Baseball had been a popular pastime in Japanese American communities for years prior to World War Two. When the incarceration of people of Japanese descent finally ended, players and fans returned to their leagues, particularly in California and Hawaii. Japan, having already adopted the game before the war, embraced it anew. San Francisco Giants pitcher Masanori Murakami became the first Japan-born player to make the big leagues. The twenty year old debuted fifty-one years ago today, on September 1, 1964.
In Nikkei Baseball, Samuel O. Regalado tells the story of the Japanese American pioneer who helped facilitate Murakami’s time with the Giants. Tsueno “Cappy” Harada’s involvement with the game went back to his childhood in Santa Maria, California. His play brought attention from the St. Louis Cardinals. Then the war began.
Like many other Nisei, Harada enlisted in the military and was assigned to the army intelligence division in the Pacific Theater, where he saw some action and was twice wounded. Harada remained with the forces occupying Japan, and General Douglas MacArthur, who was in charge of the occupation, handed him the task of initiating sports programs. Harada’s position made him an instrumental figure in Japanese baseball fortunes. In step with the kengakudan of his heritage, the Santa Maria native, along with Lefty O’Doul, the popular manager of the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals, arranged several baseball goodwill tours, one of which included celebrities like Joe DiMaggio and his wife, the actress Marilyn Monroe.
By the 1960s and no longer in the military, he remained active in baseball circles. In 1964 Harada helped engineer the signing of Japan’s first entry into the Major League, pitcher Masanori Murakami, who joined the San Francisco Giants later that season. One year later, the minor league Lodi Crushers of the California League hired Harada as its general manager, the first Japanese American to be named to such a post.