Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American National Museum Collection
Title: Wally Yonamine Interview
Narrator: Wally Yonamine
Interviewers: Art Hansen (primary); John Esaki (secondary)
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: December 16, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-ywally-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

AH: ... by Art Hansen and John Esaki of the Japanese American National Museum's Media Arts Center. Also present at the interview is technical assistant Amy Kato of Visual Communications. The interview is being done for the National Museum's Nikkei Legacy Project. The date of the interview is Tuesday, December 16, 2003. The time of the interview is approximately 1:30 pm. The interview is being held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu, Hawaii. Mr. Yonamine, a native of Hawaii, is a living legend as a sports superstar, having played professional football and baseball in the United States before compiling an illustrious thirty-eight-year career in Japanese professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and scout. How are you doing?

WY: Okay. [Laughs]

AH: Can I call you Wally for this interview?

WY: Sure, sure.

AH: Thank you very much, Wally. I'd like to start by talking a little bit about... you know, we say that you're an American of Japanese ancestry, and I want to find a little bit about that ancestry. You've spent time in Japan, so you have an opportunity, probably, to do a little bit of looking into your family background. But what do you know about your ancestors? Let's start with your father's side -- where they lived, kind of work they did, etcetera. How far back can you go?

WY: Well, maybe about ten... ten, twelve years ago, I went to Okinawa. This is where my father was born, see. And I went to Okinawa, and I was very lucky to see where he was born. So I went, and I met my relatives, you know. So, when I went there, all around the house is all cane fields. You know, and lot of times, in those days, way back, maybe sixty, seventy years ago, they raised pigs right in the yard. So when I went there, they had a couple pigs around that area right there. So, but I was happy to go there because I haven't met my relatives at all. Going to Okinawa in train there, I had the chance of meeting my relatives in Okinawa. And at first, you know, they were kind of leery that I wasn't going to talk to them because they heard about me so much in, you know, playing baseball in Japan, that they were afraid to even call me. And, but I had everything ready. When I went to Okinawa from Tokyo, I had candies and whiskey and signed autographs from all these great ballplayers in Japan, because I thought if they do call me, I can give them all that. And so, when they called me, I invited them to my hotel and I gave them all candies and whiskies and signed autographs. So they were so happy because they didn't think that they would, they would have a chance at guys like Nagashima, Mr. Oh. You know, they were so... he's a legend in Tokyo, you know, I got all those balls for them, you know. So they were happy on that.

AH: And who was it that you were seeing in your family when you went there, in Okinawa? What would have been their relationship to you?

WY: My, my auntie and my uncle, and they had, and some of my cousins were there, too.

AH: So, it was your father's side.

WY: Right.

AH: And did your father ever tell you about his parents?

WY: Not too much. Not too much, because, see, my mother, she was a Nisei here in Hawaii. And so when my father was seventeen years old, he came from, came from Okinawa, came to Hawaii, met my mother, and so, in Hawaii... see, I didn't know too much about the Okinawan people because my mother was... what do you call it? Naichi. So, so I used to hang around just on my mother's side. So I didn't know too much about my father's side.

AH: You obviously never met your grandparents, then, on your dad's side.

WY: No, I didn't.

AH: And when, what was the year, approximately, your father came over here?

WY: Oh, boy. I would say at least about... he lived until he was ninety-eight years old, so I would say at least... I hate to guess because I really don't know. [Laughs]

AH: Well, in the last century, I mean, in two centuries -- in the 19th or the 20th century, did he come over?

WY: Nineteenth century, I guess.

AH: Really? And did he come over straight to Maui, or did he go to Honolulu first?

WY: He came direct to Maui, yeah.

AH: Really? And in the, in the area where you were born, did he come to that?

WY: Yes.

AH: And what was he doing there?

WY: He was a tractor driver in the cane field, you know, making lines. So when the plant-, the sugarcane, you know, sugar in the cane, he used to make that line so that he can draw that cane right in there, that line there.

AH: Did he ever tell you that, in Japan, he came from a farming family? Or that his family were, were agricultural workers?

WY: No, he didn't say anything like that. But, like, when I went to Okinawa, I saw, I saw where he was born, and I used to see all, where the home and the cane fields was around the house. So, I feel, "Well, he must have been working in there when he was a little boy."

AH: And so the place there remained pretty constant over the course of a hundred years, didn't it?

WY: Oh, yeah. I think it was worse before, because I remember the early '50s, I brought my mother and father to Tokyo. And I, I had them go to Okinawa, because he hasn't been home for so long. And my mother also went with them. And that's when my mother was born in Hawaii. So the first night, my mother stayed with my dad at their house and they had pigs all around, that air was so smelly that she refused to stay there a second night. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AH: Your mother was born in Hawaii, and which part of Hawaii was she born in?

WY: She was born in Maui.

AH: In Maui?

WY: Yeah.

AH: In the area where you were brought up?

WY: Right, right.

AH: And you're actually a half Sansei as well as a half Nisei, then, aren't you?

WY: Right. They call us a Nisei-han, I guess. Two-and-a-half generation maybe.

AH: And did you ever meet her parents?

WY: Oh, yes, because my mother's parents, they're living with us. So, I got, I got to know them real well.

AH: What do you know about their life and lifestyles that you could tell us about?

WY: My mother's side?

AH: Yes.

WY: Well, my, well... my grandma and grandpa, they, they worked in a cane field also. And he was a guy that was very strict, you know, just like a rude Japanese from Japan, you know, and hard-headed. But we really respected him because he, when he said something, it goes. You can't tell him do things, do this or do that, because he don't take for any... he gets mad, when he gets mad, get away, don't stay close to him. [Laughs]

AH: And what about his wife?

WY: Well, my grandma was really nice. You know, she really took care of us. I remember when I came to Honolulu, play football here, she used to watch, listen on radio the football games that I used to play here in Honolulu. And she didn't know anything about football, but she would call all the neighbors and they would listen and right around, they'd be around the radio, and they would listen. And every time they'd mention my name and then they'd think that I did something good. So they're yelling for me. They didn't know anything about football. [Laughs]

AH: But they were supportive of the family.

WY: Yeah.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AH: What I was asking you, Wally, was the last name, "Yonamine." Do you have any idea as to the origins of that name? It doesn't appear to me to be a very common Japanese surname, but it may be very, very common among the Okinawan Japanese community.

WY: Well, see, when I went to Okinawa, I was surprised myself because when I went to Okinawa, they had a whole block full of Yonamines around that area. I didn't expect that much Yonamine, but every house right around that block was Yonamine. So, even myself, I don't know why they have so much Yonamine right around that block there, but they did have a lot of Yonamines there.

AH: Do you remember what your grandparents on your mother's side's first names were?

WY: My father's name was Matsusai and my mother was Kikui. But their parents, I really don't know.

AH: Where did your name of Kanami come from, because I know later on you officially changed your name to Wallace.

