Saturday, June 29, 2013

Reggie Jackson: For My Mom, One Year Later

I wrote this one year ago...

This week's post ain't about Reggie Jackson, per se, or even about baseball for that matter. This post is about my Mom, Pattie. At the young age of 64 and just 3 years since her husband died, Mom is lying in a New Jersey hospital room on "comfort care." That pleasant term is the nice phrase for the "death watch". Mom was diagnosed with cancer a month ago and in that short period suffered a stroke, endured brain surgery to remove 2 bleeding tumors and is now in a coma dying from a third inoperable hemorrhaging tumor. By the time I post this, she may already have passed away. But that's neither here nor there.

My mother was never a huge baseball fan, she much preferred football, and much later, due to my brother's interest, soccer. However back in the late 1970's and early 1980's my Mom was caught up in that whole Reggie Jackson Mania that was sweeping North Jersey where we lived. Most of my friends and neighbors were as well (including my gorgeous 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Keslo, who broke my heart the day she tacked a poster of a shirtless Bucky Dent on the wall next to my desk). But I, brought up as the third generation of a staunch line of bitter Yankee-haters, didn't have that option. No, instead of reveling in the Yankees' seemingly endless string of World Series victories in that gleaming cathedral in the Bronx, I was left with the 5th-rate Mets and that bus station in Queens called Shea Stadium.

From 1977 on, while my Pop and I suffered through sickening seasons of Metropolitan's baseball, my Mom gleefully latched onto the biggest wave of baseball euphoria since Babe Ruth, Reggiemania. While I tortured myself by staying up late huddled under the covers with my blue transistor radio listening to the Mets drop another game to the Padres, Mom tuned the t.v. in to watch the Yankees making chumps of the Red Sox. I spent my money on packs of baseball cards hoping to get another one of the Mets also-rans while chewing that copper-flavored gum that came with the cards. Mom came home from the market with boxes of scrumptious looking Reggie Bars. The fact that they were made with nuts which I was allergic to just made it seem personal, like a kick to the balls.

I'm kind of rambling here, but bear with me. I guess what I'm trying to get at here is that my Mom seemed to take the game for what it was, a game. Me and my Pop, we took every Yankee win as a person affront, irrefutable proof that there was no fairness in the world. To he and I, the whole world was against us, and they were winning. Mom took the whole ride for just what it was, being part of something exciting.

Reggie Jackson seemed to embody late 70's New York City. He was bigger than life, fallible but he came through when you thought he was all but finished. They booed the hell out of him, even in his own house and still he bounced off the ropes and forced you to admire his talent as he rounded the bases on the way to beating the hell out of you. He fought with the press and they loved it. He pouted and complained and sulked. And he won. Jackson made things exciting again. I can't think of any player in my lifetime who made the game as exciting as I imagined Babe Ruth did. If Muhammad Ali played right field and wore God-awful ugly tinted glasses, I imagine he would have been like Reggie Jackson.

I remember when he said something about being "the straw that stirs the drink" on the Yankees. When asked about team captain and universally admired Thurman Munson, Jackson replied maybe he stirred it up too, but only in a bad way. The papers exploded and so did the fans. No one ever dared to disparage Munson, and Reggie became the guy you loved to hate on a team full of guys you loved to hate.

Now more than 30 years later even a casual fan knows of Reggie Jackson while most know Munson as that guy who crashed his plane.

I hated Reggie Jackson. I held him responsible for all the bad things in my life. The kids I fought with in the neighborhood all wore Yankee caps. The girls I thought were pretty all turned their backs on me, the large number 44 and "JACKSON" arched above it the being last thing I saw as they walked quickly away. Reggie played in a building that was as close to the Sistine Chapel as us Americans can build and my team played in a cruelly enlarged version of the locker room at the Y.

My Mom loved Reggie. She squealed with laughter as he propelled his team to yet another pennant. She felt sorry for him when those mooks in the bleachers threw batteries at him as he stood in right field. When he hit all those home runs to win another world series, Mom spent the winter happy with  boundless optimism for the distant spring.

