The Story of the First Japanese American Ballplayers
Coming in April 2020 - University of Nebraska Press
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.