WY: Well, my father gave me that name. See, but there's a meaning to that name, because, but I didn't know until I went to Japan. When I went to Japan, see, at first I had Wally Kanami Yonamine. And when I first went to Japan, they couldn't pronounce Wally, "So just call me Kanami." And then afterwards, I found out that, see, Kanami you have this, you know the fan? They have a thing here, and so they told me that name is a very important name, because once you take that screw out, the fan don't mean nothing, see? So, I could be a good leader. So I was really impressed with that name, Kanami. So right down the line, like my son, his second name is Kanami. My grandson is Kanami also. But then how I switched my name to Wally was, when I went school here at Farrington High School, the equipment manager... see, the school that I went to was Wallace Rider Farrington. And then the equipment manager, when I was playing football, he used to call me Wallace, Wallace. I don't know why, but he used to call me Wallace. [Laughs] So then, gradually, they started calling me Wallace, and so I had it legalized.

AH: You actually did that as a high school student?

WY: Yeah. At high school, but when I got it legalized, I had Wally, not Wallace. Wally K. Yonamine. But my, this equipment manager gave me that name.

AH: How did your parents feel about you changing your name?

WY: Oh, they didn't care. [Laughs]

AH: They didn't, they weren't offended?

WY: No, they, they didn't care.

AH: In what ways -- and maybe this has changed in the course of your lifetime -- in what ways are you proud of your ancestry, not only Japanese but Okinawan Japanese?

WY: Well, as far as, like my, Okinawans, like my father and them, I'm very proud of them in the sense that... like my dad, I used to see him work. And I guess he got, when he came to Hawaii, he used to work maybe twelve, thirteen hours a day and didn't take a day off for a whole month. And I guess something like that, he must have learned from his parents. You know, to survive you got to work. And being in Okinawa, the times that I went to Okinawa, spring training, I went to visit the relatives and see how they went through and what they went through, like during the war or whatever, you know, the house weren't that good and all that. And the living conditions weren't that good, but they survived somehow, so I really respected my parents. My, and I saw my father, how he used to work. So, when I started to play ball like that, I always was hungry [angry?] because I saw my father work practically all his life.

So, well, I'm going kind of away from the subject, but like, even when I was playing baseball in Japan, after the season's over I'd be reading the batting title. I come to Honolulu, I catch the next plane, I'll go to Maui and see the old house that I used to live or the cane field when I was twelve, fourteen years old where I used to cut grass and all that. Just to go see that place because, see, I didn't want to forget those things because I saw how my father used to work before and that gave me something that when I go back to Japan I could try harder. Give me a good incentive to be a much better ballplayer. So, you know, sometimes ballplayers, they do well, they make good money. They forget about how they suffered when they were kids. But, all my life, even today, even I'm retired but I never forgot that. It's always in the back of my mind. You know, I was talking to some of my friends, even last night, what I went through, how I, after the season I used to go to Maui and see where I used to work and all that. And that really helped me all my years because, see, in baseball, nothing is easy. You really have to work for you to produce. And I'm very sure that a lot of the great ballplayers in the States, they all went through that.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AH: You were brought up in a little villa, born as well, I guess, brought up in a little village outside of Lahaina.

WY: Right.

AH: What was the name of that village, and what was it like in terms of the lifestyle there?

WY: The name of the place called Olowalu -- O-W-A-L-U -- Olowalu. And they had only two stores, I remember. But when we were kids, when we were growing up, the good thing about that place was, see, you look to the left was the ocean; you look to the right was the mountain. And so we had, you could go to the beach and swim or go to the mountain and hiking. And so it was a terrific experience for us.

AH: What was the population like in that area?

WY: I would say, when we were kids, they had their own sugar mill at that time. But the population, I would say maybe, maybe 2,000.

AH: And what was the ethnic breakdown of the population?

WY: Well, I think they had more Filipinos there. There's Hawaiians and, naturally, Japanese. But, I think half was more Filipinos -- they used to work in the cane fields, you know. So we got to know all our friends were all mixed -- you know, Hawaiians, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese. It was something that I thought was really great for us, you grow up like that.

AH: How far was the village from Lahaina?

WY: Six miles. From Olowalu to Lahaina was 6 miles. So, we used to go to school there and we had a bus going to school every day, bring us back, you know.

AH: Among the Japanese that were in that area, were a large percentage of them from Okinawa?

WY: No, not that much, not that much. I would say more Japanese, not that much Okinawans there.

AH: Now that you're familiar with Okinawan cuisine and it's a very special sort of thing, I've been looking around here for some of those purple sweet potatoes they have and things. Did your family eat cuisine that was recognizably Okinawan?

WY: No, my family, see, because my mother was Japanese.

AH: So it was only your father that was...

WY: Yeah, my father was Okinawan, my mother was Japanese. So, the food we had on the table was all Japanese food. So, I remember one time, my father took me to -- when I was a little boy -- took me to his friend's house. And they would speak Okinawan and the accent was real different. I couldn't, I couldn't understand him. I was so surprised that, you know, thinking, "What kind of language are they talking?" Because I just hear Japanese but not Okinawan, see? But later, actually, you realize that they have their own language.

AH: Well, I was remiss in not asking you where in Japan your grandparents, your maternal grandparents, came from. Did they come from the same prefecture, your grandmother and grandpa on your mother's side?

WY: On my mother's side? Yeah, they, they came from Hiroshima.

AH: Okay.

WY: They came from Hiroshima, and then, then I don't know what year they came, but they came to Hawaii and started to work in Maui.

AH: And did you ever take any pilgrimages back to Hiroshima to try to find out things about that side of the family?

WY: I never did go back and check about my mother's side. I just had a chance of going to Okinawa, so I got to meet my parents', but I really didn't go back and check on something like that.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AH: You gave me your father's name before, but could you repeat it?

WY: Matsusai.

AH: And did he have a middle name or not?

WY: I don't know, but I know that his first name was Matsusai Yonamine.

AH: And you didn't get a chance to talk to him too much about his own past, but did he ever tell you little things about his childhood, about growing up, aspirations that he had, what he wanted to do?

WY: No, he didn't tell me. I guess maybe he had told my older brother, but he didn't say too much to me because, well, maybe he didn't even have time for us because he used to work twelve, fourteen hours every day working in the cane fields. So when he came home he was, take a bath, eat and go sleep.

AH: Which of his siblings did you get to know? Which of your father's siblings did you get to know?

WY: Well, in Okinawa?

AH: Because he's the only one that came over?

WY: Yes.

AH: So you got to know his brother.

WY: In Okinawa. I just, I met him one time. That's only one time I met him.

AH: And when you met him, what did you see in him that resembled your father?

WY: Well, I think, I guess, the thing that resembled, I think, was the way they used to work. They worked real hard. And watching them work when I went to Okinawa and see how they used to work, I thought they, they had to work hard to survive there.

AH: So you were seeing a real Yonamine, right?

WY: Right. [Laughs]

AH: What kind of education did your father have?

WY: Well, I think my father, I don't think he finished high school, maybe went to just grammar school and then came here, because he was only seventeen years old when he came. So maybe not too much education, I think.

AH: And how would you describe his, his attitudes towards his free time insofar as he had any? Did he have hobbies or anything that he did? Did he do artwork, or did he do carpentry?

