50 Years Ago Today: Masanori Murakami Arrives in Arizona for Spring Training

Marked First Step for Japanese Pioneer in Crossing Baseball’s “Other Color Line”

On March 14, 1964, three young Japanese baseball players arrived in Arizona to pursue their big league dreams. Pitcher Masanori Murakami, catcher Hiroshi Takahashi and third baseman Tatsuhiko Tanaka arrived in Casa Grande, Arizona, 50 years ago today with the hopes of earning a chance to play in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Photo: Rookie Masanori Murakami (center) is greeted by Nikkei baseball pioneers in Fresno, CA, at the start of the 1964 season. Left to right: Kenizhi Zenimura, Sam Yamasaki, Murakami, Johnny Nakagawa, Fred Yoshikawa. Source: Fresno Bee

The article below details how Giants owner Horace Stoneham and Nikkei (Japanese American) baseball pioneer Cappy Harada negotiated the deal that brought the players to the U.S. It also highlights some of the frustrations both the players and the organization experienced with the new cross-cultural situation.

Source: Giants, Japanese Players Mutually Disenchanted, Reno Evening Gazette, April 9, 1964

Murakami's milestone is significant because it marks the start of his journey towards MLB history. Roughly six months later he took the mound at Shea Stadium on Sept 1, 1964, to become the first Japanese player to reach the Major Leagues.

Arizona SABR Chapter president Rodney Johnson does a wonderful job detailing Murakami’s journey from the Cactus League to the majors in the latest issue of the SABR Asian Baseball Research Committee Spring Issue. Check it out.

Instead of recounting Murakami’s journey to MLB history, I’d like to use the 50th anniversary to start a series of blog entries that explore the factors that kept players of Japanese ancestry out of organized ball. I call this baseball’s “other color line.” I want to examine the complex reasons why it existed and also highlight players who attempted to cross it long before Murakami in 1964.

Between now and the September 1, 2014 – the 50th anniversary of Murakami’s first big league game – my blog will cover these milestone events that occurred before “Massy” crossed the “other color line.” They include, but are not limited to:

Major League Milestones

  • 1897, Cleveland Spiders, attempted signing of player known as Sorakichi Matsuda's brother
  • 1905, NY Giants, attempted signing of Shumza Sugimoto, of (“color line” discussed in press)
  • 1934, Philadelphia Athletics, Eji Sawamura, p, declined offer from Connie Mack
  • 1940, Chicago Cubs, Yosh Kawano, Equipment manager (for over 40 years)
  • 1951, STL Browns, Atsushi Aramaki, p, (scouted by Bill Veeck & Abe Saperstein)
  • 1953, NY Giants, Horace Stoneham hires Cappy Harada to scout Japanese talent
  • 1955, NY Yankees, Yankees hire Bozo Wakabayashi to scout Japanese talent

Minor League Signings/Scoutings

  • 1916, Andy Yamashiro, of, Gettysburg, PA (First player of Japanese Ancestry to sign to pro contract, but he passed as Chinese using the name “Andy Yim”)
  • 1932, Kenso Nushida, p, Sacramento, CA
  • 1934, Jimmy Horio, of, Sioux Falls, ND
  • 1941, Henry “Lefty” Honda, p, San Jose, Scouted by the Cleveland Indians
  • 1949, Hank Matsubu, c, Modesto, CA (Pirates)
  • 1949, Jiro Nakamura, p, Modesto, CA (Pirates)
  • 1949, Jose Homma Nakamura, p, Abilene, TX – 1956, Charlotte, NC (Senators)
  • 1951, Wally Yonamine, of, Salt Lake City
  • 1951, George Goto, p, Sacramento, CA (Chi. White Sox)
  • 1952, Satoshi “Fibber” Hirayama, of, Stockton, CA (St.L. Browns)
  • 1953, Ned Iwakiri, p, Visalia, CA (Dodgers)
  • 1954, Carlton Hanta, ss, Beaumont, TX (Cubs)
  • 1956, Bill Nishita, p, Fort Worth, TX/Montreal (Dodgers)

In closing, I will end with a quote from another Murakami, Nikkei ballplayer John Murakami (1919-2005), who observed first-hand baseball’s “other color line” as a member of the Portland Mikados during the 1930s-40s.

“When scouts came to watch a tournament game, they critiqued the players afterward, giving white players tips like throw farther, run faster and hit better. But when they came to me, they said, ‘You might as well forget it. Your people are never going to play professional baseball.’ That really took the wind out of my sails.” -- John Murakami, Portland Mikados

Source: Japanese American Baseball Steps Back Up to Plate, Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1998

Photo: My daughter in her 1964 Masanori Murakami #10 S.F.Giants t-shirt.