In 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.