Kerouac’s Big League Blues

Image: Custom 1939 Play Ball baseball card, Jack Kerouac.

Instructions: 1) Listen to Jack Kerouac read American haikus to sample his voice and Zoot Sim's accompanying jazz riffs; then 2) Read the poem below with those sounds/flavors in your mind. Optional: Enjoy with your favorite beer, wine or spirit. 
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Kerouac’s Big League Blues

by Bill Staples, Jr. and John Kenney* 

Lowell high school
spring 1939
on the eve of a new
baseball campaign
coach Walter Foye
frantically searches
for a standout star

There is one potential ace
who ought to stand up
under our predictions
right here
        and now

He’s Jack Kerouac

A splendid sprinting product of Mike Haggerty’s
a husky football product of Tom Keady’s
a right kid
a product of a loving home
     God bless Leo and Gabrielle
fanatically interested
in their baby boy’s athletic career

The kid strikes me
with the same sort of
hope and dreams
the Florida sportswriters
conjured around
Red Sox rookie
Ted Williams
        just weeks ago

He’s Jack Kerouac

He has everything
all the goods
but has yet to be tested
Can he swing the ole hickory
under fire in a ballgame
like he does in practice?

This much is certain
this much we know
he will be out there
trying to give it
     heart, grit, guts, sweat, smarts
but only time will tell
the world the honest truth

I think the kid bids fair to be
a sensation of the season
unless the injury bugaboo
throttles down
his great promise
or some other reason

Lookout!
mark my words
the kid from Lowell
is a ballplayer
who bears watching

He can stand all this ballyhoo
rates as much as any thumper who
ever gave promise
to a hopeful ball club

He has all the stuff
I’m a believer
he has the temperament
and attitude
       of a big leaguer

He’s Jack Kerouac


*Inspired by, and based on, sportswriter John Kenney’s 1939 pre-season review of Kerouac’s potential as a baseball player. Proving once again, that there is no such thing as "a sure thing" in the unpredictable sport of baseball. 
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Here is a clip of Kenney's original editorial:


And here's the text for easier reading:

“Lowell high is on the eve of a new baseball campaign … What Lowell high needs, as much as quick seasoning this year, is a standout star—and there is a potential ace that ought to stand up under our predictions right here and now. He’s Jack Kerouac, who is a sprinting product of Mike Haggerty’s, a husky football product of Tom Keady’s and a right kid who is a product of a home that is almost fanatically interested in his athletic career. Kerouac strikes this correspondent with the same sort of hope and dreams the Florida writers conjured around the Red Sox Ted Williams. He has everything, excepting one important factor that has yet to be tested—can he hit under fire as he does against all the pitchers thrown at him in practice?

Kerouac bears watching. He can stand this ballyhoo which he rates as much as a any rookie that ever gave promise to his team. He has the temperament and attitude of a big leaguer, and one other judge whose name must be kept under the blanket because of his connection with the school has gone so far as to say that Kerouac has all the stuff of Lawrence’s remembered Ralph Hewitt. Kerouac will be out there trying to give it; that much is certain. The kid bids fair to be a sensation of the season unless the injury bugaboo throttles down the great promise he is showing.”

Source: The Lookout, by John F. Kenney, The Lowell Sun, April 25, 1939, pg. 11.


Ted Williams, 1939

Image: 1939 Play Ball baseball card, Ted Williams.
Source: Cardboardconnection.com

At the time The Lowell Sun published this reference to Ted Williams (April 25, 1939), the future Hall of Famer had played in only five career major league games. How did he do in those five games?  

G 5, AB 24, H 9, HR 1, BA .375, OBP .375, OPS 1.042


Jack Kerouac, 1939
It goes without saying, Kerouac was no Ted Williams. In fact, there is little evidence to show that he was a star player for the Lowell High School baseball team in 1939. In the box score below from an April 29 game, Jack was not a starter, and came up empty in his one at-bat. On the plus side, he did record a defensive assist in the outfield. 

Source: Lowell 9, Revere 6, Boston Herald, April 30, 1939, pg. 68.

There are just a handful of box scores that feature Jack scattered throughout The Lowell Sun archive, and they add nothing new to the story. Kerouac might have had the speed, a glove and an arm, but he lacked the ability to consistently hit the ball.  

And by the end of the season, when Lowell High in the hunt for the city championship, Kerouac was no longer a member of the team. See 1939 team photo below: 

Source: City Sweep for Lowell Seen, The Lowell Sun, June 3, 1939, pg. 9.

Why was he no longer a member of the team? No reason was ever stated in the press, so we are left to speculate. 

Just weeks before making the cut for the baseball team, Kerouac was celebrated as the top performer for the Lowell High track team (five days before his 17th birthday too, on March 12). 

Source: Kerouac Leading Track Performer, The Lowell Sun,
March 7, 1939, pg. 13.

According to the Lowell Sun, Kerouac was splitting his time between the baseball and track teams in the spring of 1939. On May 17, they reported, "Kerouac and Kulis are currently with the Lowell High baseball squad, but as the Foyemen are not playing Friday afternoon, it is almost a certainty that they will don track dogs that particular afternoon." Kerouac competed in the 100 yard dash, 120 yard high hurdles, the 220 low hurdles, and the three mile relay. 

