MLB History in Japan Preserved in Cooperstown

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Isabelle Minasian

Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Rickey Henderson stepped to the plate once again March 20-21 as part of the first pitch events during the 2019 Opening Series in Tokyo, Japan between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s.

It’s a return to the Tokyo Dome for Rickey, who took part in the first Opening Series as a member of the New York Mets in 2000.

Former Major Leaguers Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kenji Johjima, Keiichi Yabu and Akinori Iwamura will also take part in pre-game activities.

This series marks the second time that the Mariners and A’s have met in Japan, the first coming at the start of the 2012 MLB season.

Japan has a rich baseball history of its own, not to mention thriving professional leagues.

But off and on for nearly two decades, Major League teams have traveled to Japan to open the regular season.

It began with the Mets and the Chicago Cubs at the start of the millennium – the first time in history that the MLB season began in Japan.

Henderson wasn’t the only future Hall of Famer playing at the Dome during that series, either.

Class of 2016 inductee Mike Piazza was there as well, and he homered in the first game.

Every four years through the Mariners-A’s series in 2012 teams returned to Tokyo: the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees played in 2004, and the Boston Red Sox and the A’s in 2008.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has been fortunate to collect a number artifacts from these series, to preserve this important part of baseball history.

The Museum has programs from each series, along with ticket stubs from the various games.

Other fun items include the Cubs’ itinerary for the inaugural series, which notes their two exhibition games against the Tokyo Giants and the Seibu Lions, and the baseball from the Ceremonial First Pitch in 2004, which was delivered by then-Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi.

Major League teams opening the regular season in Japan is all relatively recent history, though.

The Museum has a number of artifacts and photographs that catalogue the adventures and experiences of American ball players traveling to play in Japan, and these items date back quite a bit further than 2000.

Perhaps most famously, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, along with fellow Hall of Famers Earl Averill, Charlie Gehringer, Lefty Gomez, Connie Mack, Jimmie Foxx and a number of other professional ballplayers, traveled to Japan in 1934.

Their tour is exceptionally well-documented, with a number of photographs of the group and individuals as they explored.

Foxx and his wife also recorded their experiences with an 8-millimeter camera, and the Hall of Fame and Museum has since digitized a copy of the film.

Baseball also helped to bridge the gap after World War II, when the New York Giants traveled to Japan in Oct. 1953.

Previous tours had all been barnstorming exhibitions with a mix of players from various teams, and this marked the first time in history that an MLB team had traveled across the Pacific as a unit.

As history continues to be made by MLB in Japan, the Hall of Fame will tell the story of baseball’s popularity around the globe.

Isabelle Minasian the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series