Nisei vs. Negro League baseball ... behind barbed wire, 1943

Top: 1940 Arizona Compress; Bottom: 1943 Guadalupe YMBA

On this day 75 years ago, the Gila News-Courier headline read "Phoenix Colored Nine Smashed by Butte, 11-3." According to the Nisei Baseball Research Project, this is the only time a baseball game between a Negro League team and a Nisei team occurred in a Japanese American incarceration camp during WWII.

This historic match up was detailed in my book, "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer." The excerpt from the Zenimura biography is featured below. Click here to read the original article from Oct. 19, 1943.


Chapter 5. Relocating and Rebuilding Hope (1942–1943), (pgs. 141-142)

"It was a common practice for Zeni to sweeten the pot to encourage visiting ball clubs. Shortly after the T-Bird series he placed ads in the Arizona Republic seeking more outside teams to play.166 Another former Arizona state champion accepted the offer and within days Zenimura had a contest booked against a ball club that called themselves the “Phoenix Colored Nine,” which appeared to be the Western Compress ball club with some new players. The visitors’ line-up included: catcher Hamilton; catcher-Manager James Searcy, first base Fisher, second base Fulice, shortstop Lewis, third base Brakeen, left-pitcher Williams, center field Westbrook, right field Harris, pitchers Meyers, Bonner, utility Harol and Coach Eli.167

The outcome of the October game was a trouncing of the visiting team, with Butte smashing the Phoenix Colored nine, 11–3. The all-star for Phoenix’s black squad was Leon “Sugar” Westbrook, an outfielder and pitcher in the Texas Negro Leagues, Arizona semipro leagues, and the West Coast Negro Baseball Leagues. Westbrook was considered a tough out and a solid hitter who could spray the ball to all areas of the field. He was described as both a tough competitor, yet someone who made the game fun by telling jokes or performing trick catches in the outfield. 168

Cornell Fisher, Arizona Compress ballclub, 1941

Another star on the Phoenix Negro nine was 22-year-old Cornell Fisher, an all-state football and baseball player from neighboring Mesa, Arizona. With the decline of black baseball in Arizona after the breaking of the color line by Jackie Robinson, Fisher moved on to competitive softball, as did most African Americans in Arizona. According to the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame, between 1948 and 1965 Fisher was one of Arizona’s finest catchers and most powerful hitters. He was named to the All-State team eight times and was always among the leaders in home runs and runs batted in. He won several batting championships in major competition in Mesa. His 17-year softball career spanned three decades and earned him recognition as one of Arizona’s all-time greats.

Years later Cornell Fisher Jr., who was only age 5 at the time of the Butte All-Star vs. Negro Nine contest, recalled his father returning home from the Japanese American internment camp at Gila River with a baby pig.169

Perhaps not too coincidental, just a week before the game the Gila News Courier reported the start of a new livestock class to offer students the opportunity to learn how to handle livestock. Among the animals were an estimated 100 pigs kept at a hog farm a few miles away from the Butte Camp.170 It’s quite possible that Fisher, after receiving his earnings from the game at Zenimura Field, bought a piglet on his way out of the camp. By the end of the 1943 the hog population at Rivers was an estimated 1,700.171

Kenso Zenimura

Kenso Zenimura has fond memories of the game and the comedy displayed by the black ball team. “They committed a lot of errors,” recalled Kenso, “but most of them were because they were acting silly; trying to catch the ball behind their backs, making trick catches and throws.”172

Kaz Ikeda

Catcher Kaz Ikeda remembers more of the strategic mind of Coach Zenimura than the comedy act of the visitors. “Even though I was the catcher, Coach Zeni called every pitch and pretty much controlled every aspect of the game from the dugout,” said Ikeda. “He [Zeni] had a great knack for analyzing hitter’s strengths and weaknesses in just one at-bat,” said the Butte backstop. “If a player got a hit in his first at-bat, Zeni would be sure he never saw that same pitch again. He was a great coach.” Ikeda then reflected on his coach’s legacy. “By 1943, I never saw him play at his most competitive level, so I don’t know if he could have ever played in the majors. But there’s no doubt in my mind that Zeni would have made a great major league manager.”173



166. “Phoenix Colored Horsehiders to Appear Sunday,” Gila News-Courier, October 14, 1943, 6.
167. “Phoenix Colored Nine, Butte Pick-Ups Cross Bats Tomorrow,” Gila News-Courier, October 16, 1943, 6.
168. “Phoenix Colored Nine Smashed by Butte, 11–3,” Gila News-Courier, October 19, 1943, 6.
169. Interview with Cornell Fisher Jr., September 2008.
170. “Livestock Class Offers Experience,” Gila News-Courier, October 12, 1943, 3.
171. “Three Hundred Hogs Arrive,” Gila News-Courier, December 23, 1943, 5.
172. Interview with Kenso Zenimura, February 2008.
173. Interview with Kaz Ikeda,September 2008.

