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.