Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War

Article excerpt

Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu. Transpacific Field of Dreams: How Baseball Linked the United States and Japan in Peace and War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. 314 pp. Cloth, $39.95.

As the book's subtitle indicates, Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu is not interested in pursuing a history of Japanese baseball. This has been done by many before. Rather, the Michigan State historian focuses on how the sport connected Japan and the United States and both nations to the disparate people of the Pacific Rim from the late nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. In the process, she lets us see baseball as a "social space ... or a contact zone" (6) in which the two often antagonistic Pacific powers encountered each other and other Pacific Rim societies in ways often reinforcing but often transcending "formal intergovernmental conduits" (6). Recognizing that some serious scholars might find the book's title irritating, Guthrie-Shimizu, perhaps thinking of Bourdieu's concept of social field, writes, "I fully intend to narrate in this book a tale of expansive field of dreams--a contested terrain traversed by myriad visions, aspirations, and pursuits of greed and not-so-holy impulses in all shades of gray, espoused and enacted by both Americans and Japanese, and by those who played in between the two circum-Pacific empires (9-10).

While Guthrie-Shimizu acknowledges the United States's role in transporting baseball to Japan, she allows the Japanese substantial agency in the project. One of the more interesting issues raised by Guthrie-Shimizu is the role of Japanese students educated in Gilded Age America returning home to preach the modernizing attributes of baseball in Meiji Japan. For example, Hiraoka Hiroshi developed a love for the Boston Red Stockings while studying in New England, as well as an acquaintanceship with Red Stocking pitcher Albert G. Spalding. A descendent of the samurai, Hiraoka helped to curry baseball's favor among Japan's traditional conservatives.

Guthrie-Shimizu, moreover, usefully reminds us that for American advocates of globalizing baseball it was not just about spreading the gospel of a grand, character-building, democratic game. It was fastened on to a larger project of expanding markets for American capitalists. As Spalding recognized, baseball-loving Japanese were primed to swing Spalding-manufactured bats and catch Spalding-manufactured balls.

After exploring the origins of baseball in Japan, Guthrie-Shimizu crisscrosses the Pacific. She explores how both the United States and Japan utilized baseball as a colonizing tool. She addresses the well-known fact that Hawaiians played baseball long before Hawai'i became an official US colony in the late 1890s. Inspired by the research of Frank Ardolino, she disposes of the myth that Alexander Cartwright, who spent his last years on the islands, had much to do with baseball's expansion to Hawai'i and stresses the role of American missionaries and military personnel instead. By the time haoles with American roots staged a coup overthrowing Hawai'i's legitimate ruler, Queen Liliuoklani, formal baseball leagues had been organized on the islands. In the Philippines, however, where US rule was more brutally imposed than in Hawai'i, baseball was seen as a way for colonizers to wean Filipinos away from their hostility to US rule. …