Sunday, September 11, 2011

89. Fujio Nagasawa: Hats off to the Tokyo Giants


Please excuse the lack of updated for the past 2 weeks, I have been in the process of moving from California to Kentucky and the past weeks have been filled with packing, moving and storing capped off with a severely injured back due to a freak accident when I tried to stop a file cabinet from tipping over while standing one one foot. Live and learn I suppose. Also, if you are interested, on my Facebook page I just posted a card of a certain 1970's Red Sox relief pitcher named Sam "Mayday" Malone and I'm soliciting writers to come up with the story that will accompany it...

This week's card and story is about Fujio Nagasawa and the 1935 Tokyo Giants. You can get the back story on the tour in the story I did about the team's star outfielder Jimmy Horio.

Hailing from the island of Hokkaido in the northern-most part of Japan, first baseman Fujio Nagasawa was the star of his college team from Hakodate Commercial School. After graduating he continued to play ball for the Hakodate Oceania Baseball Club. His talent was such that at the “advanced” age of 30 was recruited to represent Japan against the Major League All-Stars in the winter of 1934.

Led by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the All-Stars wiped the floor with the Japanese team but the Americans came away with the impression that the Japanese players they faced were at a AA level. Nagasawa himself hit .226 in 11 games against major league pitching. With practice against good, professional competition, American sportswriters speculated they would improve quickly. Major Leaguer Lefty O'Doul was on that 1934 team and had previously played on tours that stopped in Japan earlier in the decade. Through his friendships with influential businessmen eager to start a Japanese league, O'Doul suggested sending the Dai-Nippon team to the United States in the spring to play against the American professional teams that held spring training on the west coast. O'Doul was newly named manager of the San Francisco Seals and offered to act as intermediary in arranging other ball clubs to play against the Japanese.

Besides acting as middle-man for the Japanese, the publicity-savvy O'Doul made a few suggestions to the Dai-Nippons - the first of which was to change their name: The Dai-Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Club was just too much of a mouthful for the American public to digest. O'Doul suggested the "Tokyo Giants" and the name has held to this day. Other suggestions by O'Doul was for the Japanese to capitalize on national customs that would be unique to their team when they toured America. Despite the fact that Japanese baseball teams all used English words and numbers on their uniforms, for the tour jerseys would sport the player's number in traditional Japanese kanji characters on their backs and the kanji characters for "Tokyo" would appear on their sleeve. O'Doul instructed them to continue the tradition of tipping their caps and bowing as a group to the crowd before and after a game. Each batter was told to also tip their cap and bow to the umpire before each at bat and even after being thrown out on the base paths runners were to do the same. Another unique aspect of a Tokyo Giants game was their football-like huddle before each inning. Newspaper scribes in America were kept busy debating just what was being discussed during these mysterious huddles. Curious little things like that really made a difference to the American public and the team was awarded with decent-sized crowds and much newspaper publicity.

Among the photographs that accompanied the Tokyo Giants press kit was a much-reproduced photo of Fujio Nagasawa tipping his cap to the home plate umpire. American sportswriters commented favorably on his fielding skills and he batted right around .300 on the 6 month tour. The success of the tour back in Japan led to the formation of the nation’s first professional league and Nagasawa was signed to be the Tokyo Giants first baseman. As the Giants lead off hitter, Nagasawa became the very first batter in the Japanese Baseball League when play began in 1936. Now in his early 30's, Fujio Nagasawa's playing days were coming to an end and the arrival of first baseman Tetsuji Kawakami, soon to be known as "The God of Batting" led to his retirement in 1943. Nagasawa then switched gears and became a successful reporter for the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper, dying at the age of 80 in 1985.

This card and story stems from the large file of research I have been slowly accumulating on the 1935 Tokyo Giants. Often a footnote in other baseball history books, no volume of its own has ever been published in English. In Japan, baseball writer and historian Yoichi Nagata has written the definitive study of this tour - unfortunately it is in Japanese and no translation has been done of this interesting work. Through a speech he gave at a SABR convention a few years ago, Nagata related how his research uncovered Lefty O'Doul's part in helping the Tokyo Giants create a unique persona through the continued use of the "football huddle" and the bowing and tipping of their caps. I am planning to release the drawings I have done of the 1935 team along with the story of their tour in a future edition of "21".

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