Q & A with “Mashi” Author Rob Fitts

71hJJD1zE6LIn 1964, 20-year-old Masanori Murakami became the first player from Japan to play in the Major Leagues. Japanese baseball expert/author Robert Fitts documents Murakami’s journey from the Nankai Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League to the San Francisco Giants in “Mashi.

Fitts was the winner of the Society of American Baseball Research’s 2013 Seymour Medal for the best baseball book with Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan. Prior to that he had penned Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Baseball.

Fitts was kind enough to take some time after a recently-concluded book tour with Murakami to answer some questions from the VORG ….

A few general questions before we get into the book …

VORG: Its quite a leap of faith to go from a career in archaeology/anthropology to writing about baseball history. Can you describe what pushed you towards giving up one career for the other?

RF: That’s a really long story. The gist of it is: in the late 1990s I created a website for selling off of Japanese baseball card doubles. The site did well enough that I left my job as a consulting archaeologist to focus on the website. I began writing about Japanese baseball history to promote the card sales but soon realized that I enjoyed the research and writing far more than selling cards. After meeting Wally Yonamine in 2003 and hearing his stories about playing in Japan, I decided to write Remembering Japanese Baseball. That got me hooked and I’ve been writing full-time ever since.

VORG: Your bio mentions that you lived in Tokyo from 1993-1994. What were you doing over there at that time?

RF: My wife was a Japanese major in college and could speak fluent Japanese. Her law firm sent her over for 2 years and I went along.

VORG: There are all types of baseball fans, and SABR helps niches within the fandom grow. What drew you to study and write about baseball in Japan specifically?

RF: During my time in Japan, I fell in love with the Japanese game. I enjoyed that atmosphere of the games.

VORG: I would suspect that doing research about Japanese baseball history is a magnitude more difficult than most other baseball interests, given the written and oral language barriers. What sort of resources (online, library, societies) have provided you with the broadest help in navigating the language differences?

RF: I’ve built an extensive library on the topic so that I can do most of my research at home. I also have a wonderful research assistant named Keiko Nishi who translates for me as well as interprets when needed.

VORG: How good is your Japanese these days?

RF: It’s pretty poor. I can accomplish basic tasks like ordering food, asking directions etc. Sometimes I can follow a conversation. I can read names, box scores and stats but not much beyond that.

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Q & A with “Benchwarmer” Author Josh Wilker

51ffH8N4iMLJosh Wilker, the author of “Cardboard Gods,” one of the best-ever baseball books not necessarily about baseball, is back with another memoir.  This time, it chronicles his first year as a new father, and the insecurities (and joys) therein.  “Benchwarmer” presents his son Jack’s first year, while also detailing, in almanac form, the annals of all-time benchwarmers/sad sacks. Its not the easiest subject matter to traverse, as Wilker lays his first-time fatherhood neuroses and raw emotions out for all to read. There are of course, moments of joy as his son grows, but there are also many moments of wrenching angst. Its not a book you’ll finish in a day or so, but you WILL want to finish it. It will be worth it, especially if you are a parent and especially if you are new to parenthood.

Wilker was delighted to answer some questions I had about the book, including his affinity for athletes as diverse as Calvin Schiraldi, Mackey Sasser and Walter “Sneeze” Achiu:

VORG: How did you come up with the “almanac” format for the book? Was there a particular inspiration?

JW: The core idea for the book came in a bit of a rush, but I later saw from looking through my notebooks that I’d been dancing around a book like it for quite a while in different ways. The book really started taking shape when I came up with a working title, “Failure Face,” based on a concept coined in a Peanuts strip by the Shakespeare of the artistic depiction of losing, Charles M. Schulz. Years ago my brother and I built a whole mythology around the notion of the Failure Face as it appeared in sports, most notably with Calvin Schiraldi in the ’86 World Series, and when my wife was struggling through her labor this face was exactly what I saw in the mirror. Just a guy totally overmatched by the moment. I hadn’t been able to write about that labor or about anything I’d been struggling through as a new parent, but I figured I could at least write about Calvin Schiraldi, and from there I figured I could grope my way through the experience one Calvin Schiraldi at a time, so to speak. The encyclopedia format appealed to me not only because I’d loved sports encyclopedias as a kid but also as a potentially dynamic juxtaposition, in its orderliness, to the total disorder of my new life. Also, when you’re a new parent you are suddenly completely bullied by the alphabet every two seconds. It seems to emit from every object and surface all the time in an insanely cheery sing-song. I don’t know if the book was a product of a mental breakdown in the face of this onslaught or an attempt to head off such a breakdown. Maybe a little of both. I did really enjoy playing around with the encyclopedia format. One of the last fun developments stemming from the form came during the proofreading process, when one of my brethren in that heroic calling found that I’d put one of the entries just slightly out of correct alphabetic sequence. At first I was mortified and wanted to fix it, which we still had time to do, but then it struck me as a perfect comment on the whole doomed attempt at bringing order to the world.

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“Hidden Game” Q & A with John Thorn

Back in the mid-80s, if you wanted to think “outside the box” about how to evaluate players and teams, you had few choices.  Of course there was Bill James, whose annual Abstracts were a must-read.  But there were few books that made it into the homes of baseball stat nerds and deep thinkers. Then came … Read more

Q & A with Jesse Goldberg-Strassler

Baseball-Thesaurus-2e-cover_v2-fIf you know me, you know a love words/phrases.  I love their spellings, their etymologies, their pronunciations.  Well baseball is certainly full of great terms and phrases.  If you are a fan of “The Dickson Baseball Dictionary,” then you should also have in your library a copy of “The Baseball Thesaurus” by Jesse Goldberg-Strassler.

You may know Goldberg-Strassler as the voice of the Lansing Lugnuts baseball team, but he’s also a lover of phrases, and the Thesaurus is now in its second edition. I spoke with him about the book, his influences growing up, and his love of baseball and words.

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Book Review: Baseball Prospectus’ “The Call-Up 2012″

In this age of 24/7 sportsradio, Internet, Twitter, Facebook and texting, good solid writing on time-sensitive topics tends to be at a premium.  When the Baseball Prospectus annual book becomes available in late-February, its already at least six weeks behind the latest transactions.  The forward-looking aspect in some team essays suddenly becomes obsolete. Furthermore, the … Read more

“The Hall of Nearly Great”

There are plenty of books detailing the careers and stories behind Hall of Famers.  There aren’t many tomes discussing those players who aren’t quite Hall-worthy, but ARE worthy of a good, long appreciation.  A new eBook, “The Hall of Nearly Great” serves to fill that void. As their website states: It’s for the players we … Read more

Book Review/Author Interview: “Root for the Home Team”

  As you undoubtedly know, I love quirky names.  But my love of them isn’t just limited to players . . . I love team names too.  Names that are evocative of the team’s hometown, or just make you scratch your head.   Well, current voice of the Triple-A Tucson Padres Tim Hagerty loves team … Read more