The First Japanese Player to Play In The MLB - 9/1/1964

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If you guessed Hideo Nomo, guess again.

On September 1st of 1964, a baseball pitcher named Masanori Murakami became the first Japanese man to play baseball in America's major leagues. He pitched a scoreless 8th inning on the San Francisco Giants against the New York Mets. Nearly 40,000 fans watched from the bleachers of New York's Shea Stadium.

Murakami, born in Japan in 1944, was a baseball prodigy. His left handed sidearm was truly deceptive! His fastball was tricky, without being overpowering. They hadn't seen a guy before who pitched like Murakami. In his major league career, he has played for the Nankai Hawks, the San Francisco Giants, the Hanshin Tigers, and the Nippon Ham Fighters.

In 1962, at the age of 16, Murakami signed with a Japanese pro team called the Nankai Hawks. He played for the Hawks while he was still in high school. After high school, he pitched for about a year in the minor leagues in Japan. Then Murakami played his first major league game for the Nankai Hawks in 1963, at the age of 19.

In 1964, the Hawks involved him in an exchange program with the United States, and Murakami, also known as “Mashy,” was sent to play in the minor leagues for the San Francisco Giants. It happened that Murakami's arrival coincided with the Giants' quest for the National League pennant against the Philadelphia Phillies. Outfielders for the Giants at that time included immortal names like Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. They couldn't help noticing Murakami's mad pitching skills. When Japan failed to call Murakami home, the Giants signed him up. Murakami signed a contract that was written in English, without knowing a single word of English. With that, Murakami was pushed up to the American major leagues.

All in all, Murakami's first year in the American major leagues was a raging success. At the end of the 1964 season, Japan asked for Murakami back, but the Giants refused to send him home on the grounds that they had him under contract. So the Japanese baseball commissioner came up with a compromise. The Giants could keep Murakami for one more year. 

Masanori Murakami wore the number 10 for the San Francisco Giants through the 1965 season, when he struck out, on average, more than one batter per pitched inning. In 1966 he returned to Japan, where his success on the baseball field continued for another 18 years. Murakami struck out a hundred men in his MLB career. After his retirement from the field, he worked as a baseball commentator from 1984 to 1986.

Today, Masanori Murakami still lives in Japan. He is 72 years old. He has twice been honored at San Francisco's Giants' Stadium on two separate Japanese heritage nights. In 2008, a limited edition Murakami bobble head was offered. In May of 2014, Murakami was again honored on the 50th anniversary of his San Francisco Giants debut. That night featured little collectible Murakami statues, and Masanori Murakami himself throwing the first pitch.

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