Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan, Now Available

Award-Winning, Baseball History Classic from Japan Now Available in English

FRESNO, Calif. (April 20, 2019) — The Nisei Baseball Research Project (NBRP), a non-profit dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of U.S.-Japan baseball relations, is pleased to announce the release of Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan.

Originally written in Japanese by award-winning baseball historian Kazuo Sayama in 1986, the classic book is now available to English readers for the first time ever through the NBRP Press, the publishing house of the NBRP. The new edition was made possible through a team of translators, editors and authors assembled by Bill Staples, Jr., baseball historian and NBRP board member.

Gentle Black Giants celebrates the legacy of the Philadelphia Royal Giants, a Negro League team that included future Hall of Famers Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, Andy Cooper, and Wilbur “Bullet Joe” Rogan, and all-stars Herbert “Rap” Dixon, Frank Duncan and Chet Brewer. 

Between 1927 and 1934, the Philadelphia Royal Giants embarked on several goodwill tours across the Pacific—to Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines and the Hawaiian Territories. As African-Americans, they were relegated to second-class citizenship in the U.S., but abroad they were treated like kings. Unlike the previous tours of major league stars who ridiculed their opponents through embarrassing defeats, the Royal Giants made the games competitive, dignified and enjoyable for opposing players.

In the newly translated edition, Sayama and Staples chronicle the tours of the Royal Giants and demonstrate that without the skills and humanity displayed by the Negro Leaguers, Japanese ballplayers might have become discouraged and lost their love for the game.  Instead, the experience of sharing the field with these “gentle, black giants” kept their spirits high and nurtured the seeds for professional baseball to flourish in Japan.

Baseball-industry insiders offer the following praise for Gentle Black Giants:
  • Gentle Black Giants is a pioneering book that vividly presents African-American ballplayers’ striking impact on Japanese baseball. — Kyoko Yoshida, baseball historian, Ritsumeikan University
  • Today’s MLB players are standing on the shoulders of the Nisei and Negro Leagues pioneers who transcended prejudice by playing the game in the U.S. and elevating the sport in Asia as pre-war goodwill baseball ambassadors. — Kerry Yo Nakagawa, founder, Nisei Baseball Research Project
  • Staples does an excellent job of presenting Kazuo Sayama’s Gentle Black Giants to English readers for the first time. Hopefully this project helps foster a greater appreciation for the global impact of the black athlete and their positive influence on the history of professional baseball.” — Raymond Doswell, Ed.D., Vice President/ Curator, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
To purchase Gentle Black Giants: A History of Negro Leaguers in Japan, visit Amazon.com.

About the authors:

Kazuo Sayama is the author of over 40 books. He is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and the Sports Literature Society. He is the winner of the Ushio Nonfiction Award, Wakayama Prefecture Culture Award, Mizuno Sportswriter Award, Joseph Astman Award, and Tweed Webb Award.

Bill Staples, Jr. is a board member for both the NBRP and Japanese American Citizens League-AZ Chapter, SABR Asian Baseball Research Committee chair, researcher for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, SABR Research Award winner, and past speaker at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Howard Kenso Zenimura, the son of Japanese American baseball pioneer Kenichi Zenimura, graciously signed on to write the foreword to the book before his passing in November 2018. His father served as a catalyst in the Royal Giants’ first tour to Japan in 1927, whereas Kenso is recognized as one of the first Americans to play for the Hiroshima Carp of the Nippon Professional Baseball league.

Additionally, several historians whose areas of expertise include Negro Leagues and/or early Japanese baseball history also contributed to the book. The all-star lineup of contributing historians includes editor Gary Ashwill, and authors Bob Luke, Ralph M. Pearce, Dexter Thomas and Kyoko Yoshida.

Book cover: FRONT | BACK

About the Nisei Baseball Research Project:
The NBRP is a non-profit founded in 1996 by Kerry Yo Nakagawa to preserve the history and legacy of Japanese American baseball, which includes the building of baseball’s bridge to the Pacific between the U.S. and Asia. To learn more about the educational activities of the NBRP, visit niseibaseball.com.  

Contact:
Bill Staples, Jr.
602.614.0538
billstaplesjr(at)gmail(dot)com

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74 Years Ago: Butte High Edges Tucson Nine in 10 Innings - April 18, 1945




On Wednesday, April 18, 1945, the Tucson High baseball team traveled over 80 miles to Rivers, Arizona (a.k.a. the Gila River Relocation Center) to play Butte High. Coach Kenichi Zenimura and the Eagles knew the game against the reigning state champions was a special opportunity to prove to themselves and others just how good of a team they really were.