Source: Haggerty Musters Full Squad for Championship today, The Lowell Sun, May 17, 1939, pg. 13.

In addition to school baseball and track, Kerouac also competed with the St. Louis Cercle club of the Lowell Twilight League. In this news clip, he shows some promise as a ballplayer in the lead-off spot of the lineup. 

Source: All Twi Teams in Action, The Lowell Sun, May 6, 1939, pg. 43.

In late May, Kerouac went out for the American Legion baseball team:

Source: Legion Squad Cut to 34, The Lowell Sun, May 20, 1939, pg. 12.

And it appears that he played the final baseball game of his career on July 25, 1939, as a member of the Dracut Dodgers (suggesting he did not make the final cut for the American Legion team). In a 15-2 loss to Kimballs, Kerouac saw action late in the game, when the coach inserted him in left field, fifth in the lineup. He did not get a hit in his one at-bat.

Source: The Lowell Sun, July 26, pg. 10.

In late August 1939, Kerouac put his baseball playing days behind him and reported to the Horace-Mann prep school in New York City. He later transferred to Columbia University—where he eventually dropped out to find his voice as a writer. 

Source: Jack Kerouac Goes to Horace Mann, The Lowell Sun, August 30, 1939, pg. 29.

As far as I can tell, Kerouac went the entire season without a hit (one could say, 0-for-1939). Whereas, Red Sox Ted Williams finished his rookie season with 185 of them. How did Ted do his rookie year? Here are Ted's impressive stats for his first major league season: 

G 149, AB 565, H 185, HR 31, BA .327, OBP .435, OPS 1.043.


Unlike Kerouac, Ted Williams did not experience the "Big League Blues." He went on to play 19 seasons and earn the unofficial title of "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived." Ted was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962 (which, by the way, held it's first Induction Ceremony in 1939.)

Kerouac would go on to achieve literary fame as the "Father of the Beat Generation." He authored several American classics, such as: On the Road, The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, Desolation Angels, and his book of poetry, Mexico City Blues. Years later, it was revealed that he cut his teeth as a writer—and expanded his imagination—by developing his own fantasy baseball league. So, it appears that his love for baseball continued long after his final at-bat in 1939. 
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The Beats, Dharma Bums, & Baseball
During my freshman year of college (fall 1988) I took a course in American Poetry, and there I was first introduced to Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. Snyder was my introduction to Zen Buddhism. Kerouac was never mentioned in the class, and it would take another three years for me to discover his writings. As an athlete-artist myself, I found his life and work fascinating, inspiring, and highly influential.

That said, I'll wrap up this post with a personal, Kerouac-inspired sports story. In the summer of 1998, I organized, managed and played with a softball team in the City of Tempe recreation league called "The Dharma Bums." The team name was inspired by my favorite Kerouac book (published in 1958).

Little did I know at that time (I do now that I've seen his stats), but apparently our play on the field was also an homage to Kerouac's ability as a ball player. We showed a lot of promise, we had a lot of fun, but we weren't very good. We finished our season with a perfect record: 0 wins and 16 losses. Kerouac once said, "Accept loss forever." I guess the 1998 Dharma Bums would have made him proud.

Below is the only documentation I have of the 1998 Dharma Bums' existence. I am posting it here for posterity.  



And for those of you who are familiar with the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), yes, the League Supervisor back in 1998, Rodney Johnson, is the same person who founded the SABR Arizona Flame Delhi Chapter—now known as the AZ-Hemond-Delhi Chapter. Small world, indeed.

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Image: Kerouac holding the above track article from the 1939 Lowell Sun, 1962.
Source: Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America,
by Dennis McNally.


Image: Autograph of Jack Kerouac, outfielder,
1939 Lowell High School varsity baseball team.



Early Baseball Encounters in the West: The Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe Play Ball in America, 1872

by Bill Staples, Jr.


The Yeddo Royal Japanese acrobatic troupe toured America between 1871 and 1877. During their stops in the greater Washington D.C./Baltimore area in June 1872, they learned the finer points of the National Pastime from a professional baseball player and competed in an exhibition game against a major league team. This is their story. 

Note: The research behind this story was shared with Japanese sports reporter Koichi Ito of Kyodo News, who eventually published news of this discovery in Japan. Prior to publication, all of the facts were verified by the Kyodo News editorial team through officials with the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, and the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame (JBHOF) in Tokyo. 
Takahiro Sekiguchi, Chief Curator of the JBHOF called it, "... an amazing discovery ... without a doubt, it's the oldest record of Japanese playing the game."


***

Tsutsumi’s Discovery
Harue Tsutsumi (b. 1950) is a Japanese researcher who specializes in kabuki (a classical Japanese dance-drama) in the Meiji Era (1868-1912). She earned her master’s in theater history at Osaka University and a doctorate in East Asian languages at Indiana University (IU). In 2004, she concluded her studies at IU with the 331-page doctoral thesis titled “Kabuki Encounters the West: Morita Kan’ya’s Shintomi-za Productions, 1878-79.”

Because her area of expertise is theater, I doubt that she knows she made an important research discovery in her doctoral thesis that potentially rewrites the timeline of early Japanese baseball history.

