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Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

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Overview


In November 1934 as the United States and Japan drifted toward war, a team of American League all-stars that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, future secret agent Moe Berg, and Connie Mack barnstormed across the Land of the Rising Sun. Hundreds of thousands of fans, many waving Japanese and American flags, welcomed the team with shouts of “Banzai! Banzai, Babe Ruth!” The all-stars stayed for a month, playing 18 games, spawning professional baseball in Japan, and ...
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Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan

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Overview


In November 1934 as the United States and Japan drifted toward war, a team of American League all-stars that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, future secret agent Moe Berg, and Connie Mack barnstormed across the Land of the Rising Sun. Hundreds of thousands of fans, many waving Japanese and American flags, welcomed the team with shouts of “Banzai! Banzai, Babe Ruth!” The all-stars stayed for a month, playing 18 games, spawning professional baseball in Japan, and spreading goodwill.

Politicians on both sides of the Pacific hoped that the amity generated by the tour—and the two nations’ shared love of the game—could help heal their growing political differences. But the Babe and baseball could not overcome Japan’s growing nationalism, as a bloody coup d’état by young army officers and an assassination attempt by the ultranationalist War Gods Society jeopardized the tour’s success. A tale of international intrigue, espionage, attempted murder, and, of course, baseball, Banzai Babe Ruth is the first detailed account of the doomed attempt to reconcile the United States and Japan through the 1934 All American baseball tour. Robert K. Fitts provides a wonderful story about baseball, nationalism, and American and Japanese cultural history.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…admirable and deeply researched…Fitts's breezy style makes the book flip by at the pace of a novel.
—T. Rees Shapiro
Publishers Weekly
Formerly trained as an archeologist, Fitts (Remembering Japanese Baseball) turns his discerning eye as a historian on the waning months of 1934 in his new book, as America and Japan marched toward conflict, with a star-studded tour of U.S. baseball pros the only hope to avert a crisis. Wonderfully researched and brought to life in lively prose, he recalls political tensions between the two nations and the rise of Nipponese ultranationalist sentiment; The tour, the brainchild by Shigenori Ikeda, father of Japan’s eugenics movement, is concocted to foster goodwill, entertainment for the diehard local fans, and a distraction from a restless military bent on a power grab. The hastily gathered team included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Moe Berg, and Connie Mack on a barnstorming month-long trek through this baseball-crazy land in packed stadiums and crowded venues, the players unaware of the dark anti-Western forces on simmer there. Fitts, a master at depicting all of the key elements in prewar Japanese social and political life, gives the reader valuable insights into the influential moderates trying to hold the line against the army, as well as the American ballplayers taking a victory lap in front of adoring foreign fans. This book is a powerful snapshot of men from two contrasting cultures attempting to stop a slide into aggression. (Mar.)
Wall Street Journal

"Banzai Babe deserves a spot in any baseball (or Japan) lover's library."—Robert Whiting, Wall Street Journal

— Robert Whiting

Baseball America Editors

"The history lessons in Banzai Babe Ruth go well beyond merely chronicling the games and the players. This is a well-researched, fascinatingly told tale of two super powers whose shared passion for baseball wasn't enough to maintain the peace, though it did help to restore it in the years following World War II."—James Bailey, Baseball America

— James Bailey

Books & Culture

"Banzai Babe Ruth reads like a multi-stranded mystery novel . . . . Fitts has an eye for the quirky details that make historical writing vivid."—Michael R. Stevens, Books & Culture

— Michael R. Stevens

ForeWord Reviews

"Banzai Babe Ruth is far more than just a sports story. . . . No one could have told this incredible story better than Robert K. Fitts."—ForeWord Reviews
Wall Street Journal - Robert Whiting

"Banzai Babe deserves a spot in any baseball (or Japan) lover's library."—Robert Whiting, Wall Street Journal
Baseball America - James Bailey