WY: No, he didn't have any kind of hobby because, I guess, like I said, he put in so much time with his work, and he didn't really have time with us also. So, I would say majority of the time, he didn't know where we were. And, like my brother, when he was going high school, he used to play football. And my brother, my older brother was a pretty good athlete, too. And so every time he used to play football for the school, Lahainaluna, and he used to do well. And my father would go to work and his workers would tell him, "Oh, your son did so good," and he didn't know what was going on, you know? Until, so, I was lucky that my brother didn't get hurt. If my brother got hurt playing football, I don't think I could have ever played football.

AH: What are the little things that you noted in your father's personality? I mean, you see him working real hard and everything, but what put a smile on his face? Did he have a sense of humor? Did he like nature? What were some of the things about him that you just recognized even without talking to him about it?

WY: Well, my father, I guess, coming from Okinawa, I thought he was a very proud man. And when he saw us play, he didn't know anything about football or baseball. But when he used to see us play, he used to be so proud that, you know... so even like when I used to play like that, and I wanted to do well so that I can make my father happy.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AH: How did your parents meet?

WY: Oh, I don't know. [Laughs]

AH: They never told you?

WY: I don't know.

AH: But they were living in the same area.

WY: Right, yeah.

AH: So probably in just the natural course of...

WY: The thing that I can't understand was, see, my father was Okinawan and my mother Japanese, what they call naichi. And those days, the Okinawans and the Japanese, they're not too keen about marrying like that. It's just like me now, when I met my wife, my name is Yonamine, that's an Okinawan name, and my wife's name was Iwashita. And a lot of times, maybe my wife's parents wasn't too keen about me going with the daughter. And we used to have the fam-, my wife's parents used to get calls from the Okinawans, says that, "Leave the Okinawa boy alone. Let your daughter marry the Japanese, the Okinawans marry the Okinawans."

AH: Do you think your mother heard that, too, from her parents?

WY: Might be. In those days, way back way before us, I'm very sure that they must have something like that.

AH: Would you describe your parents' relationship as a loving one, as a close one?

WY: Yeah, my mother and father was very close. Very close. But, so that's the reason why I think my family, my brothers and sisters, we're pretty close.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AH: When and where were you born? I know you were born in 1925, but what's the exact date, and were you born in a hospital or were you born at home with a midwife? What did you...

WY: Oh, midwife, I think. Our days, we all had midwife. We, we were always born with a midwife, I think, those days. But I don't know whether it was day or night. I never even remember those things.

AH: Now where were you in the order of the siblings?

WY: Number three.

AH: Number three, and do you remember the birth of some of your younger siblings?

WY: Well, I know all of them are about two years, you know, my other brother was two, my brother is two years younger and below that was two years. But I actually don't know the, what year they got, they were born.

AH: You don't know if they had midwives, or at some point they started, your mom started to go to the hospital for...

WY: Maybe, maybe the sixth and seventh one, maybe they went to the hospital, I think.

AH: What was your mom like? What was her personality?

WY: She was very quiet, and, but when she get mad, she really gets mad, you know. But she worked very hard. Those days, when you're in a plantation like that, you're going to try and make a buck here and there. She used to do all kind of work. So, I really respected that lady.

AH: If you sometimes get an image of your mother in your mind from the time when you were a child, what sort of image comes and what sort of story attaches itself to the image? I mean, sometimes, it'll even bring tears to your eyes or give you a sudden flash of emotion. What is that thing that you see with your mom?

WY: I think, but my mom is a, she's a quiet but she was a very strong lady. When she tells us something, tell us do something, we don't do it, she would chase us with a broom and put 'em in the, put us in the chicken coop and things like that. So, my brother and I, sometimes we would fight each other and they would, she would put us in the chicken coop and let us stay there for an hour before we can get out again. Sometimes she would not let us eat because we wouldn't listen to her, you know.

AH: Did she ever have to turn over any of the discipline to your dad?

WY: Sometimes, yeah. She would tell my dad and, you know, but my father didn't scold us that much. He was really nice to us.

AH: So you didn't get corporal punishment from your dad?

WY: No, no.

AH: You were all pretty big guys, too.

WY: Yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AH: Tell me about your siblings, all of them. And give me a name with each one and tell me a little bit about them so I can get a sense of what the Yonamine family was like.

WY: Well, my oldest sister, Ritsuko, she's the oldest. And she, all the years, she always was with my father and mother, helping them all the time. And so she's still in Maui. But if it wasn't for her, I think my mother would have had a hard time. So, she didn't get married until kind of late because she was always there helping my mom and dad. And she had to work, help them support all the other brothers and sisters. And then my brother, number two, Akira, he was a pretty good athlete -- good football, baseball, basketball player. And so he was kind of like my idol, that guy, because he really, in high school, he really did good. But he, even today, he loves the game so much that he have kids come over to the house, he'd teach them how to play baseball and things like that. But...

AH: And you came next?

WY: Yeah, then I came.

AH: What was the age gap between the two?

WY: Two years.

AH: Just the two years?

WY: Yeah. And then, then between the next one, Satoru and I, we're about four years apart because between us there was another brother that died when he was only couple months. He died, see? So the one below me now, Monty, he was a studious type, you know. He played a little baseball, but he really went into the books a lot. He studied hard and all that. So, so he wasn't much of a athlete, that one. But he came out and he had a good job, you know. And then the one below that, Noboru, went to Iolani, and he made, he played football. He wasn't big, you know, little smaller than I am. But he made Honolulu Interscholastic All Star Team. So he, that, Nobu was quiet, really quiet. He don't say too much, but he played a lot of sports himself. And then came my sister, Alma. She was more... worked in the bank and help the family a lot, too. And the youngest one, Kenneth, he played baseball and, baseball and football. But he was another one that studied a lot, and he became an engineer working for Board of Water Supply.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AH: And did the family live throughout the childhood of all of your siblings in the same area near Lahaina?

WY: Yeah, they all, up until high school, but then after high school, they all kind of spread out. Even me, when I was, well, when I was a junior, I already came to Honolulu.

AH: Right, and I want to ask you a little bit about that. And where you grew up as a child was this little village outside of Lahaina. And did you have a lot of work that you were obliged to do? Last time we were doing our pre-interview, you were talking a little bit about some of your chores and stuff, but maybe you could tell us about it now.

WY: Well, when I was twelve, fourteen years old, we used to, all the kids used to work in the cane field those days during the summer. You worked for about maybe two and a half months during the summer and try to make as much money as you can. In those days, you work a whole day and they pay you only 25 cents a day. But we all had to work to help because my father was working in the cane field all day, twelve, fourteen hours a day, and maybe he'll come home and make only about seventy or eighty dollars a month. So, and when you have seven kids, you know, that's not enough. So during the summer, my brother, myself, my sister, we all try to help out to try to make as much money we can. So, I used to work in the cane field, get up maybe 4 o'clock in the morning, and go to cane field and cut grass. And I used to hate that job because, you know, the leaves would cut you and all that. So, but after that, that was my freshman year. My sophomore year, then I worked in a pineapple field because they had, you could make more money working in a pineapple field. So I started to work in the pineapple field where we made, used to make about $15 a day. And my job was to... see, the ladies that put the pineapple in the box, and the box would weigh about 50, 60 pounds, and you have a team with three on, team one on one side, and there's a guy on top of the, on the truck and he would load about twenty, forty boxes on the truck. And each box you throw on the truck is 1 cent, see? But we used to make good money. And that, and the reason why I took that job was because it was good for me when I used to, for football, and when I played that next year, develop. So I used to do that, but we used to make pretty good money when, at that time.

