•japanese american baseball
Text written by Albert Kilchesty
Nipponese American Brand
Fathers and sons, Issei and Nisei, meet in this fanciful portrait of the Los Angeles Nippons. From the team’s humble roots in 1905 through the 1930s, the Nippons were the top Japanese-American amateur team in the Southland. Early Issei games were played under the radar, of little interest to Anglo-Angelenos, but by the time their sons came of age the Los Angeles Times was filing regular reports on the team. Referred to at first simply as the Los Angeles Japanese, by the 1920s the Nippons (or Nips) were regularly beating all comers—white, Mexican, other Nisei teams—in amateur competition. The level of play was uniformly high: the 1929 team featured a flashy shortstop, Sammy Takahashi, whose leather earned him a tryout with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. On December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor Day—the Nippons were playing a team from Paramount Studios. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the FBI were on hand, surveilling the game, and were instructed to round up “the Jap contingent” afterward—a sad end to a great chapter in Japanese American baseball history.
Go for Broke! Brand
The 100th Infantry Battalion of the U.S. Army, nicknamed the “Purple Heart Battalion,” was composed of second-generation (Nisei) Japanese from Hawaii. The unit saw heavy action in Europe during World War II, particularly around Monte Cassino in Italy, fighting and dying for their country while many other Americans of Japanese origin were sequestered in internment camps. The Nisei soldiers were subject to intense, virulent racism in the service, but time and again proved their mettle on the fields of play and battle. During training, the One-Puka-Puka (puka means “hole” in Hawaiian) fielded an outstanding baseball team, as pictured here. The painting celebrates the unit’s final victory on the diamond before being shipped abroad. In an irony of war, Joe Takata, the man who belted the game-winning homer in that game, was the first member of the 100th to die in combat. Twenty-six members of the unit—whose official motto was “Remember Pearl Harbor!”—received the Medal of Honor, the highest award given to U.S. servicemen for valor in combat.
Camp Ball Brand
Japanese men interred as “enemy aliens” during World War II passed the days playing baseball. For many, like the artist’s father, this would be the only time in their lives that they could play the game without worrying about work and duty to their families. The game played an important role in sustaining morale and building friendships, filling the empty hours of incarceration with exercise and camaraderie. The inset features the great Kenichi Zenimura (1900‒1968), “The Dean of the Diamond.” Born in Hiroshima, Zenimura moved with his family to Honolulu, where he began his long life in baseball. On the mainland, he became a fixture in the Fresno area, excelling for Japanese-American teams and previously all-white squads. He was interned at the Gila River War Relocation Center in Arizona, where he immediately built a baseball diamond and established a 32-team league. His role as a player, manager, ambassador and organizer earned for Zenimura the posthumous sobriquet, “Father of Japanese-American Baseball.”