Japan a true world champion
By Jim Gates
I enjoyed watching the World Baseball Classic and was not particularly surprised to see Japan playing for the championship once again. Baseball in Japan has a long history, and there is as much baseball folklore and tradition on this island nation as exists in any
country. The national high school tournament is conducted with the same fervor as Americans attach to the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Japanese major leagues have some of the most vocal fans on the planet.
An American expatriate educator named Horace Wilson is credited with introducing the Japanese to baseball in the early 1870s, and we have tried to reflect this nation’s long history in our collection. As I go through the files in our archive, I often come across artifacts that relate to the relationship between Japan, the United States and the game of baseball. Among the hundred of items from Japan, one of my favorites is a program from the 1931 Major League tour featuring Lou Gehrig, Frankie Frisch, Lefty Grove, Rabbit Maranville and Mickey Cochrane, who together compiled a record of 17-0. I wonder if they ever thought that baseball would become such an international sport and that the Japanese would become such a baseball power?
The Japanese have had a chance to fully develop their own baseball history, and this has led to a strong sense of pride in their game and to the players that have been introduced to the rest of the world. This includes the Olympic Games, the World Baseball Classic and right into Major league Baseball. It will be interesting to see what type of artifacts and documents we acquire in future years relating to this element of the game.
Jim Gates is librarian of the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.