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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jimmy Horio - Baseball Player

Ask anybody in 2015 North America who Jimmy Horio is, and you'll get a blank stare... but this Hawaiian baseball player still holds a Japanese baseball record that set in 1936 that I doubt will ever be broken.

Yeah, yeah... I know many of you readers either don't understand or don't like baseball - but I do. So bear with me... read it anyway, because it will give you a taste of what it was like to be a visible minority of Japanese descent in America... a wee taste.

Although playing for a number of minor league baseball clubs in North America, Horio was a pretty decent player in Japan, playing against the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig when a team of U.S. Major League All-Stars came to visit and play ball.

Here's the basics:

Fumito Jimmy Horio (surname last- he's an American or rather a Hawaiian, so the order of names is correct) was born in Maui, Hawaii on March 15, 1907, and died on December 11, 1949.

The Horio family was originally from Japan, but moved to Hawaii for work, then back to Japan - Hiroshima - in 1913, and returned to Hawaii in 1919.

As a youth, Jimmy played in the plantation baseball leagues... but when his father returned to Japan in 1928 for good, Jimmy stayed back because he wanted to try and make it to the Big leagues.

He played for the Los Angeles Nippons, a semipro team, in 1930, which toured Japan in 1931, winning 20 of the 25 games they played.

Jimmy stuck around with the LA team for four years before signing with the Sioux Falls Canaries in the Nebraska State League, and as you might suspect, was the only person of Japanese decent.

It's the 1930s in the US of A, and as such Jimmy had racist taunts thrown at him by some of the fans. (It still happens every once in a while in sports, but it seems to rear its ugly head more often in soccer and ice hockey than it does in baseball... but that's just my opinion.) In 110 games, Jimmy batted .264, with a .383 OBA, garnering 60 runs... I'm assuming that's runs scored and not RBIs... I'm not sure, though. The data isn't as clear as it could be.

In the fall of 1934, he heard that Babe Ruth and a bunch of U.S. All Stars were traveling to Japan in the off-season to play some baseball against an as yet undecided upon Japanese roster.

Jimmy figured he had a shot, so without an invite, he sent a newspaper article of himself to Miyake Daisuke (surname first), the All-Nippon (All-Japan) manager, which was enough to get a chance to workout with the team... and then enough to gain a spot on the team.

How did he do against the All-American heroes? Well, Jimmy scored All-Nippon's first run of the tournament.

Joe Cascarella pitched and hit him, awarding him 1B. Jimmy then stole 2B. Took 3B on a Frankie Hayes error. Scored on a sacrifice fly by Yamashita Minoru (surname first). He scored without Japan managing a single hit.

Later on in the tourney (another game), Jimmy managed to smash a three-run home run off Earl Whitehill.

An outfielder, Jimmy finished the tourney: 8 hits for 41 at bats, with 1HR (home run); 4RS (runs scored); 4W (walks).

That eight hits for 41 at bats, by the way, translates into a .195 batting average... which was middle of the pack for the entire Japanese team... but certainly not good enough to garner interest from any MLB to sign him.

The Dai Nippon Tokyo Yakyu Club was formed in December of 1934 (pretty much all these same Japanese players), and Horio signed with them... as they became the first professional sports team in Japan.

In fact, Jimmy became the first American to play professional baseball in Japan when he joined that team (that team later became the Tokyo Giants), touring with them in 1935 through the U.S. and Canada, with Jimmy hitting much better: .275 batting average; 40 steals; 78 RS (runs scored) in 109 games abroad.

The Dai Nippon Baseball Club in 1935. Back row (left to right) – Shigeru Mizuhara 3B, Eiji Sawamura RHP, Toshihide Hatafuku RHP, Daiske Miyake COACH, Nobuo Kura C, Tadao Ichioka MGR, Sotaro Suzuki General Manager, Takeo Tabe 2B, Kenichi Aoshiba RHP, Hisanori Karita SS, Fujio Nagasawa 1B, Jimmy Horio CF. Front row (left to right) – Victor Starffin RHP, Yukio Eguchi UT, Usaburo Shintomi OF, Shiro Tsuda 3B, Kumeyasu Yajima OF, Tamotsu Uchibori C, Takeshi Nakayama C, Ellichiro Yamamoto UT.  Not shown – Nobuaki Nidegawa OF. Victor Starffin and Eiji Sawamura would end up with Hall of Fame careers in Japan. [Photo courtesy of the City of Vancouver Archives, CVA 99-4753, photographer Stuart Thomas]

While not MLB, the Pacific Coast League's Sacramento Solons offered him a contract. Not bad... the Pacific Coast League was considered the top minor baseball league in the U.S.

Jimmy excelled... hitting a nice .291 batting average until late July... and then in August, his wife was in a car accident that eventually killed her.

Jimmy returned to the team after some mourning, but he slumped and finished the last 20 games with error-free defense, but finished with an overall batting average of .250.

As an FYI, three of the other outfielders Jimmy played with on the Sacramento team all played in the MLB eventually.

