Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ruth's '34 tour united U.S. and Japan, but only briefly

On December 7, 1941, when news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor reached New York, Babe Ruth took it personally. The Bambino rampaged through his 15th-floor apartment grabbing vases and other souvenirs and hurling them out the window onto Riverside Drive far below as his wife rushed around the room trying to save things.

Seven years earlier, Ruth had been overwhelmed by adoring crowds as he led a team of American all-stars on a goodwill tour of Japan. Despite smoldering tensions between the two nations, Ruth, like most of the other players, came away convinced Japan would never strike the United States.

Japanese baseball fans turned out by the tens of thousands in November 1934 when Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, and Lefty Grove led a squad through the Pacific. Upon their arrival, the Americans found themselves unable to move when throngs of admirers filled the streets, creating a mass of bodies that halted traffic for hours. The opening game of the tour, in Tokyo's Meiju Jingu Stadium, attracted 60,000 fans, selling out every ticket, with most eyes drawn to Ruth's every move.

The tour, which lasted a month and included 18 games against Japanese opponents, was a huge success, lauded by leaders on both sides of the ocean. But even as the games were being played, nationalistic groups throughout Japan were plotting to overthrow their own government and lash out at America and several other nations. The turmoil makes for a fascinating story of international intrigue as detailed in Robert K. Fitts' Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, & Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan.

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