The Tucson Badgers were a strong team full of talent. Their line-up included Lowell Bailey, who in 1944 became just the fourth pitcher in U.S. high school history to finish a season with a perfect 0.00 ERA. Third-baseman Lee Carey won the first-ever "Louisville Slugger" trophy awarded by the Hillerich and Bradsby Company for leading American Legion national competition as the top batter in 1945. Carey and teammates Joe Tully and Bailey would eventually go on to play professional ball. Tucson was also graced with the leadership of legendary coach, Hanley “Hank” Slagle. Between 1942 and 1954, Slagle led the Badgers to a 52-game wining streak and 10 State Championships, more titles than any coach in Arizona high school baseball history.

The Butte High squad was a skilled and disciplined team as well, and fortune was with them on April 18, 1945. The Eagles won the exciting contest on a full-count, bases-loaded, two-out single down the third-base line hit by Zenimura’s son, Kenshi. Years later, Coach Zenimura called the game, "one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of Butte (Gila River) baseball.”

The Eagles win over the Badgers was an important and symbolic victory for all Japanese-American’s held behind barbed wire at Gila River. Perhaps more important than the outcome, the actions displayed and words shared afterwards demonstrated that there was no animosity at all between the two head coaches or their players. After the game both teams dined together, shared watermelon, and engaged in a cross-cultural exchange as the Tucson players were taught the finer points of sumo wrestling.

According to written correspondence between Slagle and Zenimura, the two attempted to schedule a rematch. Unfortunately, members of the Tucson community and school district were opposed the idea, citing the Japanese-American players as a potential security threat when leaving the Internment camp. Despite the fact that Internment teams in Arizona had previously received permission to travel as far as Montana and Colorado to play baseball, a second game in Tucson was denied.

Although the rematch on the field never happen, the highly competitive contest that did occur between the Badgers and Eagles has come to represent all that is good about the game of baseball. Time and time again we see how baseball transcends the barriers created by language, race, religion, and politics. 

In a nation deeply divided by world war, this single baseball game was a significant, and much needed, gesture of American brotherhood and goodwill.

On and off the field, during and after the game, the conduct of the coaches and players demonstrated graciousness in winning and losing, and a healthy respect for others. In essence, this ballgame – and all those involved in it – embodied the true definition of sportsmanship.

With that, the Tucson High vs. Butte High game that occurred during World War II on a Japanese-American Internment Camp is an important moment in baseball, Arizona and U.S. history – one that should not be forgotten.

**

1945 Butte High Eagles


1945 Tucson High Badgers

**


TEXT FROM 1945 GAME WRITE-UP:


Butte High Edges Tucson Nine in 10th
Zenimura Comes Through to Upset State Champs

Desert Sentinel

Monday, April 23, 1945
by Ken Zenimura
Sports Section, Page 3

Playing an errorless defensive game, the undefeated Butte High Eagles, coached by Ken Zenimura, blasted a terrific rally in the last of the tenth frame to inflict upon the state champs from Tucson High their first defeat in three years in a ten inning thrill-packed baseball game on the 28 ball field by the narrow margin of 11-10 last Wednesday afternoon.

A Thrilling Finish
What the several thousand spectators witnessed in that decisive inning will be long remembered as one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of Butte baseball.  It was in the last of the 10th frame, the score was at a 10-10 standstill, two outs, bases loaded, and the count three and two, Kenshi Zenimura singles sharply to left field, scoring Shosan Shimasaki for the deciding run.

In accomplishing the above feat, the Eagles came from behind three times in the second, sixth, and eighth innings before tying the score at 10-10 which continued throughout the ninth and tenth.

Close-up on the 10th
Then came the decisive inning.  Lowell Bailey who hurled masterfully for Tucson was replaced by relief chucker Joe Tully.  Lead off Shimasaki drew a base on balls and Osada followed, reaching first safely on a fielder’s choice. As Hasegawa was grounding out, the runners advanced to second and third.  All runners held base as Katakoka flied out to right.  Nishino was given an intentional walk filling the bases. Then Zenimura came to bat and Tully delivered three consecutive balls followed by two consecutive strikes.  With all runners advancing, Zenimura came through to annex another victory for Butte High.

Receiving excellent support, Tets Furukawa, though touched for 19 safeties on his mound debut, took his fifth straight victory.

Fukai and Ushiro hit 3 for 5 apiece for the Eagles while Lopez, Carey, and Weinstein did likewise for the visitors.

Box Score


Inning
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

H
R
E
Tucson High
2
2
0
1
4
0
0
1
0
0

19
10
6
Butte High
0
4
0
0
0
5
0
1
0
1

13
11
0