The Man who Changed Japanese Baseball
2008 - University of Nebraska Press
Often called the Nisei Jackie Robinson, Wally Yonamine was the first ethnic Japanese to play professional football in the United States and the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II. In both environments, the young Hawaiian had to adapt to unfamiliar cultures and overcome prejudice against his Japanese-American ancestry.
Wally Yonamine was born in 1925 on a Maui sugar plantation to poor Japanese immigrants. His success on the gridiron allowed him to escape the plantation and eventually sign with the San Francisco 49ers in 1947. After an injury ended his football career, Yonamine turned to baseball. In 1951, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants chose him to become the first American to play in Japan during the Allied occupation. Yonamine adopted his football skills to baseball and played hard--stealing bases, sliding hard, and knocking down opponents. The Japanese were aghast at the aggressive American. Opposing fans hurled insults and rocks at him, but he quickly became one of the most dominant players in the league. His success changed the way the Japanese played the game, and opened the door for other Americans to come to Japan. Although it was often trying, Yonamine adapted to Japanese culture and stayed in Japan as a player, coach, and manager for 37 years. He was elected to the Japanese Hall of Fame in 1994. Yonamine’s friendly and down-to-earth personality made him a role model in both Hawaii and Japan. He was decorated for his contributions in American and Japanese foreign relations by the Emperor of Japan. Wally passed away on February 28, 2011. He was an inspiration to all who know him and we miss him greatly.
Extensively researched, well-written, and endlessly informative and fascinating, this book makes an excellent addition to anyone’s baseball library and is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in Japanese-American baseball relations."
Michael Street, Pacific Perspectives
"Fitts creates a book in which the life of Wally Yonamine almost jumps off the page. Expertly researched and crafted book. This is a must-read and a must-add to the bookshelf for those with an interest in the history of Japanese baseball, and a worthwhile read for any baseball fan looking to broaden their knowledge of this great game that has spread around the globe."
"The way that Fitts brings history alive in this book is gripping ... [It] makes you feel as though you were there in the stands."
"Wally Yonamine is one of the most important figures in the long, rich history of baseball in Japan. His life story, from the rustic schoolyards of prewar Maui to modern-day state-of-the-art Tokyo stadiums, is filled with drama and color. Author Rob Fitts has done us all this favor with his richly detailed, thoroughly researched, and heartfelt work."
Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa and The Samurai Way of Baseball
"For over fifty years, Wally Yonamine has been an important bridge between Japanese and American baseball. He brought a new, exciting style of play to Japan and taught us the finer points of the game. I am glad that Americans can finally learn about Wally''s contributions through this outstanding biography."
Hideki Matsui, former New York Yankee
"This book is much more than a smart biography of Wally Yonamine, the first American to play professional baseball in Japan; it is also a fascinating account of the game and culture of the Japanese national pastime."
George Gmelch, author of Baseball without Borders: The International Pastime
"2005 Sporting News-SABR award winner Fitts deserves high marks for bringing forth this title sure to grasp pro football and baseball enthusiasts alike."
Southern New England Chapter Society for American Baseball Research