Bookshelf Review: Mashi

June 17, 2015,204,203,200_.jpgMashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer

by Robert Fitts. University of Nebraska Press. 256 Pages, $28.95.

Fitts — whose previous books on the game in the Land of the Rising Sun include Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball (2008) and the award-winning Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan (2103) — offers the reader a fascinating look inside the spirit of the game and how much it differs from the sport as played in the U.S. He presents baseball in Japan as almost a martial art, with strenuous training regimens and a hierarchy in which younger players have to cater to the whims of the veterans, regardless of level. Mashi was taken by surprise at the light workload in his first Major League spring training.

Some fans might find the concept of wa –ably covered by Robert Whiting, an American sportswriter and author who has covered Japanese baseball for decades — as bush league, with its rah-rah nature and “holier-than-thou” attitude compared with the game over here. But it goes a long way in explaining Mashi’s dilemma. On the one hand, he greatly enjoyed his time with the Giants. He was well-liked by teammates of all nationalities as well as the fans and was a celebrity among Japanese-American communities across the country.

On the other hand, his respect for his culture deemed he must subsume those desires and return home, as demanded by contractual obligations as well as the wishes of his family.

So Murakami returned to his native land where he enjoyed a lengthy career. It was a difficult readjustment. Indeed, in trying to accommodate the needs of his teams, he fell victim to injury, unaccustomed as he had become to the rigorous training regimen of the game in his homeland.

Mashi was not the Jackie Robinson of Japanese baseball. Although World War Two was less than two decades removed, he did not endure the racist taunts, save for a few isolated incidents, although the unenlightened culture of the era did result in some some politically incorrect comments on the air and in print from sportswriters. Still, the youngster — he was just 20 when he made his Major League debut — showed unfailing good grace in the midst of such boorishness.

His experiences, however, did not throw open the doors for other Japanese to follow in his footsteps. It took almost 30 years for Hideo Nomo to become the second player from Japan to appear on a Major League roster since organizations there also employed a reserve clause that kept their players in line.

Fitts will be making the several appearances in the U.S. accompanied by Muarakami. I would call this a can’t miss experience.




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