The Development of Baseball in Japan – A Closer Look

Photo: Newspaper headline from the Honolulu Advertiser, "Japan Adopts American National Game,"  June 7, 1931.

There are several sports history books that reference an essay written by N.K. Roscoe in the early 1930's titled, “The Development of Sports in Japan.”

It turns out that it is a difficult source to track downit’s not accessible in most library archives. However, thanks to Cameron Penwell, Japanese reference librarian at the Library of Congress, I was able to secure a copy. And because it is such a rare and difficult find, I thought it would be helpful for other researchers if I posted it on my blog for future reference. You can download the article here, and here is the full source:

N.K. Roscoe, 'The Development of Sport in Japan', Japan Society of London, Transactions and Proceedings 30 (1932–33).

In the 19-page article, Roscoe details the evolution of several sports in Japan: track and field, tennis, baseball, rugby, soccer, hockey, skiing, and rowing.

As the title of this post suggests, I want take a closer look at the baseball section of his article. In doing so, I'll also unpack some of the interesting elements, bringing to life the people and places he mentions. I’ll start with the author himself. 
Photos: Left: N.K. Roscoe as a member of the Gresham’s School field hockey team, 1909 (age 18). Right: Roscoe later in life, circa 1931 (age 40).

Through the power of, I was able to connect with Roscoe’s granddaughter, Anne Sandison Cunningham. She was kind enough to share a brief bio of her grandfather’s educational and professional career (Note: I added the hyperlinks):

Norman Keith Roscoe BA was born in Cambridge, England, on 24 February 1891. He was the son of Canon John Roscoe of Kirkby, Lancashire, and Kate Allen of Frostenden, Suffolk. (His father was a missionary in Uganda and is the author of“The Baganda.”) He was educated at Gresham’s School in Norfolk followed by Pembroke College at Cambridge University.

He joined the consular service and was posted to Tokyo in 1915. There he met and married Anne Struthers, daughter of John Struthers and Mary McCowan of Lanarkshire, Scotland, and the couple had four children. John Struthers was an agricultural scientist with Chilean Nitrate in Tokyo and, in 1921, Norman joined his father-in-law to work for the organisation.

Both families left Japan in the 1930s to settle in Croydon, Surrey, England, and Norman worked for a period for the Foreign Office in London. During World War II they moved to Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, where he became a leading member of the Japanese section at Bletchley Park, the secret location of the German Enigma codebreakers. He died on 20 April 1947 at the Princess Beatrice Hospital, London, at the age of 56, during an operation related to prostate cancer.

Now, let’s dive in. Knowing that Roscoe lived in Japan for over 15 years (1915-1930s), it adds credibility to the facts shared in the article. While it may never be confirmed, there is a very good chance that information Roscoe presents is from primary sources—personal interviews with the pioneers who played a key role in the early development of baseball in Japan. 

Below is Roscoe's article. I have added hyperlinks, photos, and notes for background information. Also, corrections to typos in the original text are included in parenthesis. 


The Development of Sport in Japan – Baseball
By N.K. Roscoe


Baseball. – As far as popularity goes I suppose there is no other sport in Japan to equal baseball. It can certainly be counted on to draw the biggest crowds, and may fairly be described as the national game. If the errand-boy is late in delivering the mid-day vegetables, the probability is that he has been briefly seduced from rectitude by an impromptu baseball game on a vacant lot, and the graveled undoba of HibiyaPark is flooded during the luncheon hour with shirt-sleeved clerks from the surrounding offices, pitching and catching the soft balls on which a merciful regulations insists.

Baseball is said to have been introduced into Japan in 1872 by two American teachers.

[Note: School teacher Horace Wilson is credited with introducing baseball to Japan in 1872. He was enshrined in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003 for his contribution. Most likely the second American teacher is Albert G. Bates, who is credited with organizing the first formal game in Japan (Wilson only introduced the fundamentals). Bates arrived in Japan in 1873 and, sadly, died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in 1875 in Tokyo. He was only 21 years old.]

The late Marquis Komura was one who learnt to play, at this time, and Mitsuga Sengoku and Jigoro Kano were among the cheer leaders.

