A detailed look at the 1934 tour of Japan by an All-Star team of American baseball players including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Fitts (Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, 2008, etc.) brings an academic’s thoroughness to his topic, with an eye on the gathering storm clouds that would soon lead to war between the two nations. Organized by a Japanese newspaper publisher as a promotional stunt and supported by American and Japanese politicians who hoped to mend increasingly difficult relations, the tour was a rousing success on the first count, and a resounding failure on the second. Fitts provides context on the history of baseball in Japan, as well as on the country’s political situation at the time, with various nationalist groups hoping to restore true power to the imperial throne. Though the information on the coup and assassination attempts by these groups provides insight into the state of Japanese politics and culture, the link between them and the baseball tour is tenuous. The tour itself provides some entertaining culture-clash moments and interesting background on some of the Japanese players, even if the outcome of most of the games is a foregone conclusion. The Babe is, as ever, the star of the show. Reluctant to participate at first, he eventually embraced the experience, helped no doubt by the adulation of a whole new set of fans during the twilight of his career. Perhaps the tour’s most lasting contribution to history is its part in helping create a professional baseball league in Japan, which remains massively popular to this day. Any goodwill engendered by the American players’ 1934 visit quickly vanished into the fog of war, however, with the spectators’ cries of “Banzai Babe Ruth” replaced by Japanese soldiers’ shouts of “To hell with Babe Ruth!” as they rushed American positions during World War II.
Occasionally dry but mostly colorful examination of an early meeting of international sports, culture and celebrity.