In 1908 professional American baseball teams began traveling to Japan to play exhibition games against college ball clubs and promote the sport of baseball. But it wasn’t until the “Sultan of Swat” Babe Ruth and 13 other U.S. baseball All-Stars (including Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Gomez and Earl Averill) took their mega-watt star power on a barnstorming tour of the Far East after the 1934 season, that Major League Baseball captured the attention of fans in Japan and other Far East countries.
Fueled by Ruth’s larger than life persona and massive physical size, the
tour wowed crowds all over the Far East including many thousands who
lined the streets in Japanese cities that hosted exhibition games.
Riding in a motorcade and treated like visiting royalty everywhere he
went, Ruth was greeted by a multitude of cheering Japanese.
tour was considered a great success for further increasing the
popularity of baseball in Japan. It both encouraged and motivated media
magnate Matsutara Shoriki, who had considered disbanding his Japanese
team. After they honored themselves by making a strong showing against
the American stars, Shoriki kept the team together. In fact, his
renewed enthusiasm for the game led him to establish Japan's first
professional team, the Great Tokyo Kyojin baseball club one month later
in December of 1934. This team traveled to the United States in 1935,
playing against amateur, college and Minor League teams. At the end of
the tour, the team's name was changed to the Yomiuri Tokyo Giants - a
team that still exists today and is one of Japan's best. Shoriki later became known as "the
great genius-father figure’ of Japanese baseball."
the 1934 barnstorming tour as a big factor in making professional
baseball possible in Japan. When the Honorable Ryozo Kato, Japanese
Ambassador to the U.S., was asked if the 1934 Tour was a contributing
factor to pro baseball in Japan, he replied: "Yes, very much so. I
attribute this to the 'Babe Ruth effect.' His performance during that
tour excited both the diehard and casual fan."
To this day, Babe
Ruth is still a very popular sports figure in Japan and considered to
have been an international ambassador for the game of baseball. In 2002,
a statue of Babe Ruth was built and placed in Yagiyama Zoological Park
in Sendai City - the exact point where Babe hit his first home run in
Japan during Game 4 of the tournament at Miyagi Prefecture Yagiyama
Baseball Stadium - ground that is now the zoological park.