Marquis Komura Jutarō, GCB, GCMG, GCVO (小村 壽太郎, September 16, 1855 – November 25, 1911) was a statesman and diplomat in Meiji period Japan.

Komura was age 17 when baseball was introduced to Japan in 1872.

Mitsugu Sengoku (仙石 , July 22, 1857 – October 30, 1931) was a Japanese government official and politician during the Meiji era, Taisho era and early Showa era.

Sengoku was age 15 when baseball was introduced.

Jigorō Kanō (嘉納 治五郎, December 10, 1860 – May 4, 1938) was a Japanese educator and jūdōka during the Meiji era, Taisho era and early Showa era, and the founder of Kodokan Judo Institute.

Kano was age 12 when baseball was introduced.

By 1877 baseball was firmly established in many of the schools, and began to be played outside. This was due to Ki Hiraoka (Hiroshi Hiraoka), who returned from Boston full of enthusiasm, and got men together at the field in Misaki-cho in Kanda. Among the players was Count Aisuke Kabayama.

Photo: Aisuke Kabayama, shortstop with the varsity baseball team at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, 1886.

Soon after, he was appointed head of railways at the Shimbashi Railway Bureau, and Hiraoka formed a club known as the Shimbashi Club (Shimbashi Athletic Club), which played at Shinagawa, where he had a ball-ground built. 

[Note: According to Kyoko Yoshida, professor at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Kabayama was not a member of the Shimbashi Athletic Club. Before Hiraoka was hired by the railway office and organized the Athletics, there’s a mention he played baseball with Kabayama. Kabayama was a student at a Prep School in Kanda (Kanda Kyoryu School) and was greatly impressed by Hiraoka’s ability to throw a curve ball.]

Hiraoka, due to connections of long standing, often went to the Tokugawa residence in Shiba, and the Daimyo himself became a great ball fan, breaking up several thousand tsubo of his own garden for a ball ground.

[Note: According to Teruka Osawa’s essay published in『三田評論』Mita Hyoron (June 2008, trans. Kyoko Yoshida), the Tokugawa Daimyo mentioned here is Count Satotaka Tokugawa (June 18, 1865 – February 18, 1941). Hiraoka was Count Satotaka's tutor in English and also taught him baseball. Satotaka formed the Tokugawa Hercules Club, the second club team in the Japanese history.

Roscoe also states that the Daimyo “became a great ball fan, breaking up several thousand tsubo of his own garden for a ball ground.” A tsubo is a Japanese unit of area equal to approximately 3.95 square yards (3.30 sq m). If several thousand actually means 7000 this equates to 27,650 sq yards, or 248,850 sq ft. or 5.7 acres. For comparison, the recommended minimum size for a ballfield is 400 ft x 400 ft = 160,000 sq. ft. , or 3.7 acres.]

In 1896 the First High School team defeated a club organized by foreigners in Yokohama twice running, and this did much to spread the popularity of baseball all over the country.


Keio men took up the game very early, but played in various clubs, until in 1893 they were organised as a school team. Among the first members was Riozo Hiranuma (Ryōzō Hiranuma), now president of the Tokio University Baseball League. Waseda men ran a club for some years which they called the “Cheerful Club,” and it was not until 1904 that they decided that the club should become the university’s official team. In the following year Waseda University for the first time sent a team to the United States. They won only seven of their twenty-seven games, but the visit brought about a new stage in the development of baseball in Japan. From this time on visits of Japanese teams to America and of American teams to Japan have been frequent, and have contributed enormously to the development of the game. In 1915 the Osaka Asahi established the annual Middle School baseball championship games, and this resulted in developing many good players among the younger students and in further popularizing the game throughout the country. In 1925 the Six Universities’ League was formed, and the excitement caused by the final of this event is comparable to that caused by the Cambridge and Oxford1 boat-race.

1. This is the order as quoted in Japan. 

[Note: Roscoe graduated from Cambridge … here he is attempting to demonstrate that he was unbiased in listing Oxford second.]


N.K. Roscoe lived a fascinating life, serving during WWI and helping to fight the spread of fascism during WWII. His contribution as a sports historian is impressive as well. Anyone with an interest in the development of sports in Japan is indebted to him for this important historical record. 

As a baseball historian with an interest in U.S.-Japanese relations, I would say that Roscoe was the right man in the right place at the right time. He was sports enthusiast living in Tokyo during the prime years of baseball's development in Japanthe Taishō era (1912–1926) and the beginning of the Shōwa era (1926–1989). The information he shares in his 1933 article is both fascinating and credible given that he was a contemporary of many of the pioneers who played a key role in the emergence of baseball's popularity in Japan. 