I stumbled upon Tsutsumi’s work during my ongoing research efforts to corroborate reports of major league teams scouting Japanese ballplayers in both 1897 (Sorakichi Matsuda’s half-brother and the Cleveland Spiders) and 1905 (Sugimoto and the New York Giants). In doing so, I found the following on page 104 of her thesis: 

In June (1872) … a troupe called the Royal Yeddo Japs was visiting the National Theater in Washington … The leader of the troupe, “Professor Gangero” was actually Hayakawa Genjiro (Gaimusho 5: 56), who left Japan in 1871 with thirteen other members of his troupe (Kurata, Kaigai koen kotohajime 94).

She continued with a description of the other troupe members and their act, and concluded with a simple footnote. It was here (footnote #16, buried deep on page 271) where I located her Japanese baseball research discovery. She wrote:  

In Washington, several members of this troupe, along with their agent and an interpreter, played a baseball game with selected members of the Olympic and National Base Ball Clubs. The names of the Japanese troupe members who participated in the game were Yannanowah (first b.), Professor Gangero (s.s.), Kingero (third b.), Yoshi-Taro (l.fi), and Chonosuki (r.f.) Base Ball.” Daily Morning Chronicle [Washington] 6 June 1872: 4. Besides Genjiro, at least one likely member of Genjiro’s original troupe, “Yoshi-Taro,” who was probably Takamori Yoshitaro, the boy who performed on the top of the pole (Kurata, Kaigai koen kotohajime 94), appears on the list.

Tsutsumi’s discovery is significant because this game played in June 1872 in Washington, DC, marks what might be one of the earliest documented encounters between Japanese people and the National Pastime.

To be clear, there are tales of other individuals from Japan playing baseball in America around this same time. For example, a few Japanese students educated in the U.S. were introduced to the game in the early 1870s, such as Kido Takamasa, Okubo Toshikazu, and Makino Nobuaki.[1] In fact, Hiroshi Hiraoka, the man recognized as the "father of baseball in Japan,” who later formed the first baseball team in Japan (the Shimbashi Athletic Club), is reported to have played the game in the U.S. between 1871 and 1877. However, to date, there is no documentation of these four individuals on a ballfield during their time in the U.S.

That said, the articles about the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe just might be the earliest documented encounter of Japanese with the game of baseball in America.

Furthermore, the Yeddo Royal game potentially pre-dates the introduction of baseball to Japan by schoolteacher Horace Wilson (although the exact date of Wilson introducing baseball to his students is unknown at this time); and clearly pre-dates the first known game in Japan, organized by schoolteacher Albert G. Bates in 1873.[2]

So, why are baseball historians late to discover the game involving the Yeddo Royal troupe? I suspect it is because of two reasons: 1) Everyone has assumed that the Japanese did not play baseball prior to Wilson and Bates arriving in Japan, so no one bothered to look; and 2) the Daily Morning Chronicle (Washington, DC) has yet to be digitized and made accessible via online newspaper services such as Chronicling America and Newspapers.com. This source is only available via traditional microfiche, and it appears that Tsutsumi is the first person to discover the Yeddo Royal’s game and to have it published—which she did over 15 years ago.  (Note: A search on Google books for Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe "Daily Morning Chronicle" reveals that she is indeed the only person to reference the Daily Morning Chronicle when researching the Japanese troupe.)

The 1872 Yeddo Royal game is now featured in a digitized archive of several Washington-Baltimore area newspapers, but those sources do not contain the Yeddo troupe lineup and other game details like those featured in the Daily Morning Chronicle. I’ll address that and other related research findings as I take a deeper dive into the game and backstory of all of the people and places involved in this historic encounter.

Analysis & Color Commentary

Pre-game context
As previously mentioned, Horace Wilson is the person credited with “planting a big seed in promoting baseball and popularizing baseball in Japan.”[3]  Wilson was a teacher of English and mathematics at the Tokyo’s Kaisei Gakko (now Tokyo University), who introduced the sport to his students in 1872.[4]  When he introduced baseball, he did so as a form of physical activity and not as an organized team sport.  For his efforts, Wilson was enshrined in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in Tokyo in 2003.

According to the San Francisco Bulletin, Wilson sailed from San Francisco on the S.S. Japan for Yokohama on September 1, 1871.[5]

Article: Horace Wilson Leaves for Japan


Image: Horace Wilson’s Plaque in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame


Albert G. Bates, an American teacher at Kaitaku University in Tokyo, organized the first formal baseball game in Japan. Below is a copy of Bates’ passport, dated October 16, 1872.[6]

Image: Passport of Albert G. Bates


The dates of early Japanese students in the U.S. (1871-1878) and the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe (1872) in the U.S., and Wilson (1872) and Bates (1873) in Japan are important because they demonstrate that the phenomenon of “multiple discovery” occurred with regards to the introduction of baseball to the Japanese.

American sociologist Robert K. Merton defines “multiple discovery” as an instance of similar discoveries being made at the same time by individuals working independently of each other. For example, both Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleyev and Julius Lothar Meyer published versions of the periodic table of chemical elements a year apart (1869 and 1870). In 1876, Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell both filed patents on the same day for inventing the telephone.[7]

Given the rate of cross-cultural exchanges that occurred between Japan and the U.S. with the start of the Meiji period (1868), it is little surprise that baseball was introduced in Japan at roughly the same time that Japanese tourists first played the game in America.  

