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."