It’s our honor to have Mike posting here. He is a regular contributor to Baseball Prospectus and is an expert on players in Japan. His reports on Daisuke Matsuzka were widely read last year. Mike splits time between New York City and Akita City, Japan and is the proud father of Hiroto, a future Yankees centerfielder.
Here’s his post:
In the year Showa 9 (1934) a team of American baseball players traveled to Japan to participate in an exhibition series, delighting enormous crowds eager to get a glimpse of the legendary George Herman Ruth, otherwise known as â€œBabe.â€ The games were held at Tokyoâ€™s Jingu Stadium and were sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun, owner of the powerful Giants of Tokyo. The courtesy of the host nation was evident as fans ran umbrellas out to the players in the outfield during long stretches of wet weather. The barnstorming Americans left an impression on the Japanese that has never quite dissipated after all the years since that event. Babe Ruth and the Yankees were household names in the baseball crazy land of the rising sun and continue to enjoy a kind of reverence that, in many respects, can only be found in the Bronx.
The Showa 9 exhibition played an important role in my assimilation to life in Japan, as a member of an extended Japanese family by marriage. My wifeâ€™s grandfather is an older gentleman, and a veteran of the Second World War. Before I met the man, I was introduced to this fact and told that in addition to his military service he was a strict school principal and had little love for the U.S., although he loved Europe and had traveled extensively with his wife throughout the continent. Needless to say, this made for a nerve-wracking introduction. In his later years, my wifeâ€™s grandfather has slipped a bit and has increasingly succumbed to Alzheimerâ€™s. His periods of clarity are distinct in the quality and depth of detail that a man of his great experience can produce, but they come less frequently all the time.
On the day I entered his home, anxious and hoping to find some common ground, I was fortunate to enjoy more than a few moments of clear and thoughtful dialogue that eased the tension and bridged the perils of history. Chief among the moments that afternoon was the description of The Babe provided by an old man with a twinkle in his eye, peering back to the memories of a child growing up in Tokyo. I heard of the great size of the man and his broad smile, and the casual fraternization that occurred with the Japanese fans that ended in a small boyâ€™s thrill, hanging from the bicep of the otherworldly American slugger.
A learned man I know tells of a tradition he shares with his college frat brothers. When the opportunity presents itself to shake the hand of the person who shook hands with a great historical figure, one must leap at the chance to forge a transcendental bond with the past. My opportunity came in an intimate and extremely tenuous meeting in an old manâ€™s living room in Tokyo. In that fleeting afternoon I found the bridge over the troubled waters of history. It was George Herman â€œBabeâ€ Ruth.