Coming to America
The Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe departed Yokohama on July 22, 1871, on the S.S. Japan, operated by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company (listed as P.M.S.S. Co. in the article below).[8] The S.S. Japan is the same ship that carried Horace Wilson to Yokohoma three months later.

The reports of their arrival in San Francisco on August 13, 1871, are inconsistent on the number of members in the troupe—some list 13 members, while others list 14 members. Additionally, it is not revealed until the advertising begins on August 30, 1871, that the managers of the troupe are two British entrepreneurs, only known as R. Mitchell and H. W. Welton (incorrectly spelled Wetton in some advertisements).[9]

Article: Mitchell, Welton and Japanese Troupe Arrive in San Francisco, CA


Advertisement: Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe First Performance in the U.S.



The nationalities of managers Mitchell and Welton are never discussed in the press, but their British citizenship is confirmed a year later when their wives and infant children leave Yokohama and return home to Southampton, England in January 1872.[10]

For reasons not disclosed publicly, Welton removed himself from the spotlight and the act is promoted as “Mitchell’s Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe.” Mitchell later told the press how he brought the Japanese performers to America. He lived in Asia (Japan, China, and Hong Kong) for eight years eight years (estimated as 1863 to 1871). After seeing the troupe perform in Hong Kong, he encouraged Gangero and the others to leave Japan for the West. Below is the full article from the National Republican (Washington, DC).[11]

Article: Mitchell Shares the Origin Story of the Yeddo Royal Troupe Tour



The name of the troupe, Yeddo (sometimes spelled as Yedo and Jeddo) are Anglicizations referring to the town and port of Edo, Japan. Edo means (bay-entrance" or "estuary"), and is the former name of the Japanese capital city now known as Tokyo.

The San Francisco Examiner reviewed their first performance in the U.S., and declared it a “decided success” and “the very best troupe that has ever visited the city.”[12]

In her dissertation, Tsutsumi shares additional details of the Royal Yeddo act:

Genjiro performed the traditional Japanese acrobatic stunt of putting a bamboo pole on his shoulder, then playing the shamisen while a boy balanced himself on the top of the pole. An acrobat called “Sunikechi” walked barefoot on a ladder of sharp-edged swords. The troupe also presented a tightrope walker called “Belle of Japan” (“Amusements” Daily Morning Chronicle [Washington] 5 June 1872), who was actually a man who specialized in walking on a tightrope in a woman’s costume, a type of performance that was common in nineteenth-century Japan (Kodama 157). In his memoir, Kume recorded that a (male) troupe member called “Musume-san (girl)” walked the tightrope wearing woman’s makeup and a fancy woman’s kimono (Kume, Kume hakase 1: 251). According to Kurata, a tightrope walker called Yamamoto Kinjiro appears in a list of the members of Genjiro’s original troupe (Kurata, Kaigai koen kotohajime 94). Although the original name of the “Belle of Japan” tightrope walker never appeared in newspaper articles, it is likely that he was Kinjiro.[13]

Image: Photo of Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe



Above: The 13 members of the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe, several of whom played baseball in America in June 1872. Image source, The Thanatos Archive.[14]

The Journey across America
The troupe performed throughout California for two months, after which they ventured east with stops in Utah (Oct), Colorado (Nov), and Kansas (Dec). They kicked-off the New Year in the Midwest with Illinois (Jan), Indiana (Feb and March), and witnessed their first spring in America with performances in West Virginia and Maryland (April).

By all measures, the American tour by the Japanese performers was a success. However, their good fortune changed when they reached Pennsylvania in May.  The Daily State Journal (VA) reported the unexpected tragedy—Madam Congero died in Philadelphia from “injuries received by a fall while performing on a wire.”[15]

Given that the main tightrope walker in the troupe was actually a male dressed as a female, it is unclear if the death of “Madam Congero” was indeed a woman, or the cross-dressing tightrope walker named Yamamoto Kinjiro (or Kingero). The answer to this question would be revealed once the troupe reached the east coast and the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area. Yamamoto Kinjiro would later appear alive and well, and ready to play in his first game of baseball in America.

The Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe Play Ball
In Baltimore, the troupe performed at Ford’s Grand Opera House, a venue founded by John T. Ford, owner of infamous Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. where President Lincoln was assassinated seven years earlier.[16] The town was also abuzz with excitement, as the championship game between the Red Stockings of Boston and the Baltimores was scheduled for the same weekend.[17] It was an election year in 1872 as well. The Democratic National Convention was held at Ford's Grand Opera House on July 9 and 10, roughly a month after the performances of the Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe.

Advertisement: Promotion of Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe, Baltimore, June 5, 1872



Advertisements: Promotion of Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe adjacent to Base Ball Championship Game, Baltimore, June 7, 1872



(Note: The price of admission of $.25 per ticket in 1872 is the equivalent of $5.30 in 2018.) [18]

GAME 1: Washington, D.C.

Play Ball
As previously discussed, on Friday, June 7, 1872, several members of the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe, along with their agent and an interpreter, played a baseball game with select members of the Olympic and National Base Ball Clubs at Olympic Grounds. 

