Baseball’s triumph in Japan

I always thought the popularity of baseball in Japan was a post-WWII thing, but no — “Baseball’s Triumph in Japan,” part of the LA84 Foundation’s collection of digitized back issues of Baseball Magazine, tells me that Japanese baseball is much older.  According to this 1918 article, baseball teams in Japan were made up of sumo wrestlers who wanted to keep up with Western trends in sport!  If you want to see a bunch of sumo wrestlers in baseball uniforms, click through — there’s a photo.  It looks about as you’d expect.

The wrestler-baseball teams in Japan would look pretty crude, I suppose, to an American audience. Perhaps it will take the wrestler two or three generations to develop teams of skilled ball players who will be able to compete on an equality with crack American nines. But, after all, the beginning is the main thing. The Japanese have begun to take baseball seriously. They play it everywhere and with increasing interest and enthusiasm. Who can say that in some future decade the champion baseball club of the world can justly claim that honor without a trial of strength with the crack nine of Nagasaki or Tokio?

In case you were wondering how I happened to be looking at old numbers of Baseball Magazine, it’s because one of the founders was a member of the Harvard class of 1906.  More Harvard ’06 blogging upcoming — there’s some crazy stuff in this book.

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2 thoughts on “Baseball’s triumph in Japan

  1. Dear Jordan,

    Some related Japanese baseball trivia, also with a collegiate tie-in:

    When I go into the U of C gym, I sometimes stop to look at the many display cases in the entrance area promoting Chicago’s distinguished athletics history. From there I learned that the U of C baseball team travelled to Waseda University every five years between 1910 and 1930. (And Waseda visited U of C every five years between 1911 and 1926; you can find pictures online if you search, and they don’t look particularly like sumo wrestlers to me.)

    Cheers,

    Matt

  2. Yuichiro Fujiwara says:

    Baseball was certainly already popular in Japan before WWII. Actually, it was introduced to Japan in 1870’s by an American professor Horace Wilson. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_Wilson_(professor)

    English was banned during the war, so an umpire would call “Yoshi! (“Good” in Japanese)” when a ball landed in the strike zone. I also heard rules were slightly changed during that time to make baseball appreciate traditional Japanese values more, e.g., banning the hidden ball trick. Don’t quote me on this one though.

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