For the 1936 season, Jimmy tried out for the Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League, but didn't make the team, so he took off back to Japan and joined their brand new Japanese Professional Baseball League, playing for Hankyu (no nickname until 1947, when it became the Hankyu Braves, and later still the Orix Blue Wave).

The Japan baseball league had two seasons: a Spring season and a Fall baseball season, with the two champions going against each other.

Anyhow... his wife's death must have shook Jimmy up, because he hit .108 in nine games in the Spring and .179 in the Fall.

Now... although those numbers suck, no matter how one looks at it, it is possible to suggest that amongst his peers, Jimmy's batting wasn't all that bad.

In that Fall season, Jimmy was tied for 7th in RBI (runs batted in) with 17; tied for second with three triples (one behind the leader); tied for fifth with 10 steals; tied for third with 17 strikeouts... which I assume was low... but I believe it was spread out over nine games...      

Jimmy's three triples, by the way, occurred in three straight innings in a November 14, 1936 game, which is still a Nippon Professional Baseball (日本野球機構 Nippon Yakyū Kikō) record for triples in a game.

So he was actually merely adequate at his baseball job as a hitter, as it seems like the pitchers dominated the game.  

In 1937, Jimmy hit .244 and .253 in the two seasons, and again in the Fall season he was sixth with 19 doubles; sixth with 3HR. 

In 1938, he hit .289 in the Spring season, coming in 11th for batting average; third for triples; eight in steals. Then he stunk in the Fall season hitting .244. His saving grace, was that for the entire year - 56 games - he did not commit any errors in the outfield.  

For 1939 and on, Japan went to one full season, but Jimmy was signed by the Osaka Hanshin Tigers, hitting .247 batting average, 30 steals; 61 runs scored; 57 RBIs (runs-batted-in) in 96 games, committing two errors.

Despite the low batting average, he was tied for fourth in runs scored; eight with 98 hits (and he hit .247??!!); third in home runs; third in RBI and lead the league with five hit-by-pitches.

In 1940, Jimmy hit .241, scored 55 runs, 29 steals in 98 games, and was seventh in hits with 95, fourth with 22 doubles; sixth with three home runs; and fourth in stolen bases.

In 1941, he hit .202 in just 28 games, as you might realize that Japan itself was also abuzz with war... and since Jimmy was afraid of being drafted by the Japanese Imperial Army... and he wanted to avoid the war... he left...

... moving to Hawaii. D'oh! Pearl Harbor.

Despite being born in the United States, and having a cool American name like Jimmy, and being a professional baseball player (I bet he liked hot dogs and apple pie, too), after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, he set fire to his Japanese-language books and to the portrait he had of the Japanese Emperor.

If he hadn't, he felt that the optics of having such Japanese things would look pretty bad to White America.

To show his patriotism, Jimmy got a job at Pearl Harbor painting boats.

Although not talked about in the articles I read, I am assuming that Jimmy was eventually forced to relocate to an internment camp until the war ended because of fears that he could be a Japanese sympathizer.

His brother did die during the war... in Japan... in the first ever atomic blast on Hiroshima.
Jimmy Horio (close-up) from the 1935 Dai Nippon team that toured Vancouver.
Jimmy himself died in 1949 of bone cancer.

I'm assuming that because of his ability to be a consistent (for the era) hitter, Jimmy was known as the Ty Cobb of Japan, and not because he hated Blacks. Ty Cobb, enshrined in the MLB Hall of Shame, I mean Fame, was a notorious racist, a dirty player, but one hell of a hitter, who held the careers hits mark until surpassed by Pete Rose... who was and is still banned for betting on baseball games while a manager. At first it was thought he never bet on games where his own team was involved, then it turned out he did, though he says only to win. He never bet against them.

It is possible for any gambler, however, to note that when Pete didn't bet, they should bet against his baseball team. At least that's what I think. Great hitter, dumb person.

Ty Cobb... he also has the highest career MLB batting average of .366... which means that excluding walks and hit by pitches, he gets a hit 36.6% of the time.

Jimmy.... not so much... so I wonder why he was nicknamed as the Ty Cobb of Japan? His hitting exploits fall far short of Cobb's.

There was a set of baseball cards from that 1934 All Stars vs Japan tour, with the largest called the JBR 48, which contains 20 cards – 10 Americans and 10 Japanese, but sadly not one of Jimmy Horio! The other two sets lack a Horio card, as well... so he never got an official baseball card.

Okay - that's it for baseball - perhaps for the year. No... I didn't do this blog to be bunny... that's what tomorrow's blog is for.

Somewhere out of the old ball game,
Andrew "No pepper games" Joseph


  1. Hmmm ... you are the only person who can write about baseball that I will read (and I now know what a "pepper game" is ... lol). I'm not trying to be "bunny" either (see last sentence). Cheers! ;-]

    1. Thanks FFF! Soon enough, you,and a few others will realize that I actually choose my words quite carefully. 👌🏾

    2. Hmm, that was supposed to be a thumbs up symbol.

    3. I remember some talk of a bunny ... or was that a rabbit? :P