And when Reggie was traded and the Yankees stopped winning, Mom found something else positive in life to root for. It's just the way she was. Well, I'm rooting for you Mom, but like the 1978 Mets, I know it's a lost cause. But I'm still rooting, just the same. It's just the way I am.

Postscript: Like my '78 Mets, Mom didn't make it. She passed away quietly on Sunday morning, July 1st, 2012. Rest easy Mom and tell Pop I said hi.

Post-Postscript: It's been a long year. The death of one's parents is a hard thing to understand or deal with, even at the wizened old age of 43. Sorrow manifests itself in many different ways, some more difficult to rationalize than others. In 6 weeks I'll be marrying the woman I love more than anything else in this world. The happiness I feel and the anticipation for the future I now am about to embark on is beyond description. Still, that sorrow tugs at my collar when I think that both my parents will never meet Andrea, never sit down to dinner with us or be there at our wedding in sunny California. It's a shame, because I know that if there was one thing in the world that would have made them both happy, it's knowing that I found the woman they always hoped I'd find. The love the two of them had for each other was so strong, so complete, and set the bar so high that it took me until I was in my forties to find a woman who I know I can share that kind of love with. It's a damn shame they can't be here to see it, but I'm sure they'll be looking down on us. 

Hey, maybe they can put in a good word or two for my Mets...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

153. Mickey Stubblefield: Integrating The KITTY League

Though it's hard for me to focus on one subject for too long, I've been slowly accumulating a roster of ballplayers for my next edition of "21". Unlike the last book, this one will focus on baseball in Kentucky. Why Kentucky you might ask? Though I was born and bred in North Jersey and over the course of my career have lived in many places, Kentucky is my adapted home. Moving to this area back in 1995, I instantly fell in love with the people and coziness of the place. So many places around the country have bled together and lost their uniqueness. It was that regional distinctiveness that made the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area something special to me. I like how people still go nuts over fireworks, fight over whether Graeters or Aglamesis Brothers make better ice cream and that crazy Opening Day Parade. Still, my Gypsy blood (honestly, I actually do descend from Carpathian Roma) made me wander away not once, but twice over the years. In an odd twist of fate, I'm probably the only human being who was not born in this area that voluntarily moved here three separate times! There was good reason: The best friends I've ever had were made right here and, right after moving back here for the third time, I met the woman who in 6 short weeks will be my wife. Kentucky has been good to me and this little book will be my way of saying thanks. Over the years I've featured a few Kentucky ballplayers such as Pee Wee Reese and Happy Chandler, but looking deeper there are many more interesting characters who played ball here in the Blue Grass State and I'm excited to shine a light on these neat ballplayers.

Though Jackie Robinson is the man everyone thinks of when it comes to integration of the National Pastime, Robinson broke the color barrier in only two leagues. At the time he took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, there were 52 minor leagues operating in North America, and though Robinson had integrated the International League in 1946, it was up to 51 other brave and talented black men to integrate the remaining circuits. On June 26, 1952, Mayfield, Kentucky's own Mickey Stubblefield became one of those men.

Outside the Mayfield Clothiers' locker room, 1,500 people packed Graves County War Memorial Park. Although Maysfield was mired in last place, the game was completely sold out and the crowd had overflowed into the football stadium bleachers beyond the park's right field wall. Something was happening that day and that something was integration. Maysfield native Mickey Stubblefield was about to become the first black ballplayer in the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League, commonly called the "Kitty League". Buttoning up his home white jersey with "Clothiers" across the front, the team's new pitcher listened with apprehension to the rumble of the crowd. It wasn't the size that bothered him, heck, with the Kansas City Monarchs he'd played to Major League sized crowds. No, it wasn't the size of the crowd, it was the uncertainty of it. The Kitty League had always been a whites-only circuit. Even the Negro Leagues, which had teams in all parts of the country including the deep south, had failed to take hold in any of the towns the Kitty League represented. This was Jim Crow territory and by stepping out onto that field, Mickey Stubblefield was about to deal him a mighty blow.

