SCD contributor and Japanese baseball expert Rob Fitts has penned a new book – Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball (University of Nebraska Press).
Often called the Nisei Jackie Robinson, Yonamine was the first ethnic Japanese to play professional football in the U.S., 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. 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.
Signed copies of the book are available for $24.99 at www.WallyYonamine.com.