Wally Yonamine, Baseball Trailblazer

Hawaii and Maui born Wally Yonamine, a trailblazer in bringing American “hardball” style baseball to Japan, passed away at the age of 85. A sports standout, Wally was the first Asian American to play football in the NFL and the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II. Though he had many accomplishments both in the United States in Japan, Wally was most noted for bringing his hard-hitting, aggressive, American style of baseball play to Japan, thereby transforming how baseball was played there. Wally faced discrimination both at home and abroad because of his background, but overcame all to become a highly respected player and coach. Later, his charitable work and willingness to teach the younger generation about setting high standards and pursuing personal goals won high accolades from both communities. 

Wally participated in several Japan-America Society of Hawaii (JASH) sponsored events, to include a symposium on U.S.-Japan baseball during the 2007 Honolulu Festival where he recounted the discrimination he encountered in his quest to enter the Japanese baseball league, and the subsequent accolades he rightly earned after he established himself as a no-nonsense, outstanding player. He eventually was elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame. In the summer of 2009, Wally was the featured guest speaker at the Tomodachi Committee Let’s Talk Luncheon. Attendees appreciated the intimate setting, and still talk about this program today.

JASH also maintains contact with his wife Jane, who with Wally operated a pearl shop in Tokyo. Jane was the guest speaker in the Tomodachi Committee Let’s Talk Luncheon in 2008 where she related Wally’s exploits and her experiences at his side.

All of the JASH family sends our condolences to the Yonamine family. Wally, a trailblazer in bringing his style of “hardball” baseball to Japan, was a true ambassador of good will between United States and Japan, and especially between the people of Hawaii and the people of Japan. We honor him and his legacy.