Mickey was born not too far from the ballpark he was now scheduled to pitch in. The fifth of six kids, his real name was Wilker, after his mother's family. "Mickey" was a nickname given to him as a boy, derived not from the star catcher of the Athletics and Tigers, Mickey Cochrane, but from the oversize used shoes he had to wear: they reminded everyone of Mickey Mouse. Before he was a teen he was orphaned and was shuttled around from one relative to another. One of the only constant things in his life was baseball. At 11 he became the batboy to the Mayfield Clothiers, the Kitty League team he would one day pitch for.

When the war came, Mickey joined the Navy and served at various bases stateside. When he was cut loose from the service in 1946, Mickey didn't have a vocation to return to. When a Navy buddy wrote to him about a spot on a barnstorming baseball team out of Nebraska, and even offered to send money for a ticket, he jumped at the chance.

The Omaha Rockets were an all-black traveling team that covered the dusty plains playing in the small towns professional baseball never reached. Black barnstorming teams were an annual treat for isolated baseball fans and the Omaha Rockets were one of the last of their kind. Soon the advent of television and the recent lifting of baseball's color barrier would spell the end of this rural tradition. 

For the organized Negro Leagues too, baseball's integration marked the beginning of the end. As all the best players were relentlessly signed away, fresh blood was needed to keep the proud black institution operating. The venerable Kansas City Monarchs, winners of over ten Negro American League pennants, were no exception and Mickey Stubblefield soon found himself wearing the uniform of black baseball's premier franchise.

Joining the team for spring training, Mickey had to grow up fast. The Monarchs boasted one of the best pitching staffs in blackball. The rotation was of All-Star calibre: Hilton Smith, Lefty LaMarque, Connie Johnson and of course, the legendary Satchel Paige. Later Mickey would tell how Paige took him under his wing and taught him how to throw his special curve ball. At 5'-9" Mickey was dwarfed by the 6'-3" Paige, thus earning him the nickname "Little Satch". Due to his small stature he wasn't a fireballer like Paige and LaMarque. Mickey had to rely on an arsenal of junk balls and various curves which he threw from various angles to make them break differently.

It was a tough squad to crack. The Monarch's star pitchers were reserved for league games that counted and rookies like Mickey were used to face the semi-pro and town teams the Monarchs took on to turn a profit. The traveling was hard and the team sometimes played two games a day in different towns. When they slept in hotels it was usually a seedy rooming house and meals were either eaten on the bus in transit or at a rare black-friendly roadside diner. It was a tough life and many players succumbed to the temptations of the road. Mickey was more disciplined than many his age and he avoided drinking much and never took up smoking. He even got married and began a family.

After spending the summer pitching to farmers and factory workers, integration finally gave Mickey a chance at the starting rotation. In July Satchel was signed by the Cleveland Indians and others left the Monarchs for the white minor leagues, giving Mickey the chance to pitch against Negro American League opponents. While no statistics exist from the many games he tossed against the semi-pros that summer, it is documented that he won the two league games he appeared in, both complete games, giving up a total of 10 hits and 3 runs. It wasn't a bad record considering it was his first season of pro ball and it earned him a call back for the 1949 season.

With Jackie Robinson firmly established as a superstar and many other blacks now playing in the majors, black newspapers stopped covering Negro League ball as close as they had previously. No record exists from the 1949 season to document Mickey's sophomore year in the Negro Leagues. Though the reasons are not known, he left the Monarchs late in the season and hooked up with the McCook Cats of the Nebraska Independent League. The Cats were an integrated top-notch semi-pro team and Mickey returned the following season where he went 13-6. 

By now Mickey was 24 and a married family man. Thinking about his future, he gave up pro ball and returned to Mayfield, Kentucky. To keep his love of the game alive he played semi-pro ball for the Dr. Pepper bottling plant he worked at. For a veteran of the Negro Leagues, playing industrial league ball was a piece of cake and his advanced level of play soon attracted the attention of the team he was once batboy for.

The Mayfield Clothiers was one of the lower rungs of the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. The Pirates had barely limped through the war years but now boasted Branch Rickey, mastermind behind the Cardinals and Dodgers dynasties, at their helm. With him in Pittsburgh was his son, Branch Rickey, Jr. and he is the man credited for signing Mickey to a Pirates minor league contact.

