- Height 5' 0", Weight 105 lb.
During his lifetime, Kenichi Zenimura was known as "The Dean of the Diamond" and with his passing he has come to be recognized as "The Father of Japanese American Baseball". Many baseball historians believe he earned this title for his remarkable career as a player (excelled at all nine positions), manager (of Japanese-American league teams and Caucasian teams in the Twilight leagues), and international ambassador of the game (he led tours to Japan in 1924, 1927 and 1937).
In addition to organizing barnstorming tours to Japan, Zenimura was instrumental in the negotiations that led to Babe Ruth's visit to Japan in 1934. Several years earlier (in 1927) Zenimura also helped arrange a barnstorming tour to Japan for the Negro-league All-Star Philadelphia Royal Giants, led by Hall of Famers Biz Mackey and Andy Cooper.
Japanese baseball historian Kazuo Sayama argues that it was the Royal Giants tour in 1927, and not Ruth's visit in 1934, that inspired the formation of the Japanese Professional Baseball League in 1936.
During World War II, Zenimura and 120,000 other Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps across the southwest United States, as directed by Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on February 19, 1942.
Zenimura and his family were interned in Arizona on the Gila River Indian Reservation. Almost immediately upon arrival at Gila River, Zenimura built a baseball field and established a 32-team league. Baseball at Gila River gave Japanese-Americans a sense of pride, hope and normalcy, making life bearable during their unjust incarceration.
Zenimura returned to Fresno, California, and continued to play competitive ball until the age of 55. In the early to mid-1950s, Zenimura was instrumental in negotiating the professional baseball contracts of several Japanese-American players in the Central League and Pacific League including contracts for Satoshi "Fibber" Hirayama, and his sons Kenso (Howard) and Kenshi (Harvey) Zenimura.
Kenichi Zenimura continued to manage until his death on November 13, 1968.
During the 18th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture (2006), a campaign was launched to establish a permanent exhibit for Japanese American Baseball in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as the enshrinement of the first Japanese American player.
The campaign proposes that the first Japanese American player enshrined with a plaque in Cooperstown is Kenichi Zenimura, "the Father of Japanese American Baseball". In 2006, Zenimura was honored in the Baseball Reliquary.
The full-length biography "Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer," by baseball historian and author Bill Staples, Jr., with a foreword by Don Wakamatsu, is due for release by McFarland Press in June 2011. Fans seeking additional information on Zenimura can visit: http://www.zenimura.com.
- Bill Staples, Jr.: Kenichi Zenimura, Japanese American Baseball Pioneer, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2011.