The Daily Morning Chronicle heavily promoted the game between the Yeddo Troupe and the major leaguers. According to research conducted by Cameron Penwell, Japan Reference Librarian, with the Asian Division of the Library of Congress, a June 5th article titled “Japan Against America,” the stated that the Japanese began two days of practice to prepare for the game. The Chronicle reporter wrote, “This is to be a grand international game … the Japs are not novices with the "willow," and some Americans are not without apprehension that the West will meet with a crushing defeat from the East.” [20]

Article: Japan Against America, Daily Morning Chronicle, June 5, 1872.


This closing statement of “not novices with the ‘willow’” suggests that the Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe members were already familiar with the National Pastime before this game. If that is indeed the case, this means that they were introduced to baseball sometime after they arrived in San Francisco in August 1871 and before they arrived in Washington, D.C. in in June 1872.

Advertisements: Royal Yeddo Japanese vs. Olympics, Daily Morning Chronicle, June 6, 1872.


For the game itself, several local newspapers, including the Baltimore Sun, the Daily Morning Chronicle (Washington, DC) and the Daily National Republican (Washington, DC), were in attendance and reported the details of the contest.

Judging from the differing opinions and details shared in each article, it’s hard to tell that if they all witnessed the same game. Some indicated that the game was a blow out, while others described it as a close contest.

For example, the Baltimore Sun reported that the game was not competitive at all. In fact, “… the game was a complete fizzle. The Japs did not know the first principle in the game … (which) tired at the end of the second inning.”

Article: Game Summary, not competitive (Baltimore Sun)


According to an article from the Chicago Evening Post shared by baseball historian Gary Ashwill, the Daily Morning Chronicle article was distributed via a national news wire service and contained a mixed review of the game. On one hand it was critical of the Japanese acrobats’ skill level as ballplayers, yet it also praised their effort and potential. According to the Chicago Evening Post, the Royal Yeddo Troupe scored 17 runs in five innings of play. They also received personal coaching from a star pitcher in the early major leagues. The game details are shared in the article below.

Article: Game Summary, mixed review (Chicago Evening Post)



The above Daily Morning Chronicle article was distributed nationally by a news wire service, and also appeared in:

  • Chicago Evening Post (Chicago, IL), Jun 14, 1872 pg. 4.
  • Cleveland Leader Saturday (Cleveland, OH), Jun 15, 1872 pg. 3.
  • The Daily Commonwealth (Topeka, KS), Jun 18, 1872, pg. 2.
  • Times-Picayune Saturday (New Orleans, LA), Jun 22, 1872 pg. 2.
  • Marshall County Republican (Plymouth, IN), Jun 27, 1872 Vol: 16, pg. 8.
  • The Jasper Weekly Courier (Jasper, IN), Jun 28, 1872, pg. 3.
  • True Northerner (Paw Paw, MI), Jun 28, 1872 Vol: 17, pg. 4.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Daily National Republican (Washington, DC) reported that the game was competitive, and “came near being a victory for the Orientals. The style in which they (the Japanese) handle the ball and bat somewhat astonished our boys (the Olympics), and had not rain stopped the game” there was a chance that the Japanese might have won the game.

The Republican listed the final score of 18 to 17, with a breakdown of runs by each inning.[21] It reveals that the score was tied 15-15 going into the fifth inning, making for an exciting and entertaining finish.

Article: Game Summary, Competitive (Daily National Republican, Washington, DC)


The following morning, the Daily Morning Chronicle described the game as “most interesting,” and reported the same 18-17 score.

Article: Game Summary, Neutral (Daily Morning Chronicle, Washington, DC), June 8, 1872


Of the four articles, the national news wire article released by the Daily Morning Chronicle is the most insightful, as it reveals details about the preparation for the game, and its participants.

The Royal Yeddo Troupe practiced for two days to prepare for the game “under the guidance of Professor Brainard.”[22] This “professor” for the Japanese was, most likely, Asa Brainard, a pitcher for the Washington Olympics during the 1871-72 seasons.

Born in 1839 in Albany, New York, Brainard was a star pitcher in early baseball who was a member of the first professional team, the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings. In addition to his stellar performances on the field, he had a reputation for quirky behavior and late night gallivanting off the field. His nickname was the “Count” and he was called “Ace” or “Acey” by the media. He died at the age of 47 in Denver, Colorado, where he operated a pool hall.[23] To learn more about Brainard’s life and career, visit the SABR BioProject.[24]

Image: Asa Brainard


In addition to the known Professor Gangero, the Daily Chronicle article introduces us to potentially two new Japanese ballplayers, “Quietaro” and “Astaro.” Quietaro was called “the best pop of the bunch” and Astaro was described as an extraordinary batter who swung with great enthusiasm.

The location of the game, Olympics Grounds, was also historically significant, as it was considered a big league ballpark by those who count the National Association as a major league. It was home to the Washington Olympics of the National Association in 1871–1872, and was located at 16th Street NW (east); 17thStreet NW (west); and S Street NW (south). Today, that location is now a neighborhood of residences and commercial businesses.

