Let's play ball...
Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan. It was introduced in 1872 by an American, Horace Wilson, who was an English professor at the Kaisei School in Tokyo. The first baseball team was called the Shimbashi Athletic Club and was established in 1878. Baseball has been a popular sport ever since. It is called 野球 (やきゅう; yakyū) in Japanese, combining the characters for field and ball. Wikipedia states that according to Japan's National Tourism Organization, "Baseball is so popular in Japan that many fans are surprised to hear that Americans also consider it their ‘national sport.’"
Professional baseball in Japan first started in the 1920s, but it was not until the Greater Japan Tokyo Baseball Club, a team of all-stars established in 1934 by media mogul Matsutarō Shōriki, that the modern professional game found continued success — especially after Shōriki's club matched up against an American All-Star team that included Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Charlie Gehringer. While prior Japanese all-star contingents had disbanded, Shōriki went pro with this group, playing in an independent league.
Babe Ruth left Japan a legend. And, given that Japanese culture places very high importance on its legends, the Babe was forever immortalized within Japan after his trip. In fact, it is said that during World War II, Japanese soldiers would yell, “To hell with Babe Ruth!” during combat to insult their American enemies. In determining ways to end of the war with Japan, the Department of Defense had even considered sending Babe Ruth to Guam in order to deliver radio messages to the people of Japan to try to play to their baseball enthusiasm and convince them to end the war. While Japan’s fledgling professional baseball league had to suspend play in 1944 due to World War II, the occupying forces encouraged the league to resume play after the war was over as a way to boost morale. And, baseball began again in Japan in 1946 and has thrived ever since, clearly becoming one of Japan’s most popular sports.
To this day, Babe Ruth is still a very popular sports figure in Japan and considered to have been an international ambassador for the game of baseball. For example, In 2002, a statue of Babe Ruth (shown right) was built and placed in Yagiyama Zoological Park in Sendai City. While it may seem strange at first, the statue was erected at the exact point where Babe hit his first home run in Japan. That homer came on November 4th 1934 during Game 4 of the tournament at Miyagi Prefecture Yagiyama Baseball Stadium – ground that is now the zoological park. The statue was funded with donations from local citizens.
Surprisingly, despite the popularity of the game, very few gramophone needle tins featured baseball as a theme. Above are four that we are delighted to be able to show you. The CAPTAIN and SPORTS are likely to be circa 1920