Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

Synopsis

In November 1934 as the United States and Japan drifted toward war, a team of American League all-stars that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, future secret agent Moe Berg, and Connie Mack barnstormed across the Land of the Rising Sun. Hundreds of thousands of fans, many waving Japanese and American flags, welcomed the team with shouts of Banzai! Banzai, Babe Ruth! The all-stars stayed for a month, playing 18 games, spawning professional baseball in Japan, and spreading goodwill. Politicians on both sides of the Pacific hoped that the amity generated by the tour and the two nations shared love of the game could help heal their growing political differences. But the Babe and baseball could not overcome Japan's growing nationalism, as a bloody coup D'état by young army officers and an assassination attempt by the ultranationalist War Gods Society jeopardized the tours success. A tale of international intrigue, espionage, attempted murder, and, of course, baseball, Banzai Babe Ruth is the first detailed account of the doomed attempt to reconcile the United States and Japan through the 1934 All American baseball tour. Robert K. Fits provides a wonderful story about baseball, nationalism, and American and Japanese cultural history.

Excerpt

In early March 1944, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah O’Leary crouched in his muddy foxhole on Cape Gloucester in the South Pacific. Artillery pounded overhead. Visibility was poor in the mangrove swamps, but O’Leary knew that the enemy would come soon. They always did. So far, the invasion of New Breton had gone well. The First Marine Corps had landed at Cape Gloucester on December 26 and, aided by the new Sherman tanks, drove the Japanese back. As a war correspondent, O’Leary had been on the front lines the entire way with a rifle in one hand and a portable Remington in the other. With defeat eminent, the Japanese had begun their suicidal banzai charges. One would certainly come any minute. Sure enough, the artillery ceased. Off to his left, O’Leary heard, “They’re coming!,” and throaty yells came from the jungle ahead. But the expected banzai never came. Instead, O’Leary distinctly heard in broken English, “To hell with Babe Ruth!,” as several dozen Japanese made a fatal charge across the intervening swamp.

A decade earlier, some of those Imperial soldiers may have been among the five hundred thousand Japanese lining the streets of Ginza to welcome Babe Ruth and the All American ballplayers to Japan. On November 2, 1934, a motorcade took the players from Tokyo Station to the Imperial Hotel, built in 1923 by Frank Lloyd Wright. Ruth, though no longer the best player in the league, rode in the first open limousine. At thirty-nine, he had grown rotund and just weeks before had agreed to part ways with the New York Yankees. His future in professional baseball was in doubt, but his godlike charisma remained intact. To the Japanese he still represented the pinnacle of the baseball world. Millions followed his exploits in baseball magazines such as Yakyukai and Asahi Sports. Sharing the . . .

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