"The history lessons in Banzai Babe Ruth go well beyond merely chronicling the games and the players. This is a well-researched, fascinatingly told tale of two super powers whose shared passion for baseball wasn't enough to maintain the peace, though it did help to restore it in the years following World War II."—James Bailey, Baseball America
Books & Culture - Michael R. Stevens

"Banzai Babe Ruth reads like a multi-stranded mystery novel . . . . Fitts has an eye for the quirky details that make historical writing vivid."—Michael R. Stevens, Books & Culture
ForeWordReviews
"Banzai Babe Ruth is far more than just a sports story. . . . No one could have told this incredible story better than Robert K. Fitts."—ForeWord Reviews
Library Journal
Baseball historian Fitts shares the story of a team of American all-star baseball players' 1934 goodwill tour of Japan, intended to improve trans-Pacific relations and promote cultural understanding. Yet at the same time, a group of Japanese military officers attempted to assassinate government officials and abolish Japanese democracy. Still, the American ballplayers entertained throngs of Japanese fans even as the country was in a state of social and military unrest. Ruth's booming home runs and beaming smile could not solve the nation's social and political troubles. This phase of goodwill ultimately came to an end with Pearl Harbor. Fitts's research adds new insight into the argument about whether catcher and future spy Moe Berg began his espionage career on this tour. This dramatic story, equal parts baseball and history, should appeal to anyone interested in Japanese cultural and political history and the sports-politics nexus.—D.K.
Kirkus Reviews
A detailed look at the 1934 tour of Japan by an All-Star team of American baseball players including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Fitts (Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, 2008, etc.) brings an academic's thoroughness to his topic, with an eye on the gathering storm clouds that would soon lead to war between the two nations. Organized by a Japanese newspaper publisher as a promotional stunt and supported by American and Japanese politicians who hoped to mend increasingly difficult relations, the tour was a rousing success on the first count, and a resounding failure on the second. Fitts provides context on the history of baseball in Japan, as well as on the country's political situation at the time, with various nationalist groups hoping to restore true power to the imperial throne. Though the information on the coup and assassination attempts by these groups provides insight into the state of Japanese politics and culture, the link between them and the baseball tour is tenuous. The tour itself provides some entertaining culture-clash moments and interesting background on some of the Japanese players, even if the outcome of most of the games is a foregone conclusion. The Babe is, as ever, the star of the show. Reluctant to participate at first, he eventually embraced the experience, helped no doubt by the adulation of a whole new set of fans during the twilight of his career. Perhaps the tour's most lasting contribution to history is its part in helping create a professional baseball league in Japan, which remains massively popular to this day. Any goodwill engendered by the American players' 1934 visit quickly vanished into the fog of war, however, with the spectators' cries of "Banzai Babe Ruth" replaced by Japanese soldiers' shouts of "To hell with Babe Ruth!" as they rushed American positions during World War II. Occasionally dry but mostly colorful examination of an early meeting of international sports, culture and celebrity.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803245815
  • Publisher: UNP - Nebraska Paperback
  • Publication date: 3/1/2013
  • Pages: 366
  • Product dimensions: 8.90 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Robert K. Fitts graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and received a PhD from Brown University. Originally trained as an archeologist of colonial America, Fitts left that field to focus on his passion, Japanese baseball. He is also the author of Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game and Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball (Nebraska, 2008).
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations viii

Recurring Japanese Characters ix

Prologue xiii

Part 1 "When I say I'll do something, I bet my life on it." 1

Part 2 "Babe Ruth … is a great deal more effective Ambassador than I could ever be." 83

Part 3 "The Japanese are equal to the Americans in strength of spirit." 153

Part 4 "There will be no war between the United States" and Japan." 193

Part 5 "To hell with Babe Ruth!" 233

Appendix 1 TheAll American Touring Party 273

Appendix 2 Tour Batting and Pitching Statistics 275

Appendix 3 Tour Game Line Scores 277

Acknowledgments 281

Notes 285

Bibliography 299

Index 309

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Customer Reviews

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