“Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer” by Robert K. Fitts
Baseball, history, Giants, Japan, race
April 1, 2015
5 of 5 stars (outstanding)
Jackie Robinson was not the only baseball player who was a pioneer for his race in the game. In 1964, a nineteen-year-old pitcher named Masanori Murakami, known as “Mashi”, was sent by his Japanese team to the minor leagues’ class A Fresno Giants. Later that season, the parent club, the San Francisco Giants, called up the young left-hander as a relief pitcher. As a result, Murakami became the first Japanese player in the major leagues. His journey to the major leagues and the subsequent squabble between the Japanese and American clubs is chronicled in this wonderful book by Robert K. Fitts.
This book doesn’t read like the typical biography of an athlete. The reader is taken into the life of Murakami in both Japan and the United States. Mashi’s experiences in the Japanese baseball leagues and its training camps and methods are well researched and written in a manner that will inform the reader as well as entertain him or her. There are many stories that illustrate the passion that Murakami had for the game and yet he never wavered in his loyalty to family, even while pitching in the United States.
The dialogue in the book about Mashi’s experience learning the culture and customs in America reads much differently than that in books about the struggles of African-American players in the early days of baseball integration. While there are a few instances of this type of discrimination documented, the focus is how he interacts with people while struggling to learn English. There are many more humorous stories about this than ones that will anger or upset the reader.
One of the best ones told of Mashi’s teammates giving advice to him on what to tell the manager when he came out to the mound to take Mashi out of the game. When manager Herman Franks took the ball, he was greeted by some very colorful language from Mashi. Immediately Franks realized the prank played by Mashi’s teammates and everyone had a good laugh over it.
However, this baseball story doesn’t have a happy ending for Mashi, as a contract dispute between his Japanese team and the Giants will result in an ugly exchange that became a major sticking point for future opportunities in major league baseball for Japanese players. The Japanese baseball officials believed that they simply loaned Mashi to America in order to sharpen his game. Major League Baseball, concerned that the reserve clause would be threatened if they let Mashi return to Japan, claimed that he was under contract with the Giants and therefore was obligated to pitch for them. Like every other conflict he encountered in his baseball career on both continents, Mashi gets anxious to have it resolved but eventually makes the best of his opportunities, no matter where they occur.
If a reader wishes to learn more about Japanese baseball and the differences in the way the game is run between the two countries, this book is a very good source for that. If the reader just wants to read a good story filled with humor and inspiration, this book does that too, thanks to the excellent writing by the author.
I wish to thank Mr. Fitts for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Pace of the book:
The writing style lends itself to be an easy read as it flows very well. Because I was not familiar with many of the Japanese baseball references, it was a little slower for me so I could learn as much as I could about baseball in Japan.
Do I recommend?
Any reader interested in baseball history, whether in the American Major Leagues or in Japan will appreciate this well-written and well-researched book.