Thursday, November 15, 2012

“Banzai Babe Ruth”

At this time seventy-eight years ago, in November 1934, the U.S. major league baseball All-Stars were on noteworthy trip to Japan. The story of that tour is engagingly told in Robert K. Fitts’ new book Banzai Babe Ruth (2012).

Actually, Fitts’ book is about much more than baseball: the subtitle is Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan. There is a lot about intercultural relationships and politics in the book as well as baseball. I found it a most interesting read.
The manager of the American team was the venerable Cornelius McGillicuddy (1862-1956), better known as Connie Mack.* The All-Stars were headed by Babe Ruth, who was extremely popular in Japan, and it included other notable players, such as Lou Gehrig and “Lefty” Gomez.
On November 2 the American team arrived on the Empress of Japan and five thousand Japanese fans greeted them with shouts of Banzai! Fifteen games were played between the U.S. and the Japanese All-Stars—and the American team won them all, with Ruth hitting eleven home runs. 

The closest contest was played in Shizuoka on November 20, and the Americans won by a score of 1-0 on Gehrig’s home run in the sixth inning. The Japanese pitcher was the 17-year-old Eiji Sawamura.**
Connie Mack was so impressed by Sawamura’s performance that he tried to sign him to a Major League contract. Sawamura declined, saying, "My problem is I hate America, and I can't make myself like Americans."
At the time, though, the Americans were very positive about baseball diplomacy. During the 1934 tour, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew said, “Babe Ruth . . . is a great deal more effective Ambassador than I could ever be” (Fitts, p. 83).
Connie Mack said that the trip did “more for the better understanding between Japanese and Americans than all the diplomatic exchanges ever accomplished” (p. 226).
Mack also declared that “there would be no war between the United States and Japan, pointing out that war talk died out after the All-Star team reached Nippon” (p. 230).
But such sentiment did not hold. Seven years later Pearl Harbor was attacked and the U.S. entered the bloody Pacific War. In the ensuring conflict, some in the Japanese infantry screamed “To hell with Babe Ruth!” as “they charged to their deaths across the mangrove swamps of the South Pacific” (p. 256).
After seven stellar years as a pitcher for the Yomiuri Giants, Sawamura, who hated America even as a teenager, enlisted in the service for the Emperor and died in battle in 1943.
As for Ruth, he was “absolutely furious” when he heard about the 12/7/41 attack. “For him, Pearl Harbor was a personal betrayal” (p. 255).
But just before his death from cancer in 1948, Ruth reflected,
Despite the treacherous attack the Japanese made on us only seven years later, I cannot help but feel that the reception which millions of Japanese gave us was genuine. . . . No doubt there were plenty of stinkers among them; but looking back at the visit I feel it is another example of how a crackpot government can lead a friendly people to war (pp. 256-7).
The latter statement, perhaps, also describes the U.S. in 2003.
* Connie Mack III & IV
Connie Mack's grandson Connie Mack III was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 1989 and the U.S. Senate from 1989 to 2001, and his great-grandson Connie Mack IV currently serves in the House, although he lost his seat in last week’s election.
** The Sawamura Award
Japan's equivalent to the Cy Young Award in the U.S. is the Sawamura Award, which has been given to the best professional pitchers in Japan since 1947. It was named, of course, in honor of Eiji Sawamura. The award was given to Yu Darvish in 2007 and Hisashi Iwakuma in 2008; they were both starting pitchers in the U.S. Major Leagues this year.


  1. Kevin, a local Thinking Friend and pastor of a Baptist church, wrote (and I post this with his permission):

    "I’ve always thought that wars were usually the result of bad leaders – usually, the general populace would rather live their lives, and leave others alone, unless threatened."

  2. When I was General Counsel of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in the mid-1990s I was contacted more than once by Senator Connie Mack about the antitrust exemption for baseball. I knew that he had a family connection to baseball, but hadn't appreciated the full extent of it!

    1. It was because of you I first knew about Senator Mack. His grandfather was certainly a most outstanding baseball man.

      Connie Mack was the longest-serving manager in Major League Baseball history, and he holds records for wins (3,731) & games managed (7,755), with his victory total being almost 1,000 more than any other manager.

      Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for the club's first 50 seasons of play, starting in 1901, before retiring at age 87 following the 1950 season.

  3. I'm sitting in a conference session on Paul Tillich at the American Academy of Religion meetings in Chicago, and, since reading your story, thinking about Tillich's clear statement (in Love, Power, & Justice?) that it's not the peoples but the leaders of nations who take us into war.

  4. A couple of days ago I received the following email from local Thinking Friend Will Adams and was most impressed how he and his brother were able to interview Connie Mack in Sept. 1944.

    Dr. Adams writes,

    "I was intrigued that Connie Mack was the manager sent to Japan. At age 13 I started a monthly newspaper (with my brother, Bert, age 10 1/2). We published 29 issues between September 1942 and January 1946. To see all issues and articles about the Monthly News, go to!home/mainPage

    "On the home page, scroll down to Articles in lower left corner, and click on the first one, 'Sporting Circles.' My brother describes how he handled sports reporting, including securing interviews with Byron Saam, the radio announcer for the Philadephia Phillies and Athletics, and with Connie Mack. These interviews appear in the June and September 1944 issues of the Monthly News. In our early teens, we saw no reason not to interview such well known people."