Team Tours of Japan bridged cultural gap following World War II
Reaction to the news was welcomed in Japan.
“We appreciate Mr. Stoneham’s offer of the ball club to go over to Japan. It will be a great thing for both countries,” said T.P. Harata, the Tokyo Giants’ general manager.
The Japanese newspaper was expected to cover all the expenses of the New York Giants’ trip, including airfare. Any profits would be turned over to charities. The Giants left San Francisco on Oct. 9 for Hawaii, where they would play games before flying to Japan.
On Oct. 17, fresh off a victory in the Japan Series, the Tokyo Giants took on the New York Giants in the first game of the Americans’ 14-game tour of Japan. The New Yorkers opened the floodgates late in an 11-1 win, the first of nine straight victories against the Japanese. Ultimately, the New York Giants would go 12-1-1 against various Japanese teams in Japan, but the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported there was some disappointment regarding payouts for the Americans.
However, when the Giants arrived in the Philippines on Nov. 13 to play two games, Stoneham called the trip a “great success” and a “goodwill gesture” for which they “received an enthusiastic response.”
New York manager Leo Durocher complimented the Japanese, noting “they play fine baseball.”
The general good feelings surrounding the tour paved the way for several future visits from other major league squads. In 1955, the New York Yankees travelled to Japan, courtesy of the Mainichi Newspapers Co., Ltd., after their World Series loss to the Dodgers.
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But the defeat did not mean much to the Japanese crowd. Throngs packed the streets of Tokyo to welcome the Yankees, and as one newspaper noted, “The Yankees certainly still are the champs to Japanese baseball fans.”
Even with the loss of Mickey Mantle halfway through the trip, New York outpaced its competition, compiling a 15-0-1 record – the only undefeated record by any major league team on a Japanese tour. Yet the goodwill gained off the field far offset the Japanese losses on the field. Newspapers reported that the Japanese fans were sorry to see the team end its tour and return to the United States. Others clamored for the Yankees’ to come back in the future.
It would not happen, though. In 1956, the Dodgers would make their first trip to Japan, and the Cardinals, Giants, Tigers, Orioles, Mets, Reds and Royals would all make at least one postseason visit before the tours ended in the mid-1980s. San Francisco organized a preseason tour in 1970.
While most of the major league teams handily outperformed the Japanese competition in early tours, by the mid-1960s, it was apparent the opposition’s talent was quickly catching up.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 18-game trip in 1966 was marred by controversy, as Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Wes Parker declined to go to Japan despite pleas from Japanese organizers, hurting ticket sales in the various cities on the tour. It also did not help when team captain Maury Wills left the team a week into the tour to return to the United States for treatment on his injured leg, leaving Dodgers president Walter O’Malley to say “a higher degree of devotion to duty was expected” of Wills as captain.
Koufax announced his retirement shortly before the team’s departure from Japan. Ending the tour on a four-game losing streak, the Dodgers’ eight losses are the most by any of the major league teams which visited.
When the New York Mets visited in 1974, the tour came with an added sideshow. On Nov. 2, prior to the Mets’ game in Tokyo against a Japanese All-Star team, the 50,000 fans were treated to a home run-hitting contest between Hank Aaron and Sadaharu Oh. The duel, broadcast by CBS on a tape delay basis in the United States, saw the major league home run king edge his Asian counterpart 10-9.
Aaron admitted to being “rusty” following a long flight and not having had batting practice in a month. Oh’s unorthodox batting stance caught the eye of the Americans.
“I don’t know how he keeps his balance when he swings,” noted Mets ace Tom Seaver.
In 1978, not even a 14-2-1 record against Japanese teams, following a second-place regular season finish, could save Sparky Anderson. The Cincinnati Reds manager, with two World Series titles to his credit, was fired shortly after returning from Japan.
Matt Rothenberg is the manager of the Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum