The 2012 MLB Japan opener featuring the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics took place March 28, 20 12 at the Tokyo Dome. Ichiro got the first first hit of the game, which also was the first hit of the season, fitting for a baseball star of two lands. Oddly enough this was set in motion at the same time the second game of the 1922 World Series between the Yankees and NY Giants was called due to darkness, nearly causing a riot and forcing commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis to arrange for all ticket sales to be donated to wounded soldiers.
“Thanks you for your note reminding me that a picked baseball club of major league players is shortly to leave for the Orient to play a series of games with representative clubs.
Some things that I have heard about the popularity of baseball in all quarters of the world in recent years have led me to suspect that possibly the great American game may have a real diplomatine value. At any rate, this tour will be one more of those appealing international competitions in athletics that have done so much toward bringing about exactly the right kind of emulation and of promoting good feeling and making better understandings possible.
Most sincerely yours,
Warren G. Harding”
(published in the NY Times 10/16/1922 link)
The practice of traveling to Japan to promote the game of baseball was nothing new. As early as 1908 American teams were touring Japan and playing against college and industrial teams. The 1922 tour was different. Tensions were starting to stir in the Pacific, with Japan, Great Britain, France, and the US signing the Four-Power Treaty effectively stating that each would not attempt empansion of their lands in the Pacific. The odd-man-out in this group of international player was obviously Japan. The US had been trying since at least 1917 with the signing of the Lansing-Ishii Agreement in Washington D.C. to reign in, or at least take the edge off of Japan’s apparent angst towards America’s lingering dream of Manifest Destiny to the west.
On November 20, 1934 Eiji Sawamura, then 17, pitched a game in which he faced faced off against one of these traveling teams from the state, which had a habit of winning by large margins over their Japanese counterparts. He came in as a relief pitcher in the 4th, and proceeded to strike out nine over five inning, including Charlie Gehringer, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Jimmie Foxx in order. His only mistake was a home run given up to Gehrig in the seventh that gave him the loss. Connie Mack reportedly tried to sign Sawamura, but he declined. Sawamura toured the US the next year on a Japanese team that went 93-102, where again he was approached to be signed, this time by the Pirates. Sawamura returned to Japan in 1936, and joined the Yomiuri Giants where he proceeded to go 33-10 with a 1.38 ERA . In the spring of 1937 he went 24-4 with a .81 ERA. That spring he threw Japan’s first no hitter (one of three that he pitched). Sawamura was lifetime 63-22, 554 strike outs, and a 1.74 ERA over the course of 105 games. See his stats here.
Seven years an twenty eight days after Eiji Sawamura’s initial meeting with the American All-Star team, at 12:30 p.m. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood using his leg braces, stating that “the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.” Within an hour Congress passed a formal deceleration of war against Japan for their attack on Pearl Harbor. Major league baseball tours stopped in 1934, while some games continued up to 1940 with trips to Japan by teams from the Nisei league and the Negro Leagues . Baseball relations had waned. What would later be know as Ping Pong Diplomacy can not exist when there is no common sport in which both sides actively compete against each other. This only leaves buearacrats. Enough said.
On December 2,1944 a Japanese ship was torpedoed near the Ryuku Islands and Eiji Sawamura drowned. In 1947 Sawamura Award was introduced (the equivalent to the Cy Young Award) and is given to a pitcher in each league. Interestingly enough, there are guidelines that pitchers must meet to be able to receive this award, and they are not always met. The result is the Award is not given to anyone. In 1959 Sawamura was inducted to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
After the conclusion of World War Two, American players started to trickle into Japan to play baseball again, now for pro-Japanese teams, which has had good success, but which is not without controversy. The value of Japanese imports are fourth behind: 1) Cananda ($48.74B), 2)China ($42.77B), 3) Mexico ($38.75B), and 4) Japan ($17.42B) (This data is from the month of Janurary 2012) Two of these are neighbors, and one is an international manufacturing powerhouse. Of the four, the only one that the US ever seems to get tense with at the negotiating table is the one without a well developed baseball infrastructure.
Now that opening day has arrived to the mainland of the US with the opening of the Miami Marlins’ new park, let us remember that baseball is not only enjoyable, but that it opens up avenues for good will and peace. Let the others fall where they may (there are four links there, don’t miss the fun). At least baseball makes sense as does hating Disco.