Meet the man who changed American baseball for the Japanese forever.

On September 1, 1964, Masanori "Mashi" Murakami came in as a relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants against the Mets in New York.

Though the Giants ended up losing 4-1, he allowed no runs in his debut, and to boot, he became the first ever Japanese man to play in Major League Baseball.


Murakami in his Giants uniform. Photo by National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, Cooperstown, New York. Used with permission.

Murakami had been a baseball prodigy in Japan, playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball league while he was still in high school.

He made his Japanese pro debut in 1962 for the Osaka-based Nankai Hawks, when he was only 19 years old. According to the History Channel, Murakami threw his pitches with a sidearm delivery, a deceptive style that was then common in Japan but less so in the United States.

The Giants heard about Murakami through Tsuneo "Cappy" Harada, an American businessman who had been living in Japan (and apparently earning himself a great nickname). Harada had been scouting Japanese players for the Giants, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame blog, and Murakami stood out as exceptionally talented.

Throwing out the first pitch during a game at the Tokyo Dome in 2014. Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images.

In 1964, as a part of an exchange program, he left his home country and headed to Arizona, where he would participate in spring training with a Giants-affiliated minor league team.

Within the same year, a then-20-year-old Murakami found himself pitching in front of a crowd of about 40,000 people at Shea Stadium in his MLB debut against the Mets.

"I go to the fence and the door opens, and I go in," Murakami recently told The Guardian. "I'm walking to the mound, that time, wow. But [being] inside [the field] is very different. Maybe if I get nervous, it's not good. Now, I think OK, make me relax. The stands, the people. I can hear, but I don't know what they're saying. I understood a little English."

Murakami shakes hands with Chicago Cubs pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada at the Tokyo Dome in 2014. Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images.

Murakami, it seems, wasn't trying to make it big or be a hero.

"I was never thinking of the major leagues," he said in July. "I just wanted to pitch."

His impact on American baseball was long-lasting, even if his playing career was not.

Murakami was a relief pitcher with the Giants for the rest of the 1964 season and continued into the next year, but he only appeared in 54 games during that span. After a contract dispute between the Giants and the Nankai Hawks, he went back to play in Japan until the early-1980s.

Though he is now sometimes referred to as the "Jackie Robinson of Japanese baseball," his historic achievement did not immediately become a watershed moment.

Signing autographs before a July 1995 legends game at The Ballpark (now Globe Life Park) in Arlington, Texas. Photo by Paul Buck/AFP/Getty Images.

Robert K. Fitts, who wrote "Mashi: The Unfulfilled Baseball Dreams of Masanori Murakami, the First Japanese Major Leaguer," told Boston-based WBUR that Murakami's quick exit from the MLB was more about contractual obligations than his ability on the field.

"After Mashi returned to Japan, Major League Baseball and Japan Professional Baseball came to an agreement that each side would respect the reserve clauses of the other country's contracts," Fitts told WBUR in August. "Now back then there was no free agency, players were tied to their teams until they retired or were traded. So, in effect, that agreement kept all Japanese players in Japan."

Murakami being honored before a 1995 game in San Francisco. Photo by John G. Mabanglo/AFP/Getty Images.

There were no other Japanese players in Major League Baseball until Hideo Nomo played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995.

That helped create a pathway to the U.S. for more Japanese players, such as Ichiro Suzuki, a right fielder who still plays today and has already racked up numerous MLB awards, and Hiroki Kuroda, a pitcher who spent seven seasons with the Dodgers and New York Yankees.

Pitcher Hideo Nomo became the second Japanese-born MLB player in history when he debuted against the San Francisco Giants on May 2, 1995. Monica M. Davey/AFP/Getty Images.

There's still lots of room for growth. Asians only made up 1.9% of the Major League players in 2012, according to data compiled by the Society of American Baseball Statistics.

Regardless, Murakami will be remembered as a trailblazer. "For a long time, he was kind of a footnote in history. He was a trivia-question answer," Fitts told TIME Magazine. “But he was a true hero."

Even though Murakami's achievement did not immediately lead to more Japanese players in the majors, he showed they could play ball — which continues today.

More

Ask almost any woman about a time a man said or did something sexually inappropriate to them, and she'll have a story or four to tell. According to a survey NPR published last year, 81% of women report having experienced sexual harassment, with verbal harassment being the most common. (By contrast, 43% of men report being sexually harassed. Naturally harassment toward anyone of any sex or gender is not okay, but women have been putting up with this ish unchecked for centuries.)

One form of verbal sexual harassment is the all too common sexist or sexual "joke." Ha ha ha, I'm going to say something explicit or demeaning about you and then we can all laugh about how hilarious it is. And I'll probably get away with it because you'll be too embarrassed to say anything, and if you do you'll be accused of being overly sensitive. Ha! Won't that be a hoot?

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Life for a shelter dog, even if it's a comfortable shelter administered by the ASPCA with as many amenities as can be afforded, is still not the same as having the comfort and safety of a forever home. Professional violinist Martin Agee knows that and that's why he volunteers himself and his instrument to help.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Friends For Life Animal Rescue and Adoption Organization - Houston

Recidivism is a real problem for some shelter cats. Quilty, a seven-year-old domestic shorthair, was born in the Friends For Life Animal Rescue and Adoption Organization (FFL), a Houston-area animal shelter. Named after Claire Quilty in Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita," Quilty was recently returned to the shelter he was born in after his adopter moved and couldn't bring him along. He immediately started causing trouble.


Quilty knows how to open doors, and liberated the other captive cats in the shelter like some kind of feline Simon Bolivar. "Quilty loves to let cats out of the senior room. Repeatedly, several times a day," the shelter wrote on Facebook. "Quilty will not be contained. And he has no shame."

Quilty was caught and sentenced solitary confinement (i.e. left to sit behind a glass door) for the jail breaks, looking adorably sad yet showing no remorse.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Photo by Toni Hukkanen on Unsplash

Are looks more important than the ability to get through a long work day without ending up with eyes so dry and painful you wish you could pop them out of your face? Many employers in Japan don't permit their female employees to wear glasses while at work. Big shocker, male employees are totally allowed to sport a pair of frames. The logic behind it (if you can call it that) is that women come off as "cold" and "unfeminine" and – horror of all horrors – "too intelligent."

Women are given excuses as to why they can't wear glasses to work. Airline workers are told it's a safety thing. Beauty industry workers are told they need to see makeup clearly. But men apparently don't have the same safety issues as women, because they're allowed to wear their glasses square on the face. Hospitality staff, waitresses, receptionists at department stores, and nurses at beauty clinics are some of the women who are told to pop in contacts while they're on the clock.

Keep Reading Show less
popular