Wally Yonamine, who was born in Olowalu, Maui, made his mark in Japanese baseball with a 38-year career as player, manager and coach. He was the “Oriental Jackie Robinson” said Robert Whiting in his definitive book about Japanese baseball, “The Chrysanthemum and the Bat.” He had a lifetime batting average of .311, mostly with the Yomiuri Giants, winning three batting titles. He was the Central League’s Most Valuable Player in 1957 and made the all-time Japan baseball team. He was inducted into the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990.

Yonamine also was a pioneer in football. In 1944, he led Farrington High School to its first-ever ILH crown. Yonamine toured with the Hawaiian Warriors in the late 1940s and so impressed professional football scouts at a game in Oregon, he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers – the first player of Asian descent to do this.

After a football injury, Yonamine decided to concentrate on professional baseball. While under contract to the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals, he was encouraged by the Seals’ manager (a pioneer in bringing baseball to Japan) to consider playing baseball there. He later signed a two-year contract with the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants and was an instant success. In the process, he opened the door for other American athletes to seek their fortunes in Japan.

BORN 1925

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