The Story of the First Japanese American Ballplayers
University of Nebraska Press
Winner of SABR's 2021 Baseball Research Award
2021 Independent Publisher Book Award Silver Medalist
2020 Casey Award Finalist
Author Signed Copies Now Available
Baseball has been called America’s true melting pot—a game that unites us as a people. Issei Baseball is the story of the pioneers of Japanese American baseball, Harry Saisho, Ken Kitsuse, Tom Uyeda, Tozan Masko, Kiichi Suzuki, and others. Young men who came to the United States to start a new life but found bigotry and discrimination.
Seeking camaraderie, they formed a baseball club in Los Angeles and began playing local amateur teams. Their lives changed when the Waseda University baseball team came to the US in 1905 to play twenty-six games on the West Coast. Newspapers across the country covered the games and thousands of fans packed the ballparks. Capitalizing on this interest in Japanese baseball, Guy Green decided to form the first professional Japanese club in the world and barnstorm across the Midwest. Saisho, Kitsuse, Masko, and Uyeda joined up and spent 1906 playing 150–170 games in seven states until the team disbanded in October. For these men, it was a life-changing experience. They abandoned their aspirations for financial success to focus on baseball.
Tozan Masko and Tom Uyeda settled in Denver, formed the Mikado’s, the first Japanese-run professional baseball club in the world, and toured Colorado and Kansas in 1908. Saisho and Kitsuse returned to Los Angeles and created the Nanka Japanese Base Ball Club. For several years the Nanka remained an amateur squad, before turning professional as the Japanese Base Ball Association and spending the summer of 1911 as an independent barnstorming team. Tens of thousands came to see “how the minions of the Mikado played the national pastime.” As they played, the Japanese earned the respect of their opponents and fans, breaking down racial stereotypes. Baseball became a bridge between the two cultures, bringing Japanese and Americans together through the shared love of the game.
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A fascinating new book by Robert K. Fitts tells the colorful, inspiring, and at times heartbreaking stories of the first Japanese American baseball players.
Issei Baseball takes us back to the early Meiji days, when baseball was in its infancy and Japanese players ran the bases wearing tabi socks and fielded without gloves. … From there, Fitts chronicles the rise of the Waseda and Keio squads, their tours of the US in the early 20th century, and the formation of barnstorming Japanese American teams that would tour the country to great fanfare from 1905 into the 1910s.
While Fitts’ research is exhaustive, his writing style is engaging. … This is no dry history! But where Fitts really shines is on the baseball diamond. His depiction of the many games played across the US by barnstorming squads is excellent. My single favorite moment is his description of a suicide squeeze play. It made my spine tingle.
If you’re a baseball fan missing our national game right now or just someone who wants to learn more about the Issei immigrants and the battles they fought to get the JA community where it is today, I highly recommend Issei Baseball. And one final note about the exhaustive research Fitts did for this book: The appendix is amazing. It not only tells you the scores of most of the games played by Japanese university teams and Japanese American barnstorming squads in the US from 1905 through 1911, but also includes a list of all known Issei teams from 1904 through 1910 and partial rosters of those teams.
Bruce Rutledge, The North American Post