Aside from Brainard, it is unknown which players from the Washington Olympics (and the Washington Nationals, if any) participated in the June 7 game. It is worth noting though that the Olympics played their last regular season game on May 24. The Nationals played their last game on June 26, but did not have a scheduled game on June 7, indicating that their roster players were available to suit up against the Japanese tourists.[25]

GAME 2: Baltimore, MD

“Let’s Play Two!” Another Game for the Japanese
A week after the first game at Olympic Grounds in Washington, D.C., the troupe scheduled a second contest in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun announced that the “celebrated Royal Yeddo Japs … will play a game of base ball with a club of nine well-known Baltimoreans, at Newington Park, on Friday, June 14, at 3:30 p.m.[26]

Advertisement: “Comic Base Ball. Orient vs. Occident, June 13, 1872[27]


Advertisement: Dual Ad Promoting both the Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe Performances and “Comic Ball Game,” June 14, 1872


Despite the fact that the game was billed as “Comic Base Ball,” the Japanese tourists were serious in their approach to the game. The declaration in the advertisement reflected their sincerity: “The Japs are desirous of learning our national game, and on their return to their far-distant homes will the first to introduce it into the ancient Empire of Japan.”

Knowing that Horace Wilson is in Japan and potentially introducing the game to his students around the same time makes the troupe’s expressed desire to take the game back to Japan a fascinating statement. There is no documentation of Wilson traveling to Asia with an expressed desire or intent to introduce baseball “to the ancient empire of Japan.”

On the morning of Friday, June 14, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Lord Baltimore’s defeated the Atlantics, 17 to 7, at Newington Grounds. Following the game recap was brief article highlighting the game between the Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe and an opposing team of nine Baltimoreans.[28]

Article: Baltimore vs Atlantics Game Recap; Royal Yeddo Japanese Game Promo, June 14, 1872



The details of the Royal Yeddo game were published the following day.[29] According to the Baltimore Sun, the opposing Baltimoreans were replaced by a local nine known as the Dolly Varden Club. In this game, six innings were played and when it was over the the Dolly Varden Club scored outscored the Japanese, either 27 to 23, or 32 to 21. With either score, the Japanese came out on the losing end.[30]

Article: Game Summary (Baltimore Sun), Japanese vs. Dolly Varden, Newington Grounds, Score: 27-23, June 14, 1872


The above article indicates that the troupe “had engaged in only two or three games before” the contest against the Dolly Varden nine. (Note: this comment, coupled with the discrepancy of a two-inning game against a picked nine, and five-inning game against the Olympics, suggests that maybe the two-inning contest was indeed a separate game that occurred before the June 7 game against the Olympics. This possibility will be investigated further at a later date.)

Below is an additional article from the Alexandria Gazette that recaps the game against the Dolly Varden Club.[31]

Article: Game Summary (Alexandria Gazette), Japanese vs. Dolly Varden, Newington Grounds, Score: 32-21, June 14, 1872



Roughly, 300 fans witnessed the game at Newington Grounds, the home ballpark to the major league Lord Baltimore baseball club of the National Association for three seasons, 1872 to 1874. The venue seated up to 5,000, was located in northwest Baltimore and covered an area that extended two blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue (NE),Baker Street (NW), North Calhoun Street (SW), and Bloom Street (SE). Today it is the site of several apartment buildings, businesses and churches.[32]

Also, 1872 was the inaugural season for Newington Park. It opened on April 22, roughly eight weeks prior to the game between the Yeddo Royal Japanese and the Dolly Varden Club.[33]

Readers should also keep in mind that when the Royal Yeddo Japanese were introduced to the National pastime, it was known as “base ball” (two words) and played under different rules than the game we know today. For example, the pitcher was called a hurler; fielders did not wear gloves; and a ball caught after a bounce was considered an out. To see what the game looked like back in 1870s, take a trip back in time with this video on Vintage Base Ball.

It’s also worth mentioning that the act of playing “base ball” in the 1870s was not considered a respectable activity by some members of society. This negative sentiment is reflected in a job posting in the Baltimore Sun that reads, “Young bloods that smoke cigars and play base ball need not apply.” [34]

Advertisement: Baseball players “need not apply,” Baltimore, 1872


Based on the known lineup listed for the first game, couple with the other players mentioned in subsequent articles, below is the possible roster of Yeddo Royal Troupe players who competed against the Dolly Varden Club:

Pos.     Name
1B        Yannanowah
SS        Professor Gangero (Genjiro Hayakawa, troupe leader)
3B       Kingero (Kinjiro Yamamoto, tightrope walker)
LF       Yoshi-Taro (Yoshitaro Takamori, boy who performed on the top of the pole)
RF       Chonosuki
UNK   Quietaro (“best pop of the bunch”)
UNK   Astaro (extraordinary batter)
UNK   Buchuhami (10 year old boy)
UNK   R. Mitchell (Troupe manager, British)
UNK   Interpreter, identity unknown

Image: Mitchell and Welton with the Yeddo Royal Troupe, 1872


Above: Image described as “very rare view from the Stereoscopic Views of Chicago and Vicinity Series by Copelin & Son, Photographers … titled #345 Royal Yeddo Japaneese Troupe and pictures seven adults and five children in native costume with what appears to be their three American promoters … One of the three gentlemen in the middle row looks like he could be part Japanese. The other two gentlemen appear to be classic American entrepreneurs.” [35]

In 1872 there were two teams in the Baltimore/Virginia area who called themselves “Dolly Varden”—the Dolly Varden Club of Staunton (a suburb of Virginia) and the Dolly Varden Club Jr. team of Bel Aire (a suburb of Baltmore). Therefore, at this time it is unconfirmed which Dolly Varden Club competed against the Yeddo Royal Japanese.