Tip of the cap to N.K. Roscoe for his contribution to baseball history with the article, "The Development of Sport in Japan."


Subterranean Homeplate Blues

During a recent trip to London, I found the location where Bob Dylan filmed his video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in 1965.  

So I held up a blank sheet of paper and my son took a picture of me standing on the historic spot. Inspired by Dylan's word "BASEMENT" from the start of the video, I later added the word “BASEBALL” to my blank page via Photoshop because … everything relates back to baseball. ;-) 

Well, it turns out that Dylan is indeed connected to the National Pastime. He's a huge baseball  fan. In the early 1960's he was a Roger Maris fan. And in 1975, he penned a song about pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter. 

Dylan wrote:

“Reggie Jackson at the plate
Seeinnothin’ but the curve
Swing too early or too late
Got to eat what Catfish serve

Catfish, million-dollar-man

Nobody can throw the ball like Catfish can.”

Pretty cool. 

So, if you are a Bob Dylan fan (or a baseball fan like him) and ever find yourself in London, I encourage you to go behind the Savoy Hotel, locate the Savoy Steps and take in the historic site. 

Cactus League Yakyu: 9 Fun Facts about the Nippon Ham Fighters in Arizona

For those who don’t know, the word “yakyu” is Japanese for baseball.

And for most baseball fans in the U.S., the start of a new season begins when pitchers and catchers report to spring training in mid-February.

But since 2016, baseball in Arizona has kicked off with the presence of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters two weeks prior. The Fighters typically arrive from Japan at the beginning of February for their spring training. About 10 days later, they begin exhibition games against visiting teams from Korea. Think about it: Asian baseball, Japan vs. Korea, being played in the middle of the Arizona desert.

I attended the first Fighters' games in Arizona back in 2016 when they played in Peoria, AZ. My understanding it that it was the first of their five-year agreement to play in Arizona. I missed the games in 2017, but returned again in 2018 when I heard they moved their training to Scottsdale. 

On Sat, Feb 10, 2018, I attended the game between the Fighters and the KT Wiz, a relatively new team from Suwon, South Korea. The game was played at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the shared spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. I really enjoyed the game experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves the game of baseball, and/or loves learning about other cultures.

When I attended the game back in 2016 I diligently watched the game and kept score the entire game. I sat in the same seat and didn’t miss a pitch. In 2018, I tried a different approach. I put away the score book and turned my attention to the surrounding environment. I moved around the entire game. Each inning was a new point of view, a new experience. I took in the game from the first base side, visiting team bullpen, home team bullpen, third base side, and then behind home plate.

As Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” So I wanted to share some of my observations from the 2018 Nippon Ham Fighters spring training experience in Arizona. So if you are in Arizona in February 2019 and 2020, the following are nine fun-facts and possibly reasons why you should come out to the ballpark and experience some Cactus League Yakyu.


#9. The price – FREE. You can’t beat that. Between 2016 and 2018, they have not charged to attend the games. (That might change in the future, not sure). They are exhibition games, but they have the same feel and professional approach as an MLB spring training game.

#8. Attendance – The first year attendance was probably close to 100 fans. This past game attendance skyrocketed to a whopping 250 people. It is an intimate gathering of fans from Japan, Korea, the U.S., and probably some geographic locations in between. Because the crowd is so small, you can overhear multiple languages being spoken, on the field and in the stands. And because there are plenty of seats to choose from, you can easily move around during the game. Plus, there’s not much competition for foul balls. And these just aren’t any foul balls …

#7. Foul balls – When the Fighters are on defense, the game is played with the official baseball of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league, a Mizuno brand ball. I assume this is done to give the pitchers and fielders a true feel of the ball that they would use in their own country. Likewise, when the team from Korea is on defense, the game is played with the official baseball of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), and brand called Skyline. So fans can leave the ballpark with souvenir baseballs from two different countries. Where else can you do that?

