Sanji Sakamoto: A Japanese American Ballplayer in the Negro Leagues

The first (and maybe only) person of Japanese ancestry to play for a Negro Leagues baseball team

1920 Los Angeles White Sox - Sanji Sakamoto, 2B

Pitcher/infielder Sanji Sakamoto was born in Japan in 1896 and migrated to the U.S. with his family in 1906. He played briefly for the L.A. White Sox in 1920, one of the top semi-pro Negro Leagues teams on the West Coast.

Prior to joining the White Sox he was a star pitcher for L.A. High School 1915-17, the L.A. Nippons, and the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans. The White Sox eventually replaced Sakamoto with Bob Fagen, second baseman of the 25th Infantry, and original member of the inaugural KC Monarchs of 1920.

White Sox Ballpark was used by both the black and Japanese local teams in the early 1920s. They often booked single and double-header games between Japanese and black teams in an attempt to draw fans of all races to the ballpark.

It is quite possible that the White Sox signing of Sakamoto was a strategic marketing move by Charles Anderson to draw Japanese fans to the ballpark.

Regardless of the reasons why he was signed, Sakamoto appears to be the first and only person of Japanese ancestry to play for a Negro Leagues/all-black team.

He later became a well-respected dentist in the L.A. area. Dr. Sanji Sakamoto died in 1971.


Clippings from the Sanji Sakamoto scrapbook: 

Sakamoto joins the L.A. White Sox

Source: The Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File); Jun 17, 1920; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 - 1986), pg. III1

Sakamoto's White Sox teammate John Riddle was a fellow student at USC, and member of the varsity football team (back row, 3rd from right)., U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999, California Los Angeles University of Southern California 1924

Sakamoto as a member of the USC varsity baseball team

The USC alumni magazine, vol. 1, no. 3 (1920 June), p20.

Sakamoto suffers ankle injury during USC game, 1921

The Southern California Trojan, Vol. 12, No. 70, April 08, 1921, p1.

The Southern California Trojan, Vol. 12, No. 79, May 11, 1921

Sakamoto is mentioned in USC Plans to Tour Japan

The Southern California Trojan, Vol. 11, No. 103, June 15, 1920, p4.

Sakamoto graduated from USC in 1921 and began his career as a successful dentist. 

Odontograms, vol. 4 (1921), the University of Southern California
College of Dentistry yearbook. p. 54.

In 1939, the Nichibei Shinbun, a Japanese American newspaper, named Sanji Sakamoto as the top Nikkei ballplayer to play in California (list compiled by sports reporter Ken Matsumoto).

Nichibei Shinbun, October 4, 1939, pg. 2, LINK to full article


In 1963, future Los Angeles mayor, Tom Bradley honored Sakamoto and his family. Incidentally, Bradley is a native of Calvert, Texas, also the birthplace of Baseball Hall of Fame pioneer, Rube Foster, the Father of Negro Leagues.

The California Eagle, June 20, 1963. p. 6.


U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Draft, Enlistment and Service
Name: Sanji Sakamoto
Birth: 27 Oct 1896 - Japan
Residence: Ventura, California
Other: Ventura County


California, Death Index, 1940-1997 about Sanji Sakamoto
Name: Sanji Sakamoto
Social Security #: 564482452
Gender: Male
Birth Date: 25 Nov 1896
Birth Place: Japan
Death Date: 5 Jun 1971
Death Place: Los Angeles