Baseball Tour of Japan (1949)
October 7, 2009 – Spring 2010
In 1949 Japan was still occupied by U.S. troops following its defeat in World War II. The demoralized and poverty stricken nation was still recovering from the vast numbers of human lives extinguished by the atom bombs dropped upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki four years earlier. The nation was rebuilding, not just in terms of repairing bombed out buildings and roads, but emotionally, spiritually and politically as well. Tensions between the American and Japanese peoples remained high. Japan was still many years away from becoming the commercial powerhouse and political ally we know today.
The 1949 U.S. Goodwill Baseball Tour of Japan was one of the first peacetime cultural exchanges of the post-war era between the two nations. It was the 1940’s equivalent of the famed “ping-pong” diplomacy practiced by the U.S. and mainland China in the 1970’s. The Tour captured the imagination of the Japanese public with a fervor unmatched by any other pre-war or post-war Baseball Tour of Japan. The publicity surrounding this Tour dwarfed all others – scores of graphic posters, hand colored and printed baseball cards, commemorative jewelry, kimonos, umbrellas, uniforms and tour jackets were produced and presented to each player upon arriving in Yokohama on October 12th. At tour’s end, each player was presented with a personalized fabric covered album containing large, high quality black and white photos of the players’ arrival, receptions, parades, team photos, and game action shots.
Upon the personal request of General Douglas MacArthur, the Tour was organized by Lefty O’Doul, a man beloved by Japanese baseball fans, who had toured Japan with various U.S. All-Star Teams as early as 1931. By 1949, O’Doul was manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. In that era, the P.C.L. was not the Triple A minor league team that we know today, but a league containing many major league caliber players who preferred to play west of the Mississippi for more money than major league teams had offered them. It was only fitting that O’Doul bring the Seals to play the Japanese All-Star teams, for over the course of the eleven game Tour, they drew more than half a million spectators to the games played at Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.
In the span of a month, O’Doul and the Seals had managed to restore some of the nation’s morale, break the post-war tension in Japanese-American relations, and lay a new foundation for friendship between the two countries. Emperor Hirohito was so grateful that he invited the Seals to the Imperial Palace to personally thank them for all they had done. General MacArthur was even more effusive in his praise, fervently claiming of O’Doul’s 1949 Tour, “This is the greatest piece of diplomacy ever.”
– Tim Evans,
Exhibitions & Education Coordinator