AH: In some Japanese American families, when you had a job, you brought home the money and you just gave it over to your family. Did you do that?

WY: Yes, yes. Everything, whatever money we made, every, we gave it to our parents.

AH: Would you say that comparatively, not absolutely, but compared to the other people living around you, that your family was economically deprived, or about average or above average?

WY: I would say we were about average, yeah.

AH: And what would an average family live in with seven kids and the parents? What kind of home did you have?

WY: Well, wasn't anything great, but at least it was clean, you know. You have enough food because, when you live in the countryside, you raise your own chicken, ducks, and your own vegetables and things. So my father used to take care of all of those things, too. So, in a way, as far as having food on the table, we had a lot of food on the table. But to buy clothes, we didn't have that much money to buy clothes. So naturally, we have to, I have to use what my brother had and all the way down like that. So I used to go to school, sometimes you have a patch in the back here like that. And I used to be so embarrassed with things like that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AH: When you went to school, how far away was the elementary school that you went to?

WY: Well, up until third grade, every day, I used to walk about a mile to go to school right in where I was born. After third grade, we went to Lahaina, that's when we had the bus going, taking us to school and back. So if we missed the bus, we have to walk six miles back to come home. So we try not to miss the bus.

AH: And how did Lahaina contrast with where you were in the village? Was that like a big town?

WY: Oh, yeah, huge town. [Laughs] As far as living like, I remember the first time I went to Wailuku. And when I, first time I went to Wailuku, and I went, see the Wailuku town, I thought, "Oh, boy. What a big town it is." But never did I know that one day I'd be coming to Honolulu, and then I went to, like, New York or... yeah. [Laughs]

AH: What kind of things did you do, I know when you got into high school, you did a lot of sports, obviously, but what did you do as a kid, you and your siblings? What kind of things did you do to sort of recreate? You had the beach nearby and...

WY: Well, we used to, those days, naturally, we didn't have money so we used to get all this, what you call Carnation canned cream and roll it up with paper, and we used to play football with that. All those, and we didn't have any glove. I remember the first time when I played organized baseball for a team in Lahaina, I didn't have a glove or a spike, so they loaned me a glove. And so I was kinda... so when you go over there and you don't have a glove, and all these other guys have gloves, spikes, you know, kind of embarrassing. But you can't do nothing. Even like, I remember, I joined the Cub Scouts and we used to go camping and some of those guys get so much canned goods and things. But myself, we didn't have the kind of things that we could eat and things like that. So when we would cook the rice, the rice is half-cooked. So, we cannot throw it away and get a new one because there's no rice. We have to eat it. [Laughs]

AH: I was in the Bishop Museum, just the branch of the Bishop Museum that's in this particular tower of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and they had a history of Waikiki, and it was showing the surfing and stuff at Waikiki. And by the 1930s, there was a lot of surfing going on in Waikiki, and there was gigantic redwood boards and other things. In Maui, was there any board surfing going on at the time that you were growing up?

WY: We didn't have that kind of nice boards, but we used to have small little boards that we would go out and surf. And, but, we used to do a lot of surfing in Olowalu.

AH: So there was a lot of surfing at that time.

WY: Yeah. We didn't have those nice boards, you know.

AH: And at that time when you were a kid, what aspirations did you have as to, I mean, we all played with things: "I want to be this when I grow up. I want to be that when I grow up." Did you say, "I want to work in the pineapple fields"? Or, "I want to work in the sugar mill," or what did you say to yourself?

WY: Well, when I was growing up, my grandmother had this radio and sometimes, somehow, they would, you would listen to a Honolulu interscholastic football game, or the Hawaii City League baseball game. And that was a dream for me. I'd say, "Gee, I wish that one day I can play at the Honolulu Stadium." And just two years ago, my brother told me that I told him that one day I'm going to be a professional athlete. And I didn't know I told him that, but when I was growing up, I said, "I want to play at the Honolulu Stadium." And then, that's the reason why when I went to Lahainaluna, my freshman, my sophomore year, after my sophomore year, I went to see my father, I told my father I wanted to go to Honolulu. And my father, since he came to Okinawa when he was seventeen years old, he left Okinawa, came to Honolulu. He told me that, "If you want to go, you go."

AH: Like father, like son.

WY: Yes. So I, so I just packed up some things and I came. And my, the room I was staying, naturally, not that nice. It's just this little room was just about this size, and they didn't have any kind of kitchenette or anything like that. Lot of times -- and I didn't have money a lot of times, and I was a junior at Farrington High School. And sometimes, I couldn't eat, during Christmas, New Year's, I couldn't go home because I didn't have money to travel.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AH: Before we get into the schooling in Honolulu, I want to stick a little bit with back in... because you went to Lahainaluna school. But your schooling, generally, when you were growing up, what did you like about school? What did you like the least about school and why? I mean, what was your educational experience like quite apart from athletic exploits?

WY: Well, when I went to Lahainaluna, see, I just loved -- my brother naturally played football and baseball, so when I was in grammar school, I would say, "One day, I want to play football." So, so my freshman year, when I was in ninth grade, I went to Lahainaluna. Where I was staying, I couldn't get transportation because it's six miles to Lahaina, and there's no transportation for me to go to school. So I asked the coach that I could be a boarder and stay at the dormitory at Lahainaluna. So they told me that yes, they had room for me. So I stayed at Lahainaluna two years, the freshman and sophomore year. And my job there was, see, I had pick, every morning, I have to go and pick a hundred pound of grass to feed the cows because they had a farm there where they, they raised cows and pigs and chicken, ducks, and lot of vegetables and things. See, they had about 125 boarders there, so they had to feed them and things. And a lot of times, the milk and a lot of the eggs and things, they sell it -- go downtown and they sell it. So that was my job. I'd get up 5 o'clock in the morning, my freshman, sophomore year, and I would go pick 100 pound. Sometimes I had to climb two mountains and 100 pounds on my back coming in. But that really helped me in football because that really strengthened my legs.

AH: Tell me a little bit more about that school, because I was there the other day, and I noticed there was a sign that said that the school started in 1831. In addition to that, it had a printing museum, and I had been there before, a year and a half ago. And my wife teaches a course dealing with the history of the book and that was a very famous place, and she now gives lectures on the place. But it was, it's real interesting that they used to have the first printing press west of the Mississippi. And you're talking about boarders there. Tell me a little bit about that school.

WY: Well, they, they have, they, every year, now they don't have that. See, before, we all had to work. So they had about 125 kids from the island of Molokai, Lanai, Island of Hawaii. All the boarders used to go there and work, and they all have to work. Whether you have money or not, you worked three hours a day for your breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we all went through that. And my job was to go and pick 100 pound grass every morning. So we'd get up 5 o'clock and go down. Rain or shine, you go. You climb up the pathway and you have 100 pound on your back coming up.

