Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball

Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball

Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball

Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball


Wally Yonamine was both the first Japanese American to play for an NFL franchise and the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II. This is the unlikely story of how a shy young man from the sugar plantations of Maui overcame prejudice to integrate two professional sports in two countries. In 1951 the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants chose Yonamine as the first American to play in Japan during the Allied occupation. He entered Japanese baseball when mistrust of Americans was high-and higher still for Japanese Americans whose parents had left the country a generation earlier. Without speaking the language, he helped introduce a hustling style of base running, shaking up the game for both Japanese players and fans. Along the way, Yonamine endured insults, dodged rocks thrown by fans, initiated riots, and was threatened by yakuza (the Japanese mafia). He also won batting titles, was named the 1957 MVP, coached and managed for twenty-five years, and was honored by the emperor of Japan. Overcoming bigotry and hardship on and off the field, Yonamine became a true national hero and a member of Japan's Baseball Hall of Fame. In addition to the foreword by Hawaiian senator Daniel K. Inouye, this Nebraska Paperback edition features a new preface by the author, commemorating Yonamine at his death in early 2011.


In 1947 Wally Yonamine began his trailblazing professional sports career, first with football, and later—and most notably—with baseball. Two years earlier, World War II had ended, but the conflict was still fresh in our nation’s consciousness.

When the war began, Americans of Japanese ancestry weren’t permitted to serve in our nation’s armed forces. We were classified as 4-c, “enemy aliens,” and 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were rounded up and placed in internment camps surrounded by barbed wire and machine-gun guard towers that were located in desolate parts of the country. It was within these camps that Japanese Americans played baseball. the American pastime was a way to ease the pain of their confinement and a symbolic way of holding on to their Americanism.

As a Nisei from Hawaii, my decision to volunteer to wear the uniform of our nation was an easy choice; Hawaii’s Japanese Americans were not subjected to the sort of massive roundup that occurred on the West Coast. To this day, I still wonder if I would have been so eager to serve if my parents and family members had been unjustly incarcerated.

When the war ended, Japanese Americans had proved, with much pride and sacrifice, that their courage and patriotism were beyond question and that Americanism was not a matter of skin color or ethnicity. But while we helped to win a war abroad, we soon discovered that much social progress still needed to be accomplished at home.

In 1947, when I entered politics to make Hawaii a more equitable society, Wally Yonamine became the first player of Japanese descent . . .

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