Mayfield was stranded in last place and in dire need of pitching. Whether Mickey's signing was the acquisition of a promising prospect or a shrewd way to pack the stands with black fans or a combination of both, is not known. What is documented is that until June 26, 1952, the Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League was an all-white affair.

Which brings us back to Mickey and the sold out Graves County War Memorial Park. 

Grabbing his glove, Mickey emerged from the dugout and ran onto the field to start the game against the Paducah Indians. All apprehention subsided when he quickly realised the crowd was cheering for, not against him. Standing atop the mound, he could see that 1,500 black and white fans were on their feet giving him a standing ovation. When he struck out the first batter, Mickey also struck out Jim Crow. 

He won the game 5-4, giving up 6 hits and striking out six Indians. While it would be great to write that the addition of Mickey was the spark that ignited the Mayfield Clothiers to make a pennant run, it was not to be. The Clothiers still had a terrible team despite Mickey's decent pitching and finished dead last. A check of the 1952 Kitty League record book shows that Mickey Stubblefield won 7 and lost 6. His 3.71 ERA was pretty good considering that even the lousiest team in the league scored an average of 5 runs a game that summer. Hampering his usefulness was that only one other Kitty League team would allow him to pitch in their ballparks. Most of the cities that the league operated in still imposed segregation laws prohibiting the races from mixing in publicly owned stadiums. Paducah was the only team that allowed Mickey to pitch. Jackson, Tennessee was willing to have him appear in their park, but the game he was scheduled to pitch was rained out. Although he was probably the second best pitcher Mayfield had, a pitcher who was only available for home games stood in the way of him making his true value to the team apparent. 

Mixing of the races also played into 1952 being Mickey's only year in the Kitty League. The league agreed that beginning in 1953 no other black ballplayer would be signed because of the difficulty finding facilities that would accommodate them. While on one hand, finding separate hotels and restaurants that would serve blacks proved a problem, it was a technical way of saying that with the exception of Mayfield and Jackson, no other city was willing to change their Jim Crow laws just yet. 

But Mickey Stubblefield's year as a racial pioneer had deeper repercussions in the civil rights movement. His appearance in the previous all-white league joined with all the other individual strives made against segregation. Right there in Mayfield, the tide of integration once again swept into the little town in 1956. Ten black students enrolled in the all-white Mayfield High instead of the all-black Dunbar High, Mickey's Alma mater. It was a brave move and one that ended peacefully as the ten teens attended class without anything more serious happening than a meager walk-out demonstration. Within 2 years, segregated Dunbar High was a thing of the past.

As for Mickey, after the 1952 season he moved on to the Duluth Dukes of the Northern League. He was 2-0 when his arm went bad. Again, trying to mix a career with baseball, Mickey rejoined the McCook Cats and worked in a Chevy dealership. He liked Nebraska and made it his home, raising 10 kids. His days as a star ballplayer with the Cats made him a popular figure after he retired from the game. He even had his own radio show on WKTM called "Kick with Mick" and was the Grand Marshall of the 2011 Heritage Days Festival. With his kids grown, Mickey moved back to Mayfield in 1970. When he passed away in 2013, Mickey Stubblefield could look back with pride at the modest but important part he played in making baseball truly the National Pastime.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Making of an Artist (and a painting)

While cleaning out my Mom's house after she passed away last summer, I came across a painting I did way, way back in 1985. It was hidden behind a bookcase that was placed in front of it sometime after I left home to go to college. Looking at it again after all these years, I had pause to remember why I became an artist in the first place. So many years have passed since the days I spent locked in my room experimenting with paints and chalks, discovering perspective and learning how to make something look real. We didn't have money growing up, and through necessity I drove myself to master drawing and painting in order to have the nice things I wanted to put on my walls, but could not afford. Later when other kids found I could draw, they would "hire" me to turn out posters and paintings for them as well. Painted jean jackets were popular back then and I made a nice nest egg for college painting Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath on the back of those worn-in jackets. Diner parking lots frequented by burn-outs became my very own art show every time a greasy-haired punk turned around.