AH: That's an amazing thing about that school, is it just goes up, up, up. You're constantly climbing. Your legs must have gotten strong.

WY: Oh, definitely. My legs were -- because I used to climb, actually, I don't exaggerate, I used to climb two mountains. Big mountains where you had to come up with that 100 pound of grass in rain or shine. Sometimes it's slippery when it rains, and when you fall, you cannot throw that 100 pounds on the floor because you have a hard time -- on the ground -- because hard time bringing it up again because it's a small pathway you have to go.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AH: I saw a very primitive football field there the other day, and it had a plaque on it. And it had on the plaque the winners of what they called an Industrial League or something. And it went back into the '30s and on through the '40s, so I figured it was there when -- is that the, have you been back to see that school?

WY: No, I haven't, I haven't been there for a while, but we used to play up that mountain there. They made a field there and we used to play there at one time.

AH: And so tell me about your, your athletic team there. It was called the Lunas, and I thought that was a funny name because usually you think of a luna as a foreman. [Laughs]

WY: Yeah. [Laughs]

AH: Did it mean "moon" there? Is that what they meant?

WY: Well, actually, they cut short for Luna. Actually, it was Lahainaluna.

AH: Uh-huh.

WY: And when we were there, they never used to call it Luna. It was always Lahainaluna.

AH: Oh, they did.

WY: Yeah. But our, my freshman, sophomore year, we won both championships at that time because we had a lot of kids from Molokai, Samoan kids that came here. So we had some good teams at that time.

AH: Who'd you play?

WY: Right in Maui, we had Maui High School, Baldwin High School, St. Anthony's. They had about five or six teams there, Maui, so we played against each other. And then sometimes we'd play some exhibition games, teams from Honolulu.

AH: Now, I know at Farrington you played football, basketball and baseball. Did you play all those sports at Lahainaluna?

WY: Yes.

AH: And how was their other teams? The basketball and baseball.

WY: Well, we had, we were, when we were playing, see, when I was playing, we won both, three spots. We won everything because they had a guy Bill McQueen. He was a good athlete, too. And he and I used to, just took over that thing. [Laughs]

AH: Okay.

WY: So, but Lahainaluna had good ballplayers, like all these Samoans from Molokai, or there's some guys from Hawaii. So we had some good teams there.

AH: And you didn't play when your brother was there because he was two years ahead of you.

WY: Right, right.

AH: I saw something in a article that appeared about a person who played, and I think he played with, with your brother, and his name was Toshi Nakasone.

WY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes.

AH: And he played with your brother, Akira.

WY: Right, right.

AH: And was he a star athlete, too, or not?

WY: Who?

AH: Nakasone.

WY: Yeah, he was a good basketball player. But his brother, his name is Nobu. Toshi, and they had another one. See, my brother, Akira, and Nobu were teammates. But this Nobu Nakasone, he was a doctor here. Internist, and he was a great doctor here, and he's retired now. But, but my brother, Aki, and Nobu and Toshi, they all played together, basketball.

AH: And you told us when we were in Redondo just having a... was it Redondo Beach?

WY: Yeah.

AH: When we were having our chat, you said that your brother, Akira, was faster than you. And, but you were a stronger runner?

WY: Yes. I was more a powerhouse type of runner. But when I was in high school, I wasn't that fast. But after I got out of high school and I started to play semi-pro ball, before I went with the 49ers, somehow I picked up speed. So I had a good start, so after that I was much faster.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AH: Did you have some exploits when you were even a freshman at Lahainaluna? Were you already starting to make a splash as an athlete?

WY: Well, when I, my freshman year, sophomore year, I already made the All-Star in Maui, see. But when I was in grammar school, when I was in eighth grade, Lahainaluna already wanted me to come up and play for them already. So my soph-, my freshman year, my ninth grade, I played for Lahainaluna. And while I was in the eighth grade, they had spring training, you know. And I used to go up and work out with the regular team, the players already.

AH: And how big were you then? Because later, you got to be like 5'9" and 165 when you were at your playing weight. What were you then?

WY: I was, when I was in grammar school, I used to weigh 150, and then it went up to, when I went to Lahainaluna, I wanted to put on more weight, so I said weights, lifted weights and things like that. So I came up to about 170.

AH: And yet you wouldn't have been one of the biggest in the school with the Samoans there.

WY: Yeah, no. They had some bigger, the Samoans are bigger, much bigger.

AH: And what about the other sports, aside from football? I know you played 'em, but how were you as a basketball player?

WY: Well, I was average, I would say. I wasn't bad. Well, I was, like, for instance, when I was in the army, 1944, I was stationed at Scofield Barracks and we won the championship in that area there. And we were supposed to play against the Harlem Globetrotters, and I refused to play because I wanted to go to college. So the colonel was so mad at me that he throw me to heavy equipment and let me drive a 10-ton truck because I didn't play. But so, when I was playing basketball, I must have been a pretty good basketball player, too, because I could play against the Harlem Globetrotters at that time.

AH: Did you play guard or did you play forward or what position?

WY: I played more guard, yeah. I used to handle the ball more.

AH: So you were a dribbler and a passer.

WY: Yeah.

AH: And could you shoot well?

WY: I was a pretty good shooter. [Laughs]

AH: And then, baseball, at, when you were in Lahainaluna, was that a good sport for you at that point, too?

WY: See, when I was -- I used to, see, baseball was a sport that, even basketball was a sport that when football season's over, I just, just wanted to stay in shape. So I love football. Football was my number one sport. So when the football season's over, I'd go to baseball just to try to stay in shape and things like that, basketball, you know. But, I used to play all kind of sports, even soccer, I played soccer, too. When I was in the eighth grade, I played against the grown-ups, soccer. When I used to play football like Farrington, I kicked extra point; I could kick both left and right, extra point.

AH: Were you sports-crazy when you were in high school?

WY: Oh, desperately. I was so sports-crazy, I didn't even, never studied. [Laughs]

AH: Did you miss classes?

WY: Sometimes. Even like grammar school, I mean, when I was in the third grade, those days you go to English school and then after that you go to one hour Japanese school. But I used to cut class all the time. I didn't care to go to Japanese school, but I didn't realize that one day I would go to Japan and play ball in Japan. So when I went to Japan, naturally, I couldn't speak Japanese. I really regretted that. I wished that I had studied when I was young.

AH: I've seen in articles about you that when you went to Japan, it says, literally, that you did not know a word of Japanese. But I found in talking to people when they say that, it's not absolutely true; that you're bound to pick up some Japanese terms or could have conversations with Japanese-speaking people. Was that true of you?

WY: Yeah, just a little bit. I mean, I was, my Japanese was really bad.

AH: Was part of the reason because, unlike most Issei women, your mother was a Nisei and she could speak English?

