It is with great sadness that I announce Wally's passing on February 28, 2011 at the age of 85. 

We have lost a great man and friend.


Wally's life has been celebrated in the media across the globe.  Below are links to a few of the obituaries.  Over the next few months, I will update this site to make a more appropriate tribute to his life.  Please come back to watch videos, hear interviews, and see more pictures.

New York Times

Washington Post (Associated Press)

ABC News

Japan Times

Rafu Shimpo

Star Advertiser

Hawaii News Now

Maui News

Daily Yomiuri


49er News








Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball

by Robert K. Fitts

University of Nebraska Press




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Author Signed Copies Available at Robs Japanese Cards

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Often called the Nisei Jackie Robinson, Wally Yonamine was the first ethnic Japanese to play professional football in the United States and the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II.  In both environments, the young Hawaiian had to adapt to unfamiliar cultures and overcome prejudice against his Japanese-American ancestry.

Wally Yonamine was born in 1925 on a Maui sugar plantation to poor Japanese immigrants.  His success on the gridiron allowed him to escape the plantation and eventually sign with the San Francisco 49ers in 1947.  After an injury ended his football career, Yonamine turned to baseball.  In 1951, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants chose him to become the first American to play in Japan during the Allied occupation.  Yonamine adopted his football skills to baseball and played hard--stealing bases, sliding hard, and knocking down opponents.  The Japanese were aghast at the aggressive American.  Opposing fans hurled insults and rocks at him, but he quickly became one of the most dominant players in the league.  His success changed the way the Japanese played the game, and opened the door for other Americans to come to Japan.  Although it was often trying, Yonamine adapted to Japanese culture and stayed in Japan as a player, coach, and manager for 37 years.  He was elected to the Japanese Hall of Fame in 1994. Now, at 80 years-old, Yonamine’s friendly and down-to-earth personality make him a role model in both Hawaii and Japan.  He has been decorated for his contributions in American and Japanese foreign relations by the Emperor of Japan and is involved in a variety of charitable organizations.


“Wally Yonamine is one of the most important figures in the long, rich history of baseball in Japan. His life story, from the rustic schoolyards of prewar Maui to modern-day state-of-the-art Tokyo stadiums, is filled with drama and color. Author Rob Fitts has done us all this favor with his richly detailed, thoroughly researched, and heartfelt work.”

Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have Wa and The Samurai Way of Baseball


“This book is much more than a smart biography of Wally Yonamine, the first American to play professional baseball in Japan; it is also a fascinating account of the game and culture of the Japanese national pastime.”

George Gmelch, author of Baseball without Borders: The International Pastime


“For over fifty years, Wally Yonamine has been an important bridge between Japanese and American baseball. He brought a new, exciting style of play to Japan and taught us the finer points of the game. I am glad that Americans can finally learn about Wally''s contributions through this outstanding biography.”

Hideki Matsui, NY Yankees outfielder


View Table of Contents

Read an Excerpt


Contact Robert Fitts  


"Fitts creates a book in which the life of Wally Yonamine almost jumps off the page.  Expertly researched and crafted book. This is a must-read and a must-add to the bookshelf for those with an interest in the history of Japanese baseball, and a worthwhile read for any baseball fan looking to broaden their knowledge of this great game that has spread around the globe." -BaseballBookReview.com

"A great read about a Japanese baseball player who has been too long overlooked  and also the coming-of-age of baseball in Japan." - Choice

"The way that Fitts brings history alive in this book is gripping ... [It] makes you feel as though you were there in the stands." - JapaneseBaseball.com

"An outstanding book" - Japanese Baseball Cards

"I got to know Wally in 1977 while he was still managing the Dragons, but wish I had seen him play 25 years earlier. Reading this biography is the next best thing. [Robert] Fitts leaves no stories untold about Yonamine''s life in this excellent book."-Wayne Graczyk, Japan Times

"The fascinating saga of a most under appreciated American sports hero" -Gary Engel, author of Sayonara Home Run

"2005 Sporting News-SABR award winner Fitts deserves high marks for bringing forth this title sure to grasp pro football and baseball enthusiasts alike."-Southern New England Chapter Society for American Baseball Research


New Review

Pacific Perspectives: Wally Yonamine, Radical Pioneer by Michael Street


"Yonamine fits into the same proud, nonviolent tradition that shattered racial barriers, and changed two worlds for the better. And Fitts’ wonderful book is an amazing way to experience, and pay tribute to, this baseball hero."

"Extensively researched, well-written, and endlessly informative and fascinating, this book makes an excellent addition to anyone’s baseball library and is absolutely required reading for anyone interested in Japanese-American baseball relations."

Full Review Here


New Wally Yonamine Baseball Card Released

  • Gary Cieradkowski founder of the infinite card set created this card of Wally a few weeks ago. Check out Gary's web site to learn more about Wally's football and baseball career.





Wally in the News


1/11/2010 Much like Robinson, Catholic a barrier-breaker in the world of sports Read text Here

11/9/2008 Japanese Hall of Famers Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Masaichi Kaneda and Shugeru Sugishita join Wally at book party in Tokyo

11/9/2008 Wally to sign biography at the American Club in Tokyo

2/9/2007 Wally to receive the Living Treasure of Hawaii Award

1/21/07  Seven Giants of Hawaii's Culture in the Honolulu Advertiser

1/2/2007  "Wally Yonamine" at  Asahi .com - a short biographical article


Read Wally's reminiscences of Japanese Baseball in

Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game

by Robert Fitts

For More Information or To Order Click Here



Book Reviews & News


1/18/2010 Book Review at Baseball Daily Digest

2/11/09 Book Review at BaseballBookReview.com

10/4/08 Book Review at Japanese Baseball.com

9/7/08 Book Review in Japan Times

8/31/08 Interview with author Robert Fitts at East Windup Chronicle







Pictures from the November 2008 Tokyo Book Parties

Sadaharu Oh


Special attendees Baseball Commissioner Ryozo Kato, Shigeo Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh, Shigeru Sugishita & Wally Yonamine Masaichi Kaneda Author Rob Fitts & Wally Yonamine


Short Wally Yonamine Biography

Wally Yonamine Baseball Statistics

Baseball Card Gallery

Picture Gallery


Time Line & Career Highlights



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