This painting of Satchel Paige was done at a special time for me because I was in the process of discovering the Negro Leagues for myself. There weren't very many books back then, no Internet and newspapers were on microfilm or in big bound books in forgotten sections of the library. I guess that was what was so much fun - the discovery part. At 14, 15 or 16 years old, I felt like a dumpy version of Indiana Jones, compiling rosters for the Newark Eagles or reading a contemporary account of a Josh Gibson home run. I felt like I was finding something important that needed to be uncovered again. Box scores and Xerox copies of newspaper articles were nice, but I wanted my own visuals to represent what I loved studying. Not able to find any good pictures of the blackball greats I was learning about, I took a fresh canvas and created my own. I can remember doing this very painting - my easel was set up in a corner of my bedroom and I was playing The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy LP on my old record player. I was experimenting with a technique called "dry brush" which is just what it sounds like - you put a very small amount of paint on your brush and gently move across the canvas, increasing the pressure to make dark sections and ease back to make it lighter. Up close, the painting becomes a mass of abstract brush strokes, but when you pull back and take it all it, it comes together an almost photo-realistic photograph. I wanted to give the painting a grainy, newspaper feeling to it, and I was pretty happy with how it turned out. So happy, it hung on the wall all through my high school days and continued to hang there long after my old room was turned into the storage space that all kid's rooms eventually become after they leave home.

Necessity is an odd way of finding a talent, but that's really how I became an artist. The same could be said for this blog as well. Being a designer and illustrator I decided to create my own baseball cards - featuring all the players I wanted to see and written the way I wanted to read about them. In short, to make the set I always wanted when I was a kid. And there you have it: The Infinite Baseball Card Set. It was kind of neat to look at this painting and think that I'm still doing the same thing I did all those years ago - make my own when I could not find or afford what I wanted.

So anyway, I no longer need the painting. Just seeing it again after 25 years was good enough and I have other things on my walls now. I rarely keep any of my old art. I'm always afraid that I'll dwell in the past if I surround myself with older work and usually toss whatever I complete into one of the 4 steamer trunks that are packed with decades of old work. Problem is, a painting won't fit in one of those and I thought I would give someone else the chance to enjoy ol' Satch. I'm putting him up on ebay here. I figure is he sells I'll buy some new paints, brushes and canvas and start painting again. I hope he goes to a good home and whoever gets it knows that for this little-known artist and amateur baseball historian, it was a very important piece of work!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

152. Jimmy Horio: The Japanese Ty Cobb

While learning about the Negro Leagues years ago, I became interested in the various teams they competed against when not playing against other black teams. Back before the Second World War there was a whole parallel universe of baseball operating just out of bounds of the recognized leagues affiliated with major league baseball. Researchers Scott Simkus and Gary Ashwill seem to have coined the perfect phrase for these teams and the games they played: "Outsider Baseball". From flickering microfilm and disintegrating yellowing newspapers I learned about the bearded House Of David religious colony from Michigan which sent out as many as 3 different traveling teams a season to play all over the country. I heard about the Nebraska Indians, made up of, you guessed it, Native Americans. I read about barnstorming teams made up of major league stars angling to make a buck. All-Girl teams. Teams of washed up players sponsored by a shoe company. Prison teams. The F.B.I. had a team which J. Edgar Hoover never failed to come out and support. And I also came across the Japanese All-Stars which toured North America in 1935.

Among the Japanese players was a lone American, Jimmy Horio. I was fascinated by what little I could find out about him and when I started this site Horio was among the first players I featured. It was a much too short overview of a career which spanned two continents and 2 decades and heavily influenced the way the game was played in Japan. Over the years I have received many emails asking about him and the original story is consistently one of the most-read pages on my site. Information about Jimmy is hard to find in English, but over the years I have been digging up every article I could find about the 1935 Tokyo Giants and their players. Rob Fitt's beautifully written book "Banzai Babe Ruth", about the 1934 Tour of Japan, features Horio as a minor character and offers some good insight into his time with the Dai Nippon team. I also managed to have some key articles translated from the Japanese by a colleague of my fiancĂ© which helped me gain much insight on how Horio was treated in the Japanese Baseball League. Now I believe I can say this is the most comprehensive article about one of the most interesting and little-known players in "Outsider Baseball" history.