WY: Yeah. Right. See, my father, although he spoke to us in broken English, but he never did talk to us in Japanese. And my mother, being a Nisei, my mother would talk to us in Japanese a little bit. But so, our house, we didn't talk too much Japanese in the house.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AH: Did you get any role models at Lahainaluna in the way of coaches or teachers or somebody who you said, "that's the kind of person I want to be," or, "that's the sort of life I want to lead"?

WY: Well, Lahainaluna, like I said, the guy that I really admired was my brother because he was a good athlete -- played football well, baseball, basketball. So when I was growing up, sometimes I wished that I would, could be like him.

AH: And where did he go after he graduated from Lahainaluna?

WY: After Lahainaluna, then he got drafted. He went in the army during the war days. So when he came out, he was a little too old already, so he couldn't play any sports after that.

AH: So the difference in your age, the slight difference, made a lot of difference in terms of the whole trajectory of your life.

WY: Right, yeah. See, if he had continued, maybe go to college. He didn't go to college. Drafted out of high school, and he had to go in the army. So when he came out, it was too late for him to continue. So he, so he didn't go to college. If he had gone to college, I think he could've done well because he was really fast. Just until a couple days ago, he had a record in Maui -- 50 yard dash. He had the record, fastest time.

AH: Up until a couple of days ago?

WY: Yeah, couple days ago.

AH: Wow. Your dad was very cooperative about you going to Honolulu, you said. What about your football coach at Lahainaluna? He must've been furious that you were abandoning the team.

WY: Well, I don't know, I don't know what the coach thought, but I didn't care about the coach. I wanted to go to Honolulu. [Laughs] That was my... because I really wanted to come to Honolulu and play at the Honolulu Stadium.

AH: And how did you make the decision, we talked a little bit about it, but why don't you tell it to posterity on the tape. How did you come to choose Farrington out of high school as opposed to any of the others?

WY: When I came here, I knew only one, I had only one friend here, see? So, when I came to Honolulu, he took me to see St. Louis practice. So we went to see St. Louis, but, somehow St. Louis wasn't my thing. So the next day I went to see Farrington practice. And the Farrington kids were so nice to me. I told them, "Hey, you want me to throw me some pass?" So I'd be in these civilian clothes, I would throw 'em passes. Next day I enrolled at Farrington right away because I liked Farrington. The kids were so nice to me.

AH: Was St. Louis a parochial school? Was that a Catholic school?

WY: Catholic school, yes.

AH: And Farrington was a public school.

WY: Yes, yes.

AH: I think we're running out of tape, so I'm going to stop so he can make the change on it.

JI: I'm just curious in the last couple of minutes, who were the sports heroes of the time that you, you know, like in the professional or college ranks when you were growing up?

WY: I'll tell you the truth; see, when you're in Maui, you don't, you don't read the paper, you don't usually follow things like that. So, at that time, the professional ranks, well, you think like... even the guys like Johnny Lujack, I didn't know them until I came to Honolulu and many years after. But, our days was Red Grange. I used to see him in the movies. And so I used to follow Red Grange a lot when he used to play football like that. But actually, as far as all the big stars in the pro ranks or major league, we didn't know anything about people like that.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AH: Well, with the camera off we had some stories here and I want to return, if we can, to Lahainaluna. Let's go into your playing there, because I was getting the impression that you only played schools that were on Maui. But when we were talking here, it sounds like you, a couple of times, went over to Oahu and played teams in Honolulu and that some Honolulu teams came over to Maui and played you. So talk a little bit about that, would you?

WY: Well, during, before the season starts, you know, they had teams come to Maui and we'd play Roosevelt, Farrington -- you know, they came and played against them. But we could compete with these teams in Honolulu because Lahainaluna had a good team. We had a lot of, couple of Samoans, real big Samoan kids on the line. So even when we came to Honolulu, we played against Camp School. Camp School, they had some big guys, too, but our guys were just as big. So we gave these Honolulu teams a good competition. Like we played St. Louis, St. Louis beat us 13-7. Wedemeyer was playing at that time.

AH: Herman Wedemeyer.

WY: Yeah, he was, at St. Mary's, been All-American there. But Herman Wedemeyer, I played against him, and so I had a good day, too. Even today, they always say, "Who's better, Yonamine or Wedemeyer?" [Laughs]

AH: So you played tailback in single wing?

WY: Yes, tailback. And not too many, not too many tailback single wing are left-handed. They're all right-handed.

AH: Well, you've been described, later on when you played football, as a slashing runner and a good passer and even a very good kicker. So, did you do all that at Lahainaluna? Did you, were you a triple threat?

WY: Everything. I did everything; I ran, passed, run and everything I did.

AH: Did you place kick or drop kick?

WY: Place kick -- I mean, yeah, place kicked, yeah.

AH: Place kicked. And did you ever kick a field goal?

WY: Yes, I, when I came to Farrington, my senior year we played, we were playing Camp School. And the score was 7-7, and then... and I didn't practice, you know, practice field goal and things like that. Then, the last quarter, it was tied so the coach told me to go in and kick a field goal. So, I kicked one 30-yard field goal, and we beat 'em 10-7. [Laughs]

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AH: You know, you've been telling me some things that makes me wonder why you transferred from Lahainaluna to Honolulu and to go to Farrington, because you have good crowds, and you had a good team, and you were competitive with these other teams and sometimes beat 'em, sometimes lost. Why did you go to Honolulu?

WY: Because I wanted to play at the Honolulu Stadium. That was my dream when I was a kid, and that's the only reason why I came to Honolulu; I wanted to play at the Honolulu Stadium. But never did I know, after that, that really opened doors for me to come to Honolulu, because then I had a chance of playing for the 49ers or playing baseball. See, when you play in Maui, you don't get exposed too much. People don't watch you that much. But you come to Honolulu, now, there's more scouts, more good coaches. They watch you and they might give you a scholarship, go here and there. But at that time, when I first came to Honolulu, my dream was just to play football at Honolulu Stadium.

AH: And you even came to Honolulu not too long after Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

WY: Right, yeah.

AH: And so weren't your parents worried about you coming over to Honolulu?

WY: Not my father. My father, when I told him I wanted to come to Honolulu, he told me, "You want to go, you go." And I guess, he coming from Okinawa at seventeen years old, so he didn't think anything of it, I think.

AH: And how did you support yourself when you were in Honolulu when you enrolled in Farrington?

WY: Well, my father sometimes used to give me some spending money and things like that. And my friend, the friend that I used to stay with used to give me spending money and things like that. But there's many a times that I didn't have money to eat. Like during Christmas or New Year's, I wanted to go back to Maui, I can't go because I don't have money and things like that. And lot of times, Christmas, New Year's, everything in town in Honolulu, all the restaurants are closed, so I have no place to eat. But I went to, my junior year was the roughest time in my life, I think. And then my senior year, when you start playing football, you start making friends. So your teammates ask you to come to their house or you get invited out and things like that. So my senior year was much easier for me.

AH: Well, it must have been much more fun for you, too, because your junior year you didn't get to play any sports.

WY: Right.

AH: So what did you do during that time, concentrate on studies or what?

