How One Japanese-American Runner Took on Babe Ruth, NISEI BASEBALL RESEARCH PROJECT

Article excerpt

Kenichi Zenimura was seven years old when his parents fled the poverty of Hiroshima, Japan, early in this century, emigrating to Hawaii. It was there that Mr. Zenimura fell in love with the game of baseball with an unmatched passion.

Zenimura moved to Fresno, Calif., in 1920 where he organized the Fresno Athletic Club, a Japanese-American baseball team that lasted for more than 50 years. The 5-foot, 105-pound catcher was one of the few Japanese to cross the racial divide and play also for white semi-pro teams.

"He always said, 'Try to play the game with speed and by outsmarting the other guys,' " recalls his son, Kenso. In 1927, Zenimura was picked as part of a group of local all-stars to play with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth when they came to Fresno on a barnstorming tour. Later he told this tale to the Fresno Bee: "The first time up I got a single. I was very fast and took my usual big lead off first. Ruth glanced at me and said, 'Hey, son, aren't you taking too much of a lead?' I said no. He called for the pitcher to pick me off. The pitcher threw and I slid behind Ruth. He was looking around to tag me and I already was on the sack. I think this made him mad. He called for the ball again. This time he was blocking the base and swung his arm around thinking I would slide the same way, but this time I slid through his legs and he was looking behind. The fans cheered. Ruth said, 'If you do that to me again, I'll pick you up and use you as a bat, you runt.' " Zenimura's true genius was as a manager and organizer of Japanese-American baseball. …