Robert K. Fitts (author); BANZAI BABE RUTH; University of Nebraska Press (Nonfiction: Sports & Recreation) $34.95 ISBN: 9780803229846
Byline: Jack Shakely
The literal translation of the Japanese word banzai is "ten thousand years." But the Japanese use it like the French use vive or the English "long live." To think that the Japanese in 1934, amid crumbling relations with America, would come out by the thousands to apply that honorific to Babe Ruth and other major leaguers is a fascinating and little-known story. Banzai Babe Ruth is far more than just a sports story. It is, as Robert K. Fitts writes, a story of "sports diplomacy, espionage, infidelity, attempted murder, and an attempt to overthrow the Japanese government." Whew.
By the 1930s, besuboru, as baseball was known in Japan, was already wildly popular. On a number of occasions, ending in a diplomatic near-disaster in 1931, the United States had been sending professional baseball all-star teams to Japan with the fleeting hope to bring the two countries closer through a shared love of the game. (In 1931, racist comments from the American dugout were overheard by an English-speaking Japanese coach and relayed to the Japanese press, who had a field day.)
But in 1934, two men decided to give it another go. One was an enterprising Japanese newspaper owner, Matsutaro Shoriki, who thought, rightly, that sponsoring an American all-star tour would increase sales; the other, and the real hero of Fitt's book, was major leaguer...