The only known fact about the American participants in this second game is the umpire, Charles Adolphus Hadel (1847-1880). At the time of the game, he was age 25, worked as a clerk, and held the title of secretary for the Baltimore Base Ball Club.

The opposing team’s name, Dolly Varden, is inspired by a woman's outfit fashionable during the 1860s-70s in Britain and the U.S. The name comes from after a character in Charles Dickens's 1839 historical novel Barnaby Rudge, and the term was used at the time to describe anything that was fashionable.[36]

GAME 3: Wilmington, Delaware

After the Yeddo Royal Troupe left Baltimore, they headed east to perform at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware. The troupe members must have been feeling confident about their newly developed ball playing skills, as they challenged the Diamond State Base Ball Club of the same city to a contest.[37]

Article: Extraordinary Base Ball; Royal Yeddo Challenge Diamond State (Delaware), June 17, 1872


Advertisement: “Comic Base Ball,” Wilmington, Delaware[38]


After ads ran in both the News Journal and the Wilmington Daily Commercial promoting the contest, the game was canceled. It was announced that two members of the Royal Yeddo Japanese were unable to perform (for reasons not stated), so the game “was abandoned to the great disappointment of” base ball fans.

Article: Japanese “Will not play,” Wilmington, Delaware[39]


After the attempted game in Delaware, there is no record of the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe stepping foot on a diamond again. After Delaware, they traveled through Pittsburgh and eventually Chicago. In the Windy City, the troupe joined forces with S.Q. Stokes and his Roman Hippodrome and Circus.  

When the Japanese acrobats arrived in Minneapolis on August 17, Mitchell appeared for the last time in the press as the manager for the troupe. [40] By the end of August, Mitchell was no longer in the picture, and James Duncan, an employee of the S.Q. Stokes company from Chicago assumed management responsibilities for the troupe. [41]

Advertisement: Mitchell’s Royal Yeddo Japanese Troupe, Minnesota, Aug 1872


Between 1873 and 1877, Gangero’s Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe zigzagged across the Midwest, the eastern seaboard, and into Canada, never crossing west of the Mississippi River. 


In May 1875, the Troupe visited the baseball ball grounds of the St. Louis club. It was not specified if they visited the home of the St. Louis Red Stockings (Red Stocking Base Ball Park) or the St. Louis Brown Stockings (Grand Avenue Park). Their continued interest in the “national pastime” was noted though.[41a]

Article: Royal Yeddo Troupe visit the Ballpark in St. Louis



The last record of Gangero performing in the U.S. mainland was in September 1877, in Buffalo, New York.

After New York, the troupe journeyed south to the Caribbean and performed in Cuba in late 1877, and San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1878.[42],[43]

After that, there is no record of Gangero in the west. Perhaps he and the other members of the Yeddo Royal troupe returned to Japan in 1878? Not sure. Interestingly though, an acrobatic troupe using the same name began touring America a decade later (in 1888).  

Conclusion: 9 Reasons Why the Yeddo Royal Games are Important

The Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe playing base ball in the U.S. in 1872 is important because it:
  1. Re-writes the accepted narrative on the earliest introduction of baseball to Japanese people.
  2. Predates the first baseball game in Japan, organized by Albert G. Bates in 1873.
  3. Provides an early example of Japanese intent on taking the game back to Japan. (Ex:  “The Japanese [Genjiro Hayakawa and the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe] have a great desire to learn the ‘national game,’ in order, they say, that they may introduce it into their native country.” 
  4. Suggests that had Horace Wilson and other Americans NOT introduced baseball to Japan in the early 1870s, that the Japanese people would have eventually encountered it in America, adopted it themselves, and introduced it back in Japan, similar to the efforts of Hiroshi Hiraoka and others;
  5. Introduces the phenomenon of “multiple discovery,” the concept of inventions or discoveries occurring in multiple places at the same time (i.e. the Japanese encountered baseball on their own in America before or at the same time that baseball was introduced in Japan.)
  6. Adds a dimension of “entertainment” to early Japanese baseball. Professional baseball players are both athletes and entertainers. In Japan, baseball was first introduced for athletic purposes (to encourage physical activity among Wilson’s students). We now know that early Japanese in America adopted baseball for entertainment purposes (to sell tickets and delight fans).
  7. Adds a connection between major league baseball and Japanese baseball much earlier than previously thought (the 1908 tour of major leaguers and Pacific Coast League players was the first).
  8. Shines an unexpected spotlight on major league pitcher Asa Brainard as an early figure in teaching Japanese visitors in America how to play the game of baseball. 
  9. Challenges our thinking about the first professional Japanese ballplayers in America. Over 300 fans purchased tickets to watch the Yeddo Royal Japanese play baseball in June 1872 in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD. Does this qualify the members of this team to be considered semi-professional or professional baseball players? As historian Gary Ashwill states, at a minimum, they were “professionally playing” base ball.
In response to last question, I personally would not go so far as to call the Royal Yeddo Troupe the first professional Japanese baseball players in the U.S. I use Babe Ruth’s acting roles as an analogy. Babe Ruth appeared in several movies throughout his career. He was paid money to be in these movies. Because he was paid to act, should we say that he was also a "professional actor"? Personally, I would argue "no." He was a professional baseball player who was paid to act. 

