viewed him as an outsider—a gaijin—as he was brought up in the country of their recent enemy.

Read the full article here: http://seamheads.com/2011/09/16/wally-yonamine-and-the-integration-of-japanese-baseball/

Originally published: September 16, 2011. Last Updated: September 16, 2011.