1934 Japan Tour Footage

As Major League Baseball stars like Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols embark on a 10-day tour of Japan this November, footage of a 1934 journey to the Far East has been digitally preserved at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

And while the headliner of that historic 1934 tour was Babe Ruth, it was another slugging future Hall of Famer – Jimmie Foxx – who filmed these recently uncovered moments that tell the story of a remarkable journey.

In celebration of the 80th anniversary of the 1934 tour, the Hall of Fame has digitized eight millimeter black-and-white film taken by Foxx and his wife, Helen, during a 12-city, 22-game tour that took place in November and December of 1934. The original film featured more than 20 minutes of footage of on-the-field and off-the-field activities as the American visitors played the role of baseball stars as well as tourists and ambassadors of good will.

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The party included future Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Lou Gehrig, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Connie Mack, Foxx and Ruth, along with several other American Leaguers (asked to accompany the tour when the National League forbade its stars from coming along). Even Moe Berg, the big league catcher who would eventually work as a United States government spy, was a member of the ball playing entourage.

For many, it was their first in-depth look at Japan, which only 81 years earlier had been a virtually closed society until Commodore Matthew Perry and the United States Navy visited the island nation in 1853.

“They were quite suddenly exposed to western civilization,” said Hall of Fame senior curator Tom Shieber. “In the 1870s, baseball was introduced to the country, and was very quickly embraced.”

Traveling parties of baseball players had visited Japan as early as 1907, and 2014 marks the 36th time a team of major league players has toured Japan for exhibition games. But the inclusion of Ruth in 1934 made this event different from every other tour.

The All American and All Nippon teams pose on the field at Meiji Jingu Stadium in Tokyo before the first game of the tour. – B-277-51-21 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

“…Ruth, the jovial demigod of baseball, brought the two nations together and forestalled talks of war, before becoming a symbol in Japan of American decadence,” writes Robert K. Fitts in his book “Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan”, published in 2012.

Rare Footage

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Fitts, who had never seen the Foxx footage of the Japan tour before visiting the Hall of Fame in October, said the film literally brought his research to life.

The movies are not only a valuable source on an important event in baseball history and the sports diplomacy but also offer a rare glimpse of the way the Japanese played the game in the pre-War period.

Robert Fitts

“After spending several years pouring over old newspaper accounts and still photographs of the 1934 tour of Japan, it was a thrill to see the players come alive in Jimmie Foxx’s home movies,” Fitts said. “The movies are not only a valuable source on an important event in baseball history and the sports diplomacy but also offer a rare glimpse of the way the Japanese played the game in the pre-War period.”

Within a few years, however, tensions between the countries mounted – culminating in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II as a full-scale belligerent. Soon, Japanese solders evoked the image of Ruth during battle, yelling “To hell with Babe Ruth” as they attacked American positions.

Ruth, who is prominently featured in much of the Foxx film footage, had come to personify America.

“The 1934 tour would have never happened without Babe Ruth, because – even though he was at the end of his playing career – he was still the most popular and famous athlete of his day,” Shieber said. “In a very real sense, he was baseball the United States. So in 1934, Japan celebrated Ruth – and then ten years later they vilified him.

“This film is more than just about baseball, although there are some great scenes of the games, stadiums, and fans. It is also about the relationship between American ball playing tourists and a country who had adopted baseball as its own. It’s truly amazing footage.”

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