The Cronin Papers (Part V):
Murakami, Frick, and MLB Breaking Off Relations
With All Japanese Clubs
The Cronin Papers are a collection of personal documents of Joe Cronin's graciously donated by his grandson, Chris Hayward. Clicking on any of the thumbnail images within any of the series will display a high resolution version.
Past installments have been:
Mention the name Masanori Murakami to the average baseball fan, and most would be unable to know who he was, let alone his impact. Murakami has been referred to as the Jackie Robinson of Japanese baseball -- the first player from Japan to ever appear on a Major League Baseball roster.
Murakami appeared in 54 games for the San Francisco Giants from 1964 to 1965, and yet his shadow looms large over all players that have come from Japan to play in America since.
With an already large Japanese population in San Francisco, and with the Giants having scout Tsuneo "Cappy" Harada in Japan, Horace Stoneham decided that it might be in the best interest of the Giants -- both on the field and through the turnstiles -- if the Giants were to take a chance on signing players out of Japan into the Giants system.
On February 23 1964, three players from Japan were signed to Giants minor-league contracts. They were catcher Hiroshi Takahashi, third baseman Tatsuhiko Tanaka and pitcher Masanori Murakami. All the players were extremely young, with Takahashi and Tanaka all of 18, and Murakami 19.
The players were assigned to minor league clubs, with Tanaka and Takahashi assigned to the Twin Falls club of the Pioneer League and Murakami, the left-handed reliever, going to the Class A Fresno club of the California League. While the younger members of the trio struggled, Murakami flourished posting an 11-7, 1.78 mark with Fresno.
With the Giants in contention for the pennant in '64, they purchased Murakami's contract on August 3rd. He pitched a total of 9 games at the end of the '64 season. Over 15 IP he posted a 1.80 ERA with 8 Hits and 3 Runs.
It is here where Murakami's story comes into the Cronin Papers...
He left to return home to Japan in February of '65. His parents had missed him greatly, and Murakami had been homesick. Still, before leaving he signed a Giants' contract for the 1965 season. A check was sent to the Nankai Hawks for $10,000 from the Giants, assumed to be payment for his contract. The check was then cashed.
On February 8 1965, Murakami wrote to Horace Stoneham, "I am writing you to let you know that I will not be returning to the San Francisco Giants this year or any other year. I am the only son in our family and I feel that my place is here in Japan with my family….I did not realize until my return how much I missed Japan and its ways, and the thought of returning to the United States makes me homesick." Murakami also allegedly signed a contract to play for Nankai in 1965, a contract for $40,000, which was a sum far greater than the Giants had offered.
What is presented here in the Cronin Papers is a letter from Commissioner Ford Frick to all the clubs regarding the Murakami incident. As the letter starts:
The Commissioner has recently been confronted with a problem involving Japanese-American relations in connection with the signing of Player Masanori Murakami. Mr. Murakami was signed to a 1965 contract by the San Francisco Giants and has since been induced to abrogate that contract and sign a new contract with the Nankai Hawks of the Pacific League of Japan.
After the letter details MLB's position and description of the details of the contract and the aftermath of it, the letter goes on to say:
Pending answer from the Commissioner, this office must hold that pitcher Murakami has violated his contract. He is placed on the Disqualified List insofar as American baseball is concerned and the Nankai Hawks are estopped (sic) from negotiations with any members of Organized Baseball Leagues in the United States.
To drive the point home further as to the seriousness and the gravity of the issue, Frick adds:
The Commissioner (Yushi Uchimura, the Commisioner of Japanese Baseball) must further hold that if, in the face of this documentary evidence, there still is insistence on the part of the Nankai Hawks Baseball Team to ignore all contractual obligations, then the Commissioner of Baseball must hold that all agreements, all understandings and all dealings and negotiations between Japanese and American baseball are cancelled.
To add an odd twist to this story Commissioner Uchimura was hospitalized with a bladder infection at the time of the incident, which was the explanation for not returning correspondence to Frick. For the moment, however, all relations between Japan and America over baseball stopped.
Eventually, the issue was resolved through compromise. Murakami agreed to fulfill his contract for 1965 with the Giants, provided that "the Giants will agree to give him a definite and positive promise…that the boy will be sent back to Japan at the close of the 1965 baseball season." After that, "he would be free to play baseball in Japan, but he would not be free to return to American baseball with any other club than the Giants."
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