I think the concept of "vocational intent" is an important factor. If you are pursuing an endeavor for a job/vocation, then that is your profession, and you are a professional. But if you "dabble" in something and get paid for it, you are not a professional in that field. Likewise, it was not the intent of the Royal Yeddo troupe to pursue baseball as a full-time profession. They are simply entertainers/performers who were paid to appear in a baseball game. I think that the 1906 Green Japanese baseball team holds the distinction as the first professional Japanese baseball players in the U.S. (Baseball historian Rob Fitts’ next book on Issei Baseball details this team).

As with most research projects, for every question a piece of new evidence helps answer, it generates more questions. This is definitely the case when it comes to the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe. But those additional questions will have to wait for another day.

In closing, on behalf of all historians with an interest in the early development of Japanese baseball, I extend a special thank you to researcher, Harue Tsutsumi for her important discovery of the Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe and their historic efforts to “play ball” in America way back in 1872.

##


Notes


[1] For Love of the Game: Baseball in Early U.S.-Japanese Encounters and the Rise of a Transnational Sporting Fraternity, Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu, Diplomatic History, Volume 28, Issue 5, November 2004, Pages 637–662, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7709.2004.00445.x. Published: 14 October 2004
[2] SABR Japanese Baseball timeline, http://research.sabr.org/asianbb/japanese/timeline 
[3] Horace Wilson, Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, Tokyo, Japan, http://english.baseball-museum.or.jp/baseball_hallo/detail/detail_148.html
[4] SABR Japanese Baseball timeline, http://research.sabr.org/asianbb/japanese/timeline
[5] American Teachers for Japan, Springville Journal, Springville, New York, 07 Oct 1871, pg. 4.
[6] U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 for Albert G Bates; Passport Applications, 1795-1905 1867-1873 Roll 188 - 01 Oct 1872-31 Oct 1872.
[7] Multiple discovery, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_discovery
[8] Daily Alta California, Volume 23, Number 7814, 14 August 1871
[9] San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, California, 30 Aug 1871, pg. 4.
[10] The Hampshire Advertiser, Southampton, Hampshire, England, 17 Jan 1872, pg. 3.
[11] Japanese Performers, National Republican, Washington, District of Columbia, 31 May 1872, pg. 4.
[12] Yeddo Royal Japanese Troupe gives first performance in The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) 22 Aug 1871, pg. 3.
[13] Harue Tsutsumi, Kabuki Encounters the West: Morita Kan'ya's Shintomi-za Productions, 1878-79, Indiana University, 2004.
[14] “Extremely Rare c1870 CDV Photo Troupe of Japanese Performers in the US,”  The Thanatos Archive, https://www.thanatos.net/archive. 
[15] Daily State Journal, Volume 4, Number 178, 20 May 1872
[16] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 05 Jun 1872, pg. 2.
[17] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 07 Jun 1872, pg. 1.
[18] The Inflation Calculator, https://westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi
[19] “Base Ball.” Daily Morning Chronicle (Washington), 6 July 1872: pg. 4.
[20] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 08 Jun 1872, pg. 4
[21] Daily National Republican, Saturday, Jun 08, 1872 Washington (DC), DC Page: 4
[22] BASE BALL FUN., Chicago Evening Post, June 14, 1872, pg. 4
[23] Asa Brainard, Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/19533414
[24] Asa Brainard, SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/a151ac94
[25] Baseball-Reference.com, https://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NAT/1872-schedule-scores.shtml
[26] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 14 Jun 1872, pg. 1.
[27] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 13 Jun 1872, pg. 2.
[28] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Jun 14, 1872 · pg. 1.
[29] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 14 Jun 1872, pg. 1.
[30] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, Jun 15, 1872, pg. 1.
[31] Alexandria Gazette, Alexandria, Virginia, 15 Jun 1872, pg. 2.
[32] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 09 Apr 1981, pg. 52
[33] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 22 Apr 1872, pg. 1.
[34] The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, 15 Aug 1872, pg. 3.
[35] RARE COPELIN CHICAGO ROYAL YEDDO JAPANESE TROUPE STEREO, https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/rare-copelin-chicago-royal-yeddo-japanese-troupe. 
[36] Dolly Varden, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolly_Varden_(costume)
[37] Wilmington Daily Commercial (Wilmington, DE), Jun 17, 1872 Vol: 7, pg. 5.
[38] The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) 17 Jun 1872, pg. 2.
[39] The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), Jun 18, 1872, pg. 3.
[40] Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 18 Aug 1872, pg. 2.
[41] Star Tribune, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 21 Sep 1872, pg. 4.
[41a] St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri, 11 May 1875, pg. 4.
[42] Japoneses y Americanos, Boletín mercantil de Puerto Rico., (San Juan, P.R.) April 14, 1878, pg. 3.
[43] Japoneses en Torrecillas, Diario de la Marina (Havana, Cuba), November 25, 1877, pg. 3.