An international account of America’s favorite pastime

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TRANSPACIFIC FIELD OF DREAMS: HOW BASEBALL LINKED THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN IN PEACE AND WAR

TRANSPACIFIC FIELD OF DREAMS: HOW BASEBALL LINKED THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN IN PEACE AND WAR
By Sayuri Guthrie-Shimizu (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2012, 344 pp., $39.95, cloth)

How many times have we heard the adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”? “Transpacific Field of Dreams” is one of those books that should not be judged by its cover. What seems like a lazy summer read about the game of baseball between United States and Japan turns out to be anything but a lazy summer read.

The author has written a wide-ranging, extremely detailed, and meticulously researched (secondary sources are in both English and Japanese) account of the “transnationalization” and “globalization” of baseball from America to Asia, Hawai‘i and the Caribbean. The author begins with an ambitious attempt to “… integrate various nationally segmented historiographies and disciplinary subfields …” By combining “vantage points and thematic concerns derived from U.S. and Japanese histories while weaving together U.S. ethnic history (Japanese American history) and Asian (Japanese) history,” the author hopes to “make sports a useful platform of international history.”

Guthrie-Shimizu begins with tracing the diffusion of baseball in Japan during the Meiji period and then moves to how baseball spread to Japan (Korea, Taiwan, etc.), as well as to American imperial colonial adventures (Hawai‘i, the Philippines and Cuba, etc.). However, she tries to cover so much ground that the book descends into details of who, when and where baseball was introduced, and the origins of numerous amateur, semi-pro and professional teams/leagues in numerous territories and counties.

This book will be a delight for baseball aficionados, those aspiring to be one and/or those spellbound with reading encyclopedic-like chronicling of baseball. She tries to cover too much ground by providing so much fact and detail that many parts of the book border on minutia filled with arcane facts, like the invention of a uniquely Japanese rubber baseball, nanshiki, made by a Kobe company; or “The Philadelphia Bobbies 1925-26,” mostly a women’s baseball team that traveled to Japan; or John Fisher, a founding member of the San Francisco Eagles, the first known organized baseball club in California in the 1850s.

This shotgun approach has a number of weaknesses, including a lack of real focus and analysis. The author never clearly addresses her own question of “Why and how did baseball manage to become a transnational pastime in certain parts of the world (but not others)?” And using trendy terms like “transnational” and “globalization,” she adds little in the way of analysis. Moreover, by trying to cover so much ground, there are bound to be editorial oversights (“Marco Paulo [sic] Bridge Incident”) and glaring factual errors, like listing “South Dakota” as one of the 10 concentration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, or placing Manzanar in the “Mojave Desert.”

Having said that, for aficionados or those seeking to become one, this is a singular source for details on debunking myths of the origins of baseball at multiple sites, information on agents, players, the role of expatriates, corporations, amateur, college, semi-pro, pro-teams, leagues and much more.

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