At the same time immigrants from Europe began flooding into the Eastern United States, on the other side of the world there began a similar exodus as thousands of Japanese emigrated to Hawaii and California. At the turn of the 19th century, the Horio family from Hiroshima were one of the many hopefuls to sign a contract to become indentured servants to one of the vast Hawaiian sugar plantations in exchange for free steamship tickets and the chance at a better future.

If at first it seemed too good to be true, the Horio's found out they were right. Passage to Hawaii was spent in the rancid steerage section of the ship packed in with hundreds of other immigrants. When the horrific crossing was over the new immigrants found that life on a Hawaiian plantation was anything but easy. Guards armed with whips made sure the back-breaking field work was done swiftly while the whole Horio family and others like them labored from dawn to dusk under the brutal tropical sun. The Horio's eventually had 8 children of which Jimmy was the seventh and the fifth one born in Hawaii. By the time he was six the family decided to head back to Japan.

Upon returning to Hiroshima, Jimmy Horio entered school and played baseball. However, times were still tough in Japan so Mr. Horio packed up the whole family again and sailed back to Maui in 1919. Continuing his ball playing, Jimmy grew up to be quite tall for the time, 5'-11" and this helped propel him to become a star athlete in his high school, playing basketball and track in addition to baseball. Outside of school Horio made local headlines with his advanced play in the semi-pro Maui plantation league. 

Once again Horio's father decided to head back to Hiroshima, but this time Jimmy stayed behind. He was an American and he never was able to speak Japanese without a halting, heavy accent. He dropped out of high school and dedicated himself to fulfilling his dream - becoming the first Japanese-American to play in the major leagues. Since Hawaii didn't have anything more advanced than sandlot and factory league teams, and the chance of being spotted by a major league scout was slim-to-none, Jimmy decided to try his luck in Southern California.

Los Angeles had a thriving Japanese community and like every other ethnic enclave in the country, the Japanese had their own baseball teams. Horio got a job as a truck driver and played a season with a lower-tier team sponsored by the Grand Central Market. When the Grand Centrals met the L.A. Nippons, California's best Japanese team, for the 1930 Southern California Japanese League title, the Nippons invited Horio to join them. One of his new teammates was Yoshio Takahashi, a fellow Hawaiian and in a few years the two would be among the pioneers of the pre-war Japanese Baseball League. The Nippons visited Japan in 1931, a tour that helped spread the popularity of the game in that country. Since Jimmy was bigger than a typical Japanese male at the time, he particularly impressed local fans with his hitting and outfield play. He had become a switch hitter by now, also a rarity in Japan as almost every player hit right-handed. Since he spoke Japanese, something many of the second-generation players on the L.A. Nippons did not, Horio cultivated friendships with many of the opposing players, a connection he would put to use later on in his career.

When the Nippons returned to Los Angeles and no professional scout came to offer a contract, Horio went looking for them. In the spring of 1934 he earned himself a place on the Sioux Falls Canaries of the Nebraska State League. The Canaries were an unaffiliated Class D club and none of his teammates would make it to the bigs, but at least he had his foot in the door.  His spirited play earned him the nickname "The Yellow Peril" and though his average was only a meager .250, he ran the base paths with abandon and his play in the outfield was stellar. In August a news wire service picked up on Horio and ran a syndicated story under the headline "Nippon Slugger Really Hits' Em" along with his picture. Another story lauded him as one of the attractions of the league and claimed that he "takes to professional baseball like a hobo to a hand out." Kind of a clumsy analogy but at least the establishment was taking notice of the Hawaiian. A Cardinals scout came to Sioux Falls to take a better look at Horio, but by the end of the 1934 season nothing ever came of it and he returned to Los Angeles.

