Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan by Robert K. Fitts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The subtitle of the book way oversells it. There is not a lot of assassination or espionage or intrigue even. There is plenty of baseball though: most of the book details the travels of the 1934 all-star American League baseball team and the action and box scores of the games palyed against the Japanese (and a few other national teams) This is not uninteresting (though it did get tedious) but also not what I was expecting or hoping for.
To be honest, the book felt like a long-form magazine article that got stretched into a book, with the breakdown of the games inserted to provide the fat for the bones of the book.
That said, Fitts provides good context for the history of baseball in Japan, as well as the growth of the militaristic and nationalistic ideas that contributed to the tensions between Japan and the US (and eventually leading to the war). There are no doubt better sources for these histories, but the context of the US and Japan teams playing baseball helped to concretize both.
The last few chapters were the most interesting. Fitts reports the reactions of the players on both sides of the Pacific to the war. He discusses how the outbreak of the war affected some of the stars of each team personally: some went to war, others helped with their countries’ war efforts on the home front. There is a particular focus on Moe Berg—though ultimately that too falls short of the intrigue and espionage promised by the book. Fitts also discusses how, after the war ended, baseball and the connections made from the 1934 tour were used to helped rebuild the Japanese national morale and to some extent the social institutions. Baseball was used to help reconnect Japan to it is pre-war past and its post-war future.
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