WY: No, no. What I did was, see, our days, just about the war days, so they had two, two shifts. Farrington, the triple hospital took over Farrington High School. So, we were staying in the back, just like a chicken coop where they have Quonset huts where all the classes were there. So, we stayed there and we started to play football and all that -- work out right over there. So, it wasn't that bad.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AH: And how many high schools were there, then, in Honolulu, because I know when you went to Farrington that last year that you were eligible, your senior year, Farrington won the championship in football, in basketball, and baseball, and it was the first time they had ever won the football championship.

WY: Right.

AH: How many teams were in Honolulu?

WY: There were seven. Seven teams.

AH: And who are they? Do you remember the names of the schools?

WY: I think it was Farrington, McKinley, Kamehameha, St. Louis, Roosevelt, Punahou, Kaimuki.

AH: And tell me something about those, because it helps me to understand a little bit about the Hawaiian high schools. Because I read the other day, for example, that you mentioned Roosevelt -- when Roosevelt was a school, I know your wife graduated from Roosevelt. I was kind of surprised about that because what I read was there were very few Asian students at Roosevelt, that most of them went to McKinley. But tell me a little about each of those schools.

WY: Well, Roosevelt, when we were going to Roosevelt, that was more, kids were going to Roosevelt, English standard school then. See, not too many people can go to Roosevelt in those days. From grammar school, you go all the way, you have to kind of speak good English and go to that school. Punahou was a private school. St. Louis was a Catholic school, so some of these guys went straight to St. Louis. But Camp School was a school that you have to get Hawaiian blood in you to go Camp School. But you still got McKinley, Farrington, Kaimuki and schools that are more public. A lot of the Orientals were going to that schools.

AH: Did Kamehameha, did they have a decent football team?

WY: Yeah, they had a good team. Our year, so it was between Camp School, Farrington, McKinley, St. Louis, all these teams. See, those days, like now, Punahou is a real strong team now, but our days Punahou was very weak.

AH: And so was high school football really big in Honolulu?

WY: Oh, yeah.

AH: And so all the games were played at the big stadium?

WY: No, they played at the old Honolulu Stadium. And that used to, that stadium used to hold 25,000 in those days.

AH: Is that the one we visited yesterday?

WY: Yeah, 25,000. So even today, I wish that they didn't knock that stadium down because they could really use that stadium for baseball.

AH: And where did the University of Hawaii play at that time?

WY: They played there.

AH: Oh, they did?

WY: Yeah.

AH: Did they have decent football games then?

WY: Oh, in those days? Yeah, they had pretty good football teams in those days, yeah. They had some good ballplayers.

AH: And were there some stars that came out of the University of Hawaii, or not?

WY: Well, they didn't, they didn't play pro, but they had some good football players at that time.

AH: And so, what was, your main rival the year that you won the championship, who did you beat for the championship?

WY: We beat Camp School. Camp School, we beat St. Louis, McKinley. This was the three big schools that we really beat.

AH: And what were the highlights of the year for you personally? What kind of... did you have a very big game against a particular opponent?

WY: Well, lot of the, lot of the games, like, think like Camp School, we beat 'em 10-7 as I scored all the points. Like St. Louis or Roosevelt, I scored most of the touchdown and did so well.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AH: Were you getting a lot of publicity?

WY: Oh, yeah, lot of publicity, yeah.

AH: And were you getting approached by college scouts at that time?

WY: Not at that time. See, how the 49ers got a hold of me was, when I graduated, and I had a scholarship to go to Ohio State, but the 49ers got me. So before I signed with the 49ers, see, after high school, I was in the army at Scofield Barracks here. And I was there for year and a half. And while I was there, I played on a team called Lealums, they're the alumni league. And I played for Lealums, and we barnstormed to Portland, Oregon. So, we played against Portland University. And at that game, we beat Portland, 64-13. And I scored about forty-six points myself. I kicked all the extra points and I scored maybe six or seven touchdown. And then the scout for the 49ers came and scouted, wanted to scout the quarterback for Oregon, Portland University. But I did so well at that game, that they didn't, I had a play that I would run around in, on the run, I would kick the ball, and that day I kicked the ball 65 yards in the air.

AH: This was a career day, wasn't it?

WY: Yeah. So the scout, instead of writing about this quarterback from Portland University, he only wrote about me when he got this report to the 49ers. He only wrote about me. So, it was about two weeks or so before I was supposed to report to Ohio State. The 49ers, they told me they want to see me in San Francisco. So instead of going to Ohio State, I went to San Francisco and met the owner, Mr. Morabito and Buck Shaw, the head coach. And they gave me a two-year guaranteed contract.

AH: What was the year, the years that you were in the army?

WY: I was there '45, '46.

AH: So was the war over when you got into the army?

WY: Not yet. See, I, when I went in the army, we were supposed to take three months of basic and they were going to ship us to Europe and join the 442nd Infantry, the battalion there. And then about month and a half, the war got through. So, I was stationed in at Scofield, I just played football, baseball and basketball after that. [Laughs]

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AH: You had a ringside seat on what Honolulu was like during World War II, and especially the year you weren't playing sports and stuff. So, could you kind of give us a portrait of what it was like living in Honolulu when they had this tremendous influx of military people and war workers and everything else? The population doubled overnight, practically. What was it like?

WY: Well, see, the good thing about -- coming to sports -- the good thing about during the war, they had all these major league ballplayers, all these professional football players, all-American, all-pros, they all came to Hawaii in the air force, or army, navy and all that. So all the people in Hawaii saw the best. And so, even like us, I was playing, I was playing baseball at that time for the Asahi baseball team. But I learned my, a lot of baseball from all these major leaguers that came. So when you play against these major league teams, so your brand of ball start going up. And that's the only reason why when I went to Japan in 1951, I could compete against the Japanese because I played my baseball all against a lot of these ex-major, I mean, these major leaguers here in Hawaii. Played ball with them, and that's how I got to learn. And naturally, the pitching was much faster and they taught me how to play the infield, how to play the outfield, and how to hit and all those things. So when I went to Japan, I was more or less ready, but the kids today, now, they cannot go to Japan and play because they're not ready. Our days, we were ready when we went to Japan.

AH: Who were the Asahi team? Who were they? A semi-pro team?

WY: Yeah, semi-pro. It's all, just like a industrial league, but it's a semi-pro team.

AH: Did you play other industrial league teams?

WY: Yes, they had, they had the Chinese team, they had the Japanese team, they had the haole teams, they had the Filipino team, like that. They had about five or six teams, all nationality. And then they played against each other.

AH: And so your baseball really shot up at that time, too, then, in your abilities, as well as the football.

WY: Right.

AH: So, okay, so anyway, we got you over to where you were talking about, where you finally got a chance, you got this exposure in Portland, when you had this career day. And Buck Shaw and the 49ers saw you. And this would have been the 49ers team that had Frankie Albert as quarterback and had great fame at Stanford with Norm Standlee and everybody for the Stanford Indians then, now they're the Cardinals. But how did the recruitment occur? You got $7000?

WY: Well, they gave me $14,000, guaranteed contract -- $7000 a year. I was there one year with them. And then, then the following year, after the first year was over, I came back to Hawaii.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AH: Talk a little bit about that first year before you get to Hawaii.