Although he told reporters in Nebraska he was 21, Jimmy was now 27, married, and facing a rapidly closing window of opportunity to get to the majors. It was while contemplating his future in the fall of 1934 that he read about the major league tour of Japan that winter and the Japanese national team that was being formed to oppose them. With stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx, there was bound to be lots of opportunity to show what he could do - if only he could get a place on the Japanese team. Horio reasoned that the Japanese would surely value his American expertise and they'd have to let him join the team - they just didn't know that yet. Like his Father before him, Jimmy packed up his wife, boarded a ship and sailed off into an unknown future.

When Horio reached Japan he wrote to the new Japanese team's manager, Daisuke Miyake, and got himself a tryout. Showing the fast, aggressive way of play he learned as an American he easily earned himself a place on the Dai Nippon (meaning "All-Japan") club. He was disappointed to learn there was no salary paid to any of the ballplayers but he must have figured the chance to showcase his talents against the best big league players in the world was worth the risk. Miyake also told Horio that after the exhibition games against the Americans there would be a new professional Japanese league and when it began the Yomiuri Shinbum newspaper, who was sponsoring the Dai Nippon team, would pay him retroactively.

Before the Americans arrived Horio helped train the Japanese players. The press, both American and Japanese, had covered the lead-up to the tour with considerable enthusiasm and Horio knew that the opportunity to play against a team like the American All-Stars was a once in a lifetime chance. At first he performed well. His daring base running made him stand out from the other Japanese players and he fielded impressively as well. However as the tour wore on Horio was hampered by sickness and became more and more ineffective. His fielding suffered and his hitting, which was never his strong suit, fell off drastically. After 15 games he batted a disappointing .195. His one highlight was a dramatic 3-run homer hit off Washington Senators ace Earl Whitehill. Horio told a Japanese newspaper that while he was disappointed with his performance, a few of the big leaguers were kind to him and offered constructive advice to improve. But when the Americans sailed away in the beginning of December, the elusive contract he was hoping for from a big league team failed to materialize. Still without a paying job, Horio signed on with the Dai Nippon team for their tour of North America which was departing in February. At least he would get free passage back to America.

The team was called "The Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Kurabu" (Great Japan Tokyo Baseball Club), but by the time they played their first game in America they'd been renamed the "Tokyo Giants" by Lefty O'Doul, who helped arrange the team's schedule. 

The Giants' toured extensively, playing all-levels of ball clubs from small town factory teams to AAA level minor league teams. Gauging their success and talent is not an easy thing to do as they did extremely well against amateur teams and decent against minor league opposition, however the games against minor league teams were during spring training and many of the teams did not field their best players. None-the-less, the tour was very successful and huge crowds packed the ballpark when the Japanese came to town. American audiences were fascinated by their cultural differences such as tipping their caps and bowing deeply to the umpire when coming to bat or being thrown out steeling. Particularly noted during the tour was Jimmy Horio's excellent fielding and newspaper accounts are filled with mentions of the Japanese-American's exploits in the center field. He was also promoted as their power hitter and in the Giants' batting lineup he was often featured in the cleanup slot. His fluency in Japanese and English made it much easier for the tour to navigate it's way through the back roads of North America. It is reported that the Tokyo Giants' record for the 1935 tour stood at 74 wins and 34 losses. More importantly to Jimmy Horio was that the acclaim he received on the tour led to that elusive professional contract.

After the Japanese players went home in July, Horio happily stayed in the United States as he'd signed a contract with the Sacramento Senators of the Pacific Coast League. The opportunity to play in the PCL might have been initiated by a helpful recommendation from "Lefty" O'Doul who was now playing-manager of the San Francisco Seals. Again, news wire services picked up Horio's story and made him a minor news item across the country as he began playing in the highest rung of minor league baseball. The Senators had a working agreement with the Brooklyn Dodgers and more than half of his teammates would go on to play in the majors. With Brooklyn's lousy record leaving them perpetually mired in the second-division along with bleak prospects, it was not far-fetched to assume Jimmy Horio might actually become the first Asian-American in the major leagues. He got into 10 games and was batting .260 when tragedy struck.

