The father of Japanese American baseball


Kenichi Zenimura: Japanese American Baseball Pioneer

By Bill Staples Jr. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2011, 282 pp., $40, paperback)

 As a fan of Japanese American baseball history, I have been anticipating the release of what is one of only a handful of books written on the subject so far. The book thoroughly chronicles the baseball-centric life of Kenichi Zenimura, the 5’1” player/manager of the Fresno Athletic Club (FAC).

Born in Hiroshima, Japan in 1900, Zenimura moved to Hawai‘i at the age of 7. Hawai‘i has produced many of the finest Japanese American baseball players of the 20th century — Jimmy Horio, Kenso Nushida, Bozo Wakabayashi, Wally Yonamine … the list goes on. Zenimura played second base and catcher with the great pitcher Kenso Nushida (Stockton Yamatos, Sacramento Solons) at Mills High School, and then caught briefly for the Hawaii Asahi before moving to the mainland in 1920.

Visiting his cousin shortly after his arrival in California, Zenimura suddenly found himself playing for Fresno’s newly formed Japanese American baseball team. Soon, he was helping his team win championships and planning baseball tours of Japan. Dealing with discrimination, adversity and war, Zenimura demonstrated his amazing ability to follow his passion while remaining a responsible husband and father.

The book’s author, Bill Staples Jr., is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) as well as a board member of the Nisei Baseball Research Project (NBRP). In the book’s preface, Bill agrees with NBRP founder and director Kerry Yo Nakagawa that Zenimura is deserving of the title, “The Father of Japanese American Baseball.” Among other reasons, the author cites Zenimura’s contributions to Nikkei baseball as a versatile player, manager, organizer of international tours, and promoter of inter-camp tournaments during the wartime incarceration of persons of Japanese descent.

Staples later addresses the worthiness of the Japanese American leagues and players for admission into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Paraphrasing historian Robert Peterson, he writes, “So long as the Hall of Fame is without a few great stars of Nisei baseball, the notion that it represents the best of baseball is nonsense.”

I have to admit that I’m not “up” on what it takes to gain admission to the Hall of Fame. It does seem rather obvious to me though, that the Japanese American leagues, teams and players that have existed in Hawai‘i, Washington, California, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Nebraska — with a history from 1899 to the present day — has greatly contributed to not only domestic and international baseball, but both domestic and international relations, are deserving of some small amount of space, recognition, and respect in this country’s National Baseball Hall of Fame. Hopefully this book will provide another step in that direction.

With a forward by former Seattle Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu and photos throughout, “Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer” is available in soft-cover and eBook formats.


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