WY: Oh, okay. When I was, the first year there, see, the first year you go to camp, they give you about almost a hundred plays that you have to study. And the veterans, they have two practice, morning and afternoon. Like us rookies, we have to practice, study our plays, so after the morning session we go back to our room, we have to study our plays because you can't, when they have scrimmages, you can't make mistake. You have to... and I remember one time, Frankie Albert would call a play in the huddle and we go in line of scrimmage and he would look at the defense and he'd think that this play's not going to work, right in our line of scrimmage, he says, "Watch the count." When you say, "watch the count," the play in the huddle is all forgotten now. New play coming up. So right in the line of scrimmage, he start counting, "22, 65, 33." And in a matter of seconds, the play's going. I remember, me, I was a right half, and there was another boy, I mean, he was twenty-two years just like me. And he was left halfback. So when Frankie Albert, called the play, he says, "Hike!" he and I didn't move at all. We didn't know were to go. [Laughs] But that's just experience. If you, so after that, as soon as you get used to it, you know what to do. But at that time...

AH: But that was the first time you ever played T-formation, too, wasn't it?

WY: No, when I came to Farrington, Farrington had T-formation, so I played there. But then, when I was with the 49ers, they give you, like, it's altogether different from semi-pro, high school ball because when you play with a professional team, see, they give you six numbers, and huddle and all these numbers, what to do. And then, then, see, our days, we play offense and defense. So, when you go defense, now they have numbers X, Y, Z, and all that. So you got to learn all those plays. If you don't learn those plays, you're not going to do it. And on top of that, you have these guys, 250, 270-80 pounds, and they're coming in full speed and you have to block them. You got to protect Frankie Albert, he's the quarterback. And they roll you right over, you know, hit you so hard.

AH: Well, I read that you had, 'cause there's not a lot written about that year of yours with the 49ers, they skip over that into your injury and then started talking about why you go to, into baseball and things. But, you averaged 3.9 yards a carry from what I could see. And you also caught some passes and made an interception during the year where you started three games. So did you have a good exhibition season? Were you touted as being a coming star, or how did that...?

WY: Well, I had a good exhibition game. I know even one play I had, I ran the ball 98 yards for a touchdown. On a kickoff, you know, I ran 98 yards for a touchdown. But as soon as the season started, they go with the veterans; they don't go with the young guys. So, and lot of times, Buck Shaw would call me a, call a play and I would go in and tell Frankie Albert. And those days, Frankie Albert was the king, see. So I would go in, he would not call my play. Buck Shaw would go and say, "Call this play," and Albert would not call the play. But lot of times, the plays that you think have a chance doing well, but didn't dare to do it.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AH: There was still a lot of anti-Japanese feeling, especially in areas like San Francisco, and this was pretty close after the end of the war. Did you feel any of that when you were playing there, either from the public, generally, or from... because you were the first person of color to break into the pro ranks in football.

WY: No, as far as prejudice and things like that, I don't think I saw anything like that. The players were real nice to me. But I know the Japanese people that came out of the camp, you know, naturally, they used to, a lot of times they used to call them "Jap" and things like that. But as far as I was concerned, you know, like when we travel, go to New York, Chicago, whatever -- and stay in a hotel, we had a guy, Joe Perry and another black guy, two or three blacks. They couldn't stay in the same hotel that the whites stayed. They had to go to second-rate hotels or maybe stay at a relative's place or something like that. But I stayed in the same hotel. My roommate was a white guy. He and I was roommate.

AH: Who was that?

WY: Eddie Carr, Eddie Carr.

AH: Good, you pulled it out.

WY: Yeah, Eddie Carr.

AH: You know, just in looking at this and doing the research on it, in the year 1947, it was such a groundbreaking year for sports in terms of not only Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball, but then you in football, and then Iwata Masaki, another Japanese American in basketball. Were you conscious of the fact that you were a groundbreaker at that time?

WY: No, never, because, you know why? When I went to the States like that, see, Hawaii is a place that everybody's the same. Could be Japanese, Chinese, haole, Hawaiian -- everybody equal. So when I went there, I didn't feel that I'm a Japanese or anything like that. So, when I went there, I thought I'm American. So nothing, things like that didn't bother me at all But, when I see the Japanese people that came out of the camps and they would call them "Jap" and things like that. That I saw.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AH: Who did you have for social contacts when you were a rookie there for the 49ers? You're in San Francisco. Did you gravitate towards the Japanese American community at all? Did you have friends from Hawaii that were living over in the mainland? Servicepeople?

WY: I had, see, I was really fortunate. See, they had a guy Frank Furuchi. He used to, they used to own the Los Altos nursery, and they were in Los Altos. And one day, one night -- we were training at Menlo Junior College -- and one night he came knocking at my door. So, this guy Frank Furuchi, he, he came and told me, "You don't know who I am, but I read in the paper where you're losing weight. You want to eat rice. I want to bring you to my home." I was so happy when he came in. So he said, "The next day off, I'm going to take you, come pick you up and take you to my home." And he used to live about fifteen, twenty minutes away from Menlo junior college.

AH: He's Italian, right?

WY: Huh?

AH: He was an Italian?

WY: Italian? No, no, no. He was Japanese.

AH: Oh, how do you spell his last name?

WY: Furuchi.

AH: Oh, Furuchi. I thought you said "Farucci." I was going to say, I was gonna say, "What's he doing giving you rice?"

WY: [Laughs] So, he and I became so close that he used to come pick me up. And then, when the 49ers moved to Kezar Stadium, moved to San Francisco, he introduced me to a man, Jiro Hosoda. And so I met Jiro and so Jiro Hosoda told me, "Why are you staying in a hotel? Why don't you come and stay with me at my house?" So I moved, I stayed with him for seven months at his house. So even today, Mr. Hosoda and the wife passed away, but they were just so close to me. And now the son and the daughter, I'm very close with them, I still get together. As a matter of fact, the son just called me last night. But I was very close with them, and then, I had a guy by the name of Bill Mizono. He was my running mate. He and I used to go out on dates, used to help me out, get me dates, and get some girls, and we used to go out on dates. But Bill was really my running mate in San Francisco.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AH: And then after the season was over, is that when you went back to Hawaii? And by Hawaii, did you mean, did you go back to Maui, or did you go back to Honolulu?

WY: I came to Honolulu, yeah.

AH: And what were you going to do there in the off-season?

WY: Then when I came back to Honolulu, I played ball for the Asahis. They are baseball. So the last two weeks before I was supposed to report back to camp at Menlo Junior College, I slid to second and I fractured my wrist. So I had a cast on, so in my contract, it says that I had to physically fit when I report to camp because it was a guaranteed contract. So when I went to camp, I had a cast on. So, one look, one look, they just released me.

AH: Some of these articles I see say you had a broken hand and other ones say that you have a fractured wrist. But it was a fractured wrist? Is that what it was?

WY: Yeah.

AH: Okay, and so then they cut you, then, huh?

WY: Yeah, cut me.

AH: That was pretty brutal, wasn't it?

WY: Well, they didn't want to take a chance, and because my contract