Japanese vs. Chinese Baseball in Hawai‘i, 1911

From The Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers: A Multiethnic Baseball Team Tours the Mainland, 1912-1916, by Joel S. Franks (McFarland, 2012), Kindle Loc. 456-490:

The visits of Japanese baseball teams to the American mainland in 1905 and 1911 helped set the stage for the Hawaiian Travelers baseball team’s initial journey in 1912. In 1905, a contingent from Waseda University traveled eastward to the United States. Under the headline of “Japs as Ballplayers,” the Washington Post told readers that Waseda’s trip to America had enhanced baseball’s popularity in Japan as well as “future international contests between the universities of the Pacific Coast and the Orient.” The Japanese nine, moreover, had improved its play during its stay on the mainland. Waseda offered relatively little competition to Stanford, Cal, and St. Mary’s nines. But in Southern California, the Japanese contingent played better.”

Indeed, in Southern California, the Waseda nine managed to take part in the first baseball game played on the American mainland between two teams representing different non-white racial groups. At a Los Angeles ballpark, Waseda encountered a team from Sherman’s Institute, a Riverside County boarding school for Native Americans. Waseda beat the Sherman Institute nine, which included John Tortez, a talented Cahuilla Indian athlete who became better known as “Chief” Meyers, a solid catcher for the New York Giants. Waseda also defeated a Los Angeles High School nine and, more impressively, a team representing the University of Southern California. In all, according to the Seymours, Waseda won seven of 26 games in the U.S.

In 1911, the Waseda nine returned to the American mainland, as did a team from Keio. These Japanese ballplayers from Waseda had a hard time with Stanford but impressed observers. The Daily Palo Alto saw them as both skilled athletes and racialized exotics: “The Japanese proved their reputation for sportsmanlike playing…. They are a nine of small men and they have to work for everything they get. Their native smallness handicaps them in their playing, but what they lose in size is made up in quickness, and in their taking advantage of every opening offered by the opposing nine.”

The next year the “Chinese Traveling Team” left the islands for the U.S. mainland with the blessings of Honolulu’s Chinese community and haole business interests. The team, affiliated with Honolulu’s Chinese Athletic Club, had raised, according to the Hawaiian Star, $6,000 for the trip. Fortuitously, the notion of sending a team of Chinese Hawaiians to the American mainland brought together Honolulu’s Chinese and non-Chinese commercial
interests. The former wanted to divert white mainlanders from their frequently zealous support of anti-Chinese legislation. The latter wanted to entice mainland tourists and investment. The fact that Japanese teams had toured the American mainland in 1905 and again in 1911 with some success and apparently without any major incidents suggested that the logistics of sending a Chinese Hawaiian nine westward were secure and manageable.

Of course, no one wanted to ship off a contingent of incompetents to mainland baseball diamonds. But Honolulu’s small baseball world knew of a number of very good Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers – ballplayers that would be seen as surprisingly skilled curiosities by many mainlanders. Scattered on various Honolulu teams, players such as En Sue Pung, Lai Tin, and infielder Alex Asam were assembled into an All-Chinese nine just in time to greet the Keio University team when it came to the islands in 1911.

Before taking on the Keio nine, the All-Chinese team easily defeated the best team in the Oahu League, the Hawaiis, 8-2. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser bemoaned the inability of the “Celestials” to enter a team in the Oahu League. As it was, fans were surprised that the league champion could fall so readily to the Chinese Hawaiians.

Meanwhile, many Japanese and Chinese Hawaiians were excited about the Keio-All-Chinese game scheduled for July 12, 1911. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser lamented that the game between Keio and the All-Chinese was scheduled for mid-week. Accordingly, Japanese and Chinese Hawaiian working people, as well as other Hawaiian baseball fans, would be prevented from attending. Nevertheless, the game was slated for late in the afternoon and most Honolulu baseball fans, except for Honolulu’s Nikkei population, seemed to back the local team.

A relatively huge crowd arrived for the Keio-All-Chinese match-up. Apparently, feelings ran high. According to the Advertiser, spectators were warned in English, Japanese, and Chinese to refrain from fighting, a warning which was supposedly heeded. The Japanese team won, 6-3. However, a rematch was arranged and the Advertiser speculated on a possible victory this time for the Chinese Hawaiians. “It will be a great feather in the caps of the Chinese team if they can pull a victory from the Japanese players, and the rejoicing in the Chinese community will beat any Fourth of July and Chinese New Year rolled into one that Honolulu has ever seen.” Meanwhile, Chinese Hawaiian baseball fans persisted in attending and rooting against the Keio nine as the Japanese ballplayers opposed Honolulu’s various multi-ethnic teams.

In the rematch, the Chinese Hawaiians proved too much for the visitors. According to the Advertiser, Apau Kau, “the burly, good natured Chinese … pitched the game of his life.” The score was 5-2 to the advantage of the locals when the Keio players left the field to protest an umpire’s decision. The Advertiser surmised as well that violence was simmering between the Japanese and Chinese spectators. However, “the mounted and foot police came in on the lope and stopped the little `tea party’.”

Things had gotten too exciting for all concerned. A rubber match between the All-Chinese and Keio was, indeed, cancelled. Moreover, at least the Advertiser seemed concerned about Asian Pacific athletes assuming a prominent place in Hawaiian baseball. “Aliens” were hurting the sport on the islands, according to the daily, “and the sooner the Europeans and their descendants get busy, and start the best game on earth going like it used to be, years ago, the better for the peace of mind of the Honolulu people.” In truth, the Advertiser appeared most distressed over the behavior of those Nikkei baseball fans determined to boycott all games between Keio and Hawaiian nines because they believed the Japanese ballplayers got a raw deal in the second game against the All-Chinese.

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

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