Japanese Baseball Books
- Updated: August 18, 2010
It takes dedication to make a career out of writing about a niche topic such as Japanese baseball.
One of those writers is Rob Fitts, an award-winning author who wrote Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game (Southern Illinois University Press, 2005) and Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). He’s currently finishing up his third book, Banzai Babe Ruth! Baseball Diplomacy and Fanaticism in Imperial Japan (University of Nebraska Press, 2012).
His love affair with Japanese baseball began with his first game at Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo, home of the Yakult Swallows. Fitts had always been a baseball fan, but that first game “was unlike anything I’d ever seen,” he says. “I was hooked instantly.”
He found himself in Japan because his wife, an attorney, was offered a six-month internship. An archaeologist by trade, Fitts continued to write his Ph.D. while he was there. The couple lived in Japan for almost two years, and Fitts eventually left archaeology and began selling Japanese baseball cards. He had a customer who bought the cards of Wally Yonamine, the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II. When Fitts realized the customer was Yonamine’s son, he arranged a meeting with the groundbreaking athlete with the intentions of writing an article. “His stories were just so great,” Fitts recalls. “I got out of [the Yonamine interview], and I said, ‘You know, I’ve got to write a book.’” Fascinated by Yonamine’s experiences as a Japanese American playing baseball in post-World War II Japan, Fitts began to wonder, “If he has this to tell, what about other people?” What was intended to be an article evolved into Fitts’s first book, Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game.
The book is the story of Japanese baseball as told by men who played the game. “I asked them what they saw, the cultural differences. Everyone was very receptive.” In addition to Yonamine, Fitts interviewed left-handed pitcher Clyde Wright; former Kansas City manager and Japan Series champion Eric Hillman; Masaaki Mori, the former Yomiuri Giants catcher who won the Japan Series twenty times as a player and a manager; and Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada, a Japanese American who helped rebuild Japanese sports after World War II.
After Remembering Japanese Baseball, Fitts wrote the biography of Wally Yonamine. He traveled to Yonamine’s native Hawaii and searched through newspapers featuring Yonamine’s prowess as an athlete, first in football, later in baseball. Through extensive interviews with Yonamine and his family and friends, Fitts chronicles Yonamine’s rise from the sugar cane fields of Hawaii to a brief stint with the San Francisco 49ers to a hall of fame baseball career in Japan.
“Professionally I’m an archaeologist, so I’ve always been interested in the past,” says Fitts. “I love doing the research. I absolutely love it.” But why Japanese baseball? “There are interesting stories there that most Americans don’t appreciate,” says Fitts, who writes from an American perspective for a primarily American audience. “I feel it’s important to let Americans know just what an incredible history Japanese baseball has.”
Here are five more books about Japanese baseball that are essential for anyone interested in delving deeper into the game.
You Gotta Have Wa – Robert Whiting, 1989
When Fitts made plans to move to Japan, he set three goals: to finish his Ph.D., to become an expert in Japanese archaeology, and to enjoy Japanese baseball as much as he could. For the third goal he read You Gotta Have Wa, the ultimate book about baseball in Japan. This is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in Japanese baseball.
The Meaning of Ichiro – Robert Whiting, 2004
Whiting strikes again, this time with a more contemporary look at Japanese baseball players and their exodus from Japan to MLB. Ichiro follows players such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, and Hideki Irabu as they journey from Japanese baseball to become stars (or busts) in the major leagues.
The Chrysanthemum and the Bat – Robert Whiting, 1977
Are you sensing a pattern here? Whiting is an authority on the sport in Japan, having spent thirty-one years living in and writing about the country. Chrysanthemumis Whiting’s look at how Japan’s culture shapes the sport of baseball. Societal norms such as the strength of the group over individuality, the importance of seniority, and an unforgiving work ethic find a place in Japanese baseball, making it more than just a game.
Sadaharu Oh: A Zen Way of Baseball – Sadaharu Oh and David Falkner, 1984
The autobiography of the world’s home run king, Sadaharu Oh, offers insight into the professional and personal lives of one of Japan’s most beloved sports figures.
Slugging It Out in Japan – Warren Cromartie with Robert Whiting, 1991
Whiting helps Warren Cromartie tell his story of being a black American athlete playing for the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo. Cromartie recounts his seven seasons with the Giants, overcoming culture shock and racism to earn an MVP.