- Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues by Samuel O. Regalado
The magnificent cultural historian and analyst Raymond Williams once told us that "culture is ordinary." It might seem a pedestrian thing to say to people who consider themselves historians and social scientists, but at a time in which many of us still fervently adore celebrityhood from Lebron James to Princess Kate, Williams' words still cut to the bone. What he meant was that we are all largely shaped by the meaning created by people we know and do not know and we all create meaning for others as well. In other words, we do not have to have to be famed intellectuals, artists, scholars, or media created celebrities to make culture.
As most of us know, the world of sports has long been driven by elitism. To many sports fans, that world would collapse without elite athletes and teams. As historian Larry Gerlach wrote for these pages in 1994, "Much of what passes for baseball history concerns only major league baseball and is presented without qualification as though 'baseball' and 'major league' were synonymous" ("Not Quite Ready for Prime Time: Baseball History, 1983-1993," Journal of Sport History 21 : 129). Around the same time we could read Gerlach's words, Major League Baseball (MLB) was in the midst of a sadly prolonged strike. Pundits predicted the imminent death of baseball if fans could not follow the exploits of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Ken Griffey, Jr . Indeed, whether we like it or not, if MLB disappeared tomorrow, baseball fans would feel a loss, especially those of us in the U.S. The game, however, would go on. Children and adults would still play the game or one of its many variations because they find it fun. Children and adults would still watch the game if only to cheer on loved ones and friends. In other words, the legitimacy [End Page 504] of a sport does not lie in how much coverage ESPN gives it and certainly not on the price it takes to purchase luxury box at Yankee Stadium or AT&T Park.
Samuel Regalado knows this as well as any of us. One demonstration of this is his most recent book, Nikkei Baseball, which provides an elegant historical overview of Japanese-American baseball. Better known for his work on Latino baseball, Regalado is no stranger to Japanese-American baseball and sports, in general, since he has written much on the topic for the Journal of Sport History and other publications. Nikkei is a Japanese term for people of Japanese ancestry living throughout the world. In the U.S., the Nikkei embraced baseball a continent, indeed, an ocean away from Yankee Stadium and Ebbets Field. They embraced baseball because it helped tie their communities together while they lived in a country that had long been skeptical of immigrants and their children, but especially and viciously so when it came to Asians. Japanese-American communities embraced baseball because it might establish a cultural bridge between them and mainstream, white America. Japanese-American communities embraced baseball because it would hopefully divert young, working-class men from criminality and vice. And, finally, Japanese-American communities embraced baseball because it was fun to play and watch.
There have been other fine books on Japanese-American baseball. The work of Ralph Pearce on the San José Asahis comes to mind as does Bill Staples biography of Japanese-American baseball pioneer Kenichi Zenimura. However, these books are geographically focused on California experiences, and while they show sensitivity to historical context, they do not link Japanese-American baseball to a shameful record of anti-Japanese politics and legislation in the U.S as effectively as Regalado does. An historian at California State University, Stanislaus, Regalado examines Japanese-American community baseball not only in California, but the Pacific Northwest and Hawai'i. He also goes over ground he covered in his...