When Babe Ruth arrived in Japan in 1934, the Japanese were-ready for him. Baseball had long since passed sumo wrestling as the greatest game in Japan. Newspapers had been sending reporters for more than 10 years to the U.S. to cover the World Series, and three American teams had previously visited Japan. Japanese baseballese was quite wonderful, including wan sutoraikku, tsu outo and doburu heda, and it was an established custom for teams to bow gravely to each other before the umpire hollered, "Purei boru!"
On November 2, 1934, the day the Empress of Japan pulled into Yokohama harbor, 30,000 Japanese created one of the biggest bicycle and rickshaw jams in the empire's history. The players, among whom were Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, Lefty Gomez and Beibu Rusu, drove in open touring cars up the Ginza, Tokyo's Broadway. Half a million Japanese were packed 40 deep on the avenue, screaming "banzai" and "Rusu, Rusu, Rusu." More than 600 fans were hospitalized during the crush. The newspapers furnished graphic descriptions of the Babe, who told reporters, "There are no bad people among lovers of baseball."
For the first game 65,000 spectators showed up. By the end of four games, about 200,000 had seen the Americans play. Those who got into the park felt they were "very fortunate in having the rare opportunity of seeing the Living God of Baseball in person." When the Americans went 20 miles outside Tokyo to practice, 20,000 Japanese walked out to watch them.
One game was played in light snow, another in a driving rain. The visitors suggested calling the game off, but the Japanese wouldn't hear of it. Ruth played first base holding an umbrella in his left hand, snagging throws with his right. The Americans won 7-0.
November 14, 1955
But the 10th game in Shizuoka on November 20 was different. Some 200,000 Shizuokans tried to get seats in a stadium that seated 20,000. Earl Whitehill was pitching for the U.S. and Eiji Sawamura, a 5-foot 8-inch, 17-year-old schoolboy, for the Shizuokans. The Japanese batted first and Whitehill retired them easily. Sawamura, throwing a series of fast balls and puzzling "drops," easily retired the first two batters. The fans greeted Ruth, the next batter, with a standing ovation and then chewed their dried octopus in silence while he missed Sawamura's first two pitches. But then the Babe stepped out of the batter's box, pointed to his bat and snapped his fingers as the stands cheered. Swinging confidently at the next ball, he missed it clean.
What happened after that is Japanese folklore. The greengrocer's boy struck out nine that afternoon. Ruth's single in the fourth was the first hit of the game. But in the seventh, Gehrig smashed a 400-foot line drive into the right field bleachers for the longest hit any Shizuokan had ever seen. It was the only run of the day.
In Japan the Ruth visit will never be forgotten. In front of the country's biggest ball park, Koshien Stadium in Osaka, a bronze plaque commemorates the momentous fact: Babe Ruth played here. Japan's annual baseball day, held to promote the game among the small fry, is called Babe Ruth Day. Recently a leading Japanese weekly listed the most famous personalities in Japan during the last 40 years. All names were Japanese—except one, an American. You guessed it.