#6. The uniforms – Unlike the MLB, uniforms in Japan and Korea are covered with sponsors’ logos, much like NASCAR and soccer. In fact, the Fighters are sponsored by a company called Nippon Ham … so when you hear the name Nippon-Ham Fighters, keep in mind that they are not a team of guys who fight ham. The KT Wiz donned impressive black uniforms with a logo that looked like something from a Transformers movie. And finally, some jerseys contained triple-digit numbers, i.e. over #100. I had never seen this before, and after doing a little research I learned that the Fighters have retired jersey #100 in honor of the late Yoshinori Ohkoso (1915-2005), team owner, founder the Nippon Meat Packers company, and now a member of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

#5. The bullpen – Because it’s an exhibition game, the teams try to use as many pitchers as possible. So this means there’s activity in the bullpen every inning. Salt River Field is structured in a way that allows fans to get close to the bullpen action. Standing close by you can: watch the pitchers go through their warm up routines, hear the pitchers and catchers work through their pitch selection, and hear the coaches offer advice to fine tune a pitcher’s delivery. I was especially impressed to see the catchers line up their gloves on the outside corners of the plate and the pitchers consistently hit their spots with precision. These guys are good. And they should be, they’re professionals.  

#4. The umpires – The home plate umpire for this particular game was from Japan. He had a commanding presence, but he was also entertaining. Players from both teams would respectfully bow towards the umpire before stepping into the batters’ box. And if a player got called out watching a third strike for the final out, the umpire would turn to his right, emphatically punch the sky, and yell something that – regardless of which language you spoke – clearly conveyed that the inning was over. The only one not smiling after that was the batter returning to the bench.

#3. The crowd – If you like to people watch, this is the place for you. In addition to the Arizona locals, you will encounter baseball fans and families from Japan and Korea, international media (carrying very large cameras), coaches and executives for both teams, and a spattering of MLB scouts searching for that next big star from Asia. My favorite and most fascinating fan observation occurred during the seventh-inning stretch. When the PA system played “Take me out to the ball game,” I could only hear the few English-speaking fans singing out loud. Which makes sense … perhaps this is a custom unique to baseball in the West. But right after that song, the stadium played “Take on me”, the 1985 classic by the Norwegian band a-ha. The majority of the crowd – regardless of their native language – knew the main chorus and sang out loud. Cool stuff.

2. The next big star – For the last two spring training seasons, fans in Arizona had the good fortune of watching Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani perform up close. (On a side note, I do wonder if his familiarity with the Cactus League influenced his decision to sign with an MLB team that trains in Arizona. His new team, the Angels, train in Tempe, AZ.) This year a lot of attention was given to rookie outfielder and No. 1 draft pick Kotaro Kiyomiya. (Note: “Kiyomiya was the most sought-after player … after hitting 111 home runs as a high school player — a total touted as an unofficial Japan record.”) After observing the game and players during my afternoon at the ballpark, one player stood out to me just on presence alone – pitcher Kenta Uehara. He is a strong looking 23 year-old left-hander who was the Fighters’ No. 1 pick in 2015. The career stats of this Meiji University grad suggest that he is still finding himself as a professional, but in this game he performed well. He retired all three batters he faced – two ground balls to the shortstop and a strike out to end the inning. On the mound, he raises his hands above his head during his wind up, which is reminiscent of the legendary Hideo Nomo. Off the mound, physically he favors Yu Darvish, and has a cool, Hollywood style that reminds me of Ichiro when he first joined the Mariners back in 2001. I’m not sure if Kenta Uehara will ever be a MLB all-star, but I sense that he has the potential to have “star power” and become a fan favorite here in the U.S.

#1. The game – No one really cares about the score of an exhibition game. I was contemplating leaving early when the game was tied 1-1 around the fifth inning. But then things started to get interesting, so I stayed. And I’m glad I did. The KT Wiz had taken a 2-1 lead. The Fighters were at bat, and with the tying run on second base, the batter (who I’m not 100% certain who it was because I wasn’t keeping score … possibly it was #58 Toshitake Yokoo), drove a line drive to center field to tie the game. Around the seventh inning the Fighters blew open the game with a home run. The score was 5-2 going into the ninth inning. Everyone in the crowd though the game was three outs from ending if the KT Wiz failed to tie the game. Three up, three down. We all thought the game was over, but to our surprise, even with a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth, the Fighters finished out the game and took their at bats.

It was bonus baseball for the fans, and the players for both teams got in extra reps in a game-like situation.
After the game both managers met at home plate and respectfully bowed towards one another. And fans gathered by the third-base dugout with hopes of getting an autograph or two from the ballplayers.

All in all it was a great experience. Not everyone can travel to Japan or Korea to see a professional baseball game. This might be the next best thing … Japanese and Korean professional baseball visiting Arizona during the month of February and competing in a beautiful Cactus League ballpark.

The Nippon Ham Fighters are scheduled to return for spring training in 2019 and 2020. If you are in Arizona (or even the West Coast) at that time, I highly encourage you to go out to the ballpark and take advantage of this wonderful, international baseball experience.