The Father of Japanese American Baseball, Eddie Vedder and a Ukulele

The new biography of Kenichi Zenimura, the Father of Japanese American Baseball, officially launched on July 5, 2011.

The following day my wife and I traveled to Long Beach, CA, for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) annual conference where I was scheduled to present on Zenimura’s career against Negro League teams.

It turns out that the first day of the SABR conference was the same day of the Eddie Vedder concert at the Long Beach Terrace Theater. Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, was playing solo to promote his new album Ukulele Songs.

According to, “…Vedder has taken up one of the most useful creative tools available: limitation. It's embodied in a little finger-strummed thing (ukulele) that the Pearl Jam singer picked up during a beer run in Hawaii nearly 15 years ago…"

I really enjoyed the evening of Eddie’s Ukulele songs. And coincidentally, fictional baseball legend Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh from the movie Bull Durham, aka Tim Robbins, was at the show too (my bet is that we were the only SABR members at the show ;-).

As Vedder played the image of Kenichi Zenimura strumming his ukulele on page 21 of my new book came to mind. There was something about the way Vedder was holding the instrument that struck me as odd and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Until it hit me … Vedder is right handed and his instrument was pointing to my right; Zenimura is also right handed yet his instrument points to my left in the photo. “Uh oh,” I thought, “my Zenimura photo is accidentally flipped.”

The error occurred because I have in my possession a catalog of rare photo negatives from Zenimura’s later years in Hawaii (1916-1920) and I scanned the image. It didn’t dawn on me to double check if Zeni was holding the ukulele the proper direction.

The good news is that the publisher McFarland prints the book in small runs (batches of 150 to 200 copies) so they were able to correct the image on the second print run, which they have already.

So what this means is that those who buy one of the first 150 copies will be the owner of a rare collectable, a version of the Zeni bio featuring what I am calling the erroneous “Eddie Vedder ukulele” photo on page 21.

As of July 19 there were only 50 or so remaining … so make sure to order your special edition “Eddie Vedder ukulele” version of the Zeni bio today.

You can find some good deals online here.

New Biography of Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, Now Available

Zenimura, “Father of Japanese American Baseball”, competed with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and other Hall of Famers from the Negro Leagues and Japan

JEFFERSON, N.C. (July 5, 2011) McFarland & Co., the leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books, is pleased to announce the release of the new biography “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer.”

Written by baseball historian and author Bill Staples, Jr., and featuring a foreword by current Toronto Blue Jays bench coach Don Wakamatsu, the first Asian-American manager in major league history, the new biography delivers a thorough and fascinating account of Kenichi Zenimura (1900-1968), the man recognized by historians as the “Father of Japanese-American Baseball.”

While Jackie Robinson and the Negro Leagues have been well documented, few baseball fans know about the Japanese American Nisei Leagues, or of their most influential figure, Zenimura. A phenomenal player who excelled at all nine positions, “Zeni” possessed a gift for using the game to transcend the ignorance and intolerance of his era.

As a player, captain, and manager, he worked tirelessly to export the American style of play in Japan, leading several goodwill trips to Asia and helping to negotiate tours of Japan by Negro League all-stars and Babe Ruth. One of the most fascinating chapters of Zenimura’s career occurred when he established a 32-team league behind the barbed wire of Arizona’s Gila River Internment Camp during World War II.

In anticipation of the Arizona centennial in 2012, the new Zenimura biography has been named an official Arizona Centennial Legacy Project by the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission (AHAC). The award recognizes the internment of Japanese Americans and Zeni’s efforts during WWII as one of the most significant events of Arizona history in the past 100 years.

The Zenimura bio was funded in part by a grant from the Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) and also supported by numerous organizations during the three-year research phase for the effort, including the Nisei Baseball Research Project, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Reliquary, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), the Japanese American National Museum, the Gila River Indian Community, and the Asian Pacific American Studies department at Arizona State University.

“Initially I was drawn to Zenimura’s story because of the parallels between Pearl Harbor and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and attitudes towards those who look like the enemy,” said author Bill Staples. “In the end though I discovered that the story of Zenimura is about more than just a great baseball man, his life serves as an example of how it’s possible to achieve happiness and freedom in a world that is less happy and free.”

Staples added, “the story of Zenimura is more than just about 20th-century Japanese American baseball, it’s about the timeless and shared human condition. Anyone who’s had to overcome huge obstacles to achieve a dream or goal will relate to his story.”

Baseball-industry insiders offer the following praise for “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer”:

• Bill Staples, Jr. is a dedicated baseball historian, author and a meticulous researcher who utilizes twenty-first century technology to root out the most obscure facts about his subjects. His work on Kenichi Zenimura is a groundbreaking effort. – William F. McNeil, baseball historian, author, Sporting News-SABR Research Award Winner (2007), Five-time recipient of the Robert Peterson Award

• Staples’ tireless research and love for the game has resulted in "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer,” one of the great untold stories of our American pastime and an essential for any baseball faithful. – Kerry Yo Nakagawa, historian, author, filmmaker, founder/director of the Nisei Baseball Research Project

• Hopefully (this book) helps transform a long-neglected chapter of baseball history – Nisei baseball history – into a well-chronicled saga for all fans of all races, creeds and colors to appreciate. – Don Wakamatsu, First Asian-American Manager in MLB History


KEYWORDS: Kenichi Zenimura, baseball history, Japanese American, Nisei Leagues, Negro Leagues, Internment, WWII, 9/11, civil rights, U.S. history, American history, Arizona history, Hawaii history, California history, Japanese history, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty O’Doul, Joe DiMaggio, Don Wakamatsu, National Baseball Hall of Fame.

About the Author
Bill Staples, Jr. is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) in Arizona with a passion for researching and telling the untold stories of the national pastime. His areas of expertise include Japanese American and Negro Leagues baseball history as a context for exploring the themes of civil rights, cross-cultural relations and globalization.

He is a board member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project (, chair of the SABR Asian Baseball Committee, research contributor to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, past speaker at the Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and two-time presenter at the Arizona SABR Annual Spring Training convention (2007, 2009)

In addition to “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer” (McFarland, 2011), Staples is also a contributing author to the following academic endeavors: article “Black Giant: Biz Mackey’s Texas Negro League Career” in Black Ball: A Journal of the Negro Leagues (McFarland, Spring 2008); and “Japanese American Baseball” in Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, and Political History (ABC-CLIO, 2011). He has also contributed to numerous articles in publications including The Rafu Shimpo, The Christian Science Monitor, The Arizona Republic, San Antonio Express, and

Staples holds an BA from the University of North Texas and an MBA from Arizona State University.

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About McFarland
McFarland is a leading independent publisher of academic and nonfiction books. McFarland is especially known for covering topics of popular appeal in a serious and scholarly fashion, and for going to great lengths to manufacture their books to the highest standards and library specifications. Learn more at: