14 January 2006

Australia-Japan Baseball Diplomacy

The Claxton Shield [national baseball competition] was inaugurated without fanfare at the 1934 carnival in Adelaide. Held between 4 and 11 August 1934, the first series was won by South Australia.

Shortly before the second Claxton Shield, a Japanese team visited Sydney as part of the Japanese Training Squadron. New South Wales played their representative Claxton Shield side against this team and won 9-2. As the other leading baseball nation of the world besides the United States, Japan was highly regarded by Australian baseballers. The Australians made numerous efforts to play visiting Japanese sides and recruit Japanese residents into Australian teams. Japan reciprocated this support, with the Japanese consul general sponsoring the Sydney first-grade competition, to be known as the Nippon Cup, the most significant trophy in New South Wales baseball to date.
In 1954, nine years after the end of hostilities against Japan, the ABC [Australian Baseball Council] arranged for a Japanese baseball team called the Tokyo Giants to tour Australia. Prime Minister Robert Menzies gave assurances that the tour would proceed without hindrance or incident, but he did not count on the powerful Returned Serviceman's League (RSL), who had objected to the tour from the outset. Nor did the Japanese team improve their standing with the RSL by arriving in Australia on Remembrance Day, 11 November. The visitors defeated the Queensland team 10-1 before only five hundred spectators. Three easy victories over Sydney teams were followed by the first "test" against Australia on 17 November. This test proved the most exciting game of the tour, with the score tied 8-8 after ten innings. The Giants would score 6 runs in the eleventh inning to win the game.

Traveling to Canberra for games on 19 and 21 November, the Japanese met Prime Minister Menzies, along with his minister for the interior, Kent Hughes, a former prisoner of the Japanese. Both warmly welcomed the visitors. Tokyo's schedule had included games in Melbourne and Perth, but relentless pressure from the RSL forced the cancellation of the rest of the Australian tour.
SOURCE: A History of Australian Baseball: Time and Game, by Joe Clark (U. Nebraska Press, 2003), pp. 53, 64

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