Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan, has been awarded the prestigious Seymour Medal as the best book of baseball history or biography published in 2012.
The award is presented annually since 1996 by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). It is named in honor of the late baseball historian, Dr. Harold Seymour and his widow and fellow historian Dorothy (Seymour) Mills. The award will be presented at the NINE spring training conference in Tempe, AZ, on March 16.
This is the first time that a book covering Japanese baseball and relations with the United States has received this honor. Dr. Fitts, who also wrote Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game, is an archeologist with a passion for baseball, and his honor comes just as Major League Baseball prepares to operate the third World Baseball Classic. Japan won the first two.
Banzai Babe Ruth recounts the tale of the 1934 tour of Japan led by Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Connie Mack and the mysterious journeyman catcher Moe Berg who became an OSS spy during World War II. The background to the baseball games was the political climate in Japan, which was building towards its World War II confrontation with the US seven years later. Ruth, cheered by the multitudes during this trip, became a figure of derision by the time war broke out.
The games were played after Ruth's final game as a Yankee, and the trip was marked by an attempted assassination of the tour organizer. The book was lauded for its details of the trip, which had been largely overlooked until this publication.
As MLB's official historian John Thorn wrote when the book was published (University of Nebraska Press), "How did two nations which shared the values of the same national pastime go from baseballs to bullets? Historian Rob Fitts tells a dark tale of baseball caught between democracy and fascism in prewar Japan. Banzai Babe Ruth is a sayonara home run."
Dr. Fitts, a New York resident, is currently at work on a third volume involving Japanese/US baseball.
Further information on the book is available at http://robfitts.com/Banzai_Babe_Ruth.htm.