- Asian Pacific Americans and Baseball: A History by Joel S Franks
Asian Pacific Americans and Baseball has a very specific focus. Attention remains largely fixed on the Pacific homeland and U.S. mainland experiences of diverse Hawaiian ethnic groups, augmented by brief examination of baseball in the Philippines, Guam, Samoa, and other Pacific islands. Influenced by The People’s Game (1960), the final volume in Harold and Dorothy Seymour’s seminal baseball trilogy, author Joel S. Franks eschews the iconic, remaining determinedly populist in tone and content. A scholar of Asian and American studies, Franks demonstrates the complex interplay play between baseball and Hawaiians. He considers the experience of Hawaiian women and men who played the game as well as of fans, entrepreneurs, coaches, umpires, and others affiliated with baseball. [End Page 342]
A unique history links Hawai‘i and the United States. Inhabitants of a territory and later a state, the peoples of Hawai‘i, irrespective of race, received U.S citizenship despite discriminatory federal statues and state laws on the mainland. Moreover, even with attempts by agents of cultural and economic imperialism from the U.S. mainland to use baseball as a mechanism of social control, nationalism, and assimilation in the Pacific, Hawaiians added their own nuances as they took up the game. The game, argues Franks, “served an apparently important role of helping to gain assent for colorization from the colonized. But baseball could also serve as a source of agency for the non-white people of . . . the Hawaiian Islands” (p. 33).
Hawaiians played baseball for a variety of reasons; primarily, their affinity for the pastime came from the enjoyment, camaraderie, and self-expression found in the game. Often without conscious articulation of motives, Hawaiians also played the game, notes Franks, for complimentary and divergent reasons, including generational dynamics within families, racial/ethnic pride, evolving multiculturalism, mediating between local and national identities, and patriotism. Baseball teams and leagues reflected the distinctive Hawaiian kaleidoscope that encompassed those from indigenous, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, mainland, and other backgrounds.
Hawaiian baseball, both in the Pacific homeland and the U.S. mainland, also elicited its share of stereotyping and prejudice. Franks notes that commentators frequently attributed quickness, agility, and diminutive build to Hawaiian ballplayers. To attract paying customers, U.S. newspapers and promoters often depicted the Hawaiian Travelers and subsequent Pacific teams barnstorming the U.S. mainland as skilled and crafty showman. Acknowledging that Hawaiians knew the game, print and photographic images, nonetheless, highlighted the colorful and exotic, including the suggestion that the Pacific barnstormers preferred hula skirts to baseball uniforms. Promotion of touring Hawaiian squads bore certain similarities to those associated with barnstorming black teams. In 1948, for example, a visiting Hawaiian team played a series of games with the Harlem Globetrotters’ baseball contingent. Beyond commercial motives, touring Hawaiian team also displayed homeland pride. By the late 1940s, boosting Hawaiian statehood, writes Franks, provided another motivation for international competition.
In addition to his examination of Hawaiian teams, Franks notes Hawaiian participation in the Japanese major leagues and then elaborates on the experience of those of Hawaiian descent who played on non-ethnic college and professional teams in the U.S. mainland. Several Hawaiian baseball pioneers faced discrimination based on fears of the “Yellow Peril” and other racist beliefs in the U.S. mainland. Son of an indigenous Hawaiian mother, Barney Joy pitched for the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League during the early twentieth century; the Sporting News characterized Joy’s Hawaiian background as “a jungle berth and a menu of poi” (p.130). Former New York Mets pitcher and broadcaster Ron Darling remains the most prominent player of Hawaiian ancestry to appear in the major leagues, but no player of Hawaiian background has yet achieved superstar status. In recent years, however, the numbers of Asian Americans in the major leagues has increased, but they remain underrepresented amongst the ranks of coaches, managers, and front office officials. [End Page 343]
Significant strengths mark the volume. The scope...