Horio's wife Yoshiko had been in a car accident earlier that spring from which she seemingly recovered. However in late July while Jimmy was playing for Sacramento she was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital. With Jimmy at her side she passed away on August 2nd. Two weeks later Horio returned to the Senators, but understandably distracted, he wasn't very effective.

Throughout the Pacific Coast League local Japanese fans turned out to stage "Jimmy Horio Days" when Sacramento came to town. On August 25th San Francisco held their tribute to the only Japanese-American in professional ball. Japanese Boy Scouts marched on the field and women who dressed in traditional kimonos were admitted free. When Sacramento traveled to Los Angeles to play the Angels on September 1st, the local Japanese community delegation presented Horio with a bouquet of flowers when he came to bat in the first inning. With 9 out of 10 fans in the stands of Japanese decent that day, Jimmy reciprocated by smashing a single and scoring two runs as the Senators beat the Angels.

The "Jimmy Horio Day" in L.A. was the high watermark of his season. In the 10 games he played in after returning from his wife's death in he went 5 for 21 and his average stood at the .250 mark when the season ended.

Now a 30 year-old widower with a mediocre season of minor league ball behind him, Horio was at a cross-road. He was seething about not being paid his retro-active money by the Yomiuri Shimbun when a Japanese League failed to emerge in 1935 and he desperately cast around for a new team to play for. Finally, the Seattle Indians invited him to their spring training camp in Santa Monica. Among the exhibition games Seattle had lined up was one against the 1936 edition of the Tokyo Giants. The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper decided to once again send a team to North America, but this time it wasn't a mere exhibition tour - this was spring training for the inaugural Nippon Professional Baseball League season.

Still sore about his money, Horio begged Seattle manager Dutch Reuther to play him against his former team. Boiling over with anger, the Giants former center fielder hit a two-run single that led the way to a 9-0 route of the Japanese. Despite his timely hitting against his old team the Indians declined to give him a contract when they broke camp and started the season.

Apparently Jimmy patched things up with the Giants, because a month after the game in Santa Monica, Horio was back with the team and was given much ink in a feature article in the Spokane Daily Chronicle. After the Giants' spring training Jimmy returned to Japan and officially joined the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Although the Giants declined to sign him, Horio joined the Hankyu Ball Club which was managed by Daisuke Miyake, the man who led the Dia Nippon and Tokyo Giants. Again, although his averages were low, .233 for the first half of the split season and .217 for the second, his influence on the game in Japan well out-weighed his offensive output. The press dubbed him "The Ty Cobb of Japan." 

Though recognized at the time as being a great influence in how the Japanese played the game, like most innovators, he was far from popular. Due to his rudimentary Japanese, Horio had trouble fitting in with his teammates who almost to a man had attended the best universities in Japan. Horio had dropped out of high school and had lived a far from ideal life as had most of his teammates. On the field he was stoic and unemotional. His face was described as fearless with a perpetually stubbly chin.  Horio's great height, combined with strength said to be superhuman, made him the most imposing player in the islands. Unlike the other players in the league, Horio swung-away like American sluggers, highly unorthodox and offensive to the "hit and run" John McGraw-like way the Japanese played the game. While his average may not have showed it, Horio was famous (or infamous) for the furious speed of his line-drives which no other player on the island could match. While most players owned only a single bat, Horio travelled with several dozen which the conservative Japanese must have viewed as frivolous. 

Horio steadily increased his batting average, batting over or close to .300 for the 1937-41 seasons. He further made himself unpopular among Japanese fans when he switched from Hankyu to the Hanshin Tigers, Hankyu's hated rival. He starred for the Tigers until 1941 when he and Tadashi Kameda, another American player in Japan, left the island due to the deteriorating political situation between the two countries.

Jimmy continued to play semi-pro ball in Hawaii during the war, playing until he was 39 years-old. Back in Hiroshima his father passed away in 1943 and he lost a brother when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city in August of 1945. Jimmy Horio died from bone cancer in 1949 and although he never reached his goal of becoming the first Japanese-American in the majors, his influence on the game in Japan is still felt, forever known as "The Ty Cobb of Japan".