Well before Kurt Suzuki was throwing out runners in the MLB, a connection existed between people of Japanese descent and baseball. In his new book Nikkei Baseball: Japanese American Players from Immigration and Internment to the Major Leagues, Samuel O. Regalado chronicles that connection.
Perhaps the most striking single detail in Samuel O. Regalado’s Nikkei Baseball is this: when thousands of people of Japanese extraction lost their property to confiscation and their liberty to internment during the World War II, some of them formed baseball teams in the camps. Some of the rest of them published newsletters featuring the exploits of those teams.
According to Regalado, embracing baseball had been a way for Japanese immigrants to attempt to connect with people who viewed them with suspicion and hostility. After the suspicion and hostility blossomed into internment, the Japanese kept playing baseball.
In his research, Regalado found that even before the war, Japanese teams playing against neighboring teams in California had to be careful. As he puts it, “contests against mainstream white teams were played with caution.” In this respect, the Japanese players were similar to the barnstorming Negro League teams that had to gauge the temperament of the crowds they drew before deciding whether it was safe to beat the white opposition.
The most powerful portions of Nikkei Baseball recount tales of policies which most people in this country view with regret and shame. Sadly, since racism, paranoia, and the inclination to scapegoat minorities are still evident here and elsewhere, the reminder of those particular sick and shameful days is necessary.