Daily Archives: 18 October 2008

Ethnic Baseball in Hawai‘i, 1920s–40s

From: Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, by Robert K. Fitts (U. Nebraska Press, 2008), pp. 48-49:

The Athletics, previously known as the Asahi, were the elite Japanese American team in the Hawaiian Islands. Founded in 1905 as a team for Japanese thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds, the Asahi soon dominated the AJA (Americans of Japanese Ancestry) Oahu Junior League. Finally, in 1920, league organizers decided that the team was too strong and moved the youths into the adult AJA Honolulu Baseball League. Three years later, the Asahi won the championship.

In 1924 the multiethnic Hawaii Baseball League was formed with six teams. Original members included the Portuguese Braves, the All-Chinese, the All-Hawaiians, the All-Filipinos, the Elks (made up of haoles) and the Asahi. With no age restrictions, Asahi recruited the best players from the AJA leagues throughout the islands. The Japanese team fared well, winning championships in 1925, ’26, ’29, ’30, and ’38. Japanese Hawaiians followed the Asahi’s triumphs closely, and Hawaii’s two Japanese-language newspapers, the Hawaii Times and Hawaii Hochi, covered the games and players in detail. The ballpark also became a meeting place for the community as thousands of ethnic Japanese came to Honolulu Stadium for each game.

With the outbreak of World War II, Japanese Hawaiians strove to show their loyalty to the United States. Many, including Asahi owner Dr. Katsumi Kometani, volunteered for the armed forces. With Kometani’s permission, the team downplayed its Japanese affiliation. John A. Burns, the future governor of Hawaii, ran the team in Kometani’s absence, while future Honolulu mayor Neal Blaisdell managed. The two haoles changed the team’s name to the Athletics and added several non-Japanese to the roster. The club did well and captured the 1942 championship. Kometani returned in 1945, reestablished the team’s all-Japanese American roster, and appointed Allen Nagata as manager. The team, however, remained the Athletics until it retook the Asahi name after the 1949 season.

Okinawans, like half-Okinawan Yonamine, were welcome to play on the AJA teams, but Wally and his wife-to-be got a lot of grief from both sides before they wed (in 1952) for not marrying within their respective Okinawan and Japanese communities.

According to this timeline, Wally went by his given name Kaname (要 ‘pivot, linchpin’) until 1943.


Filed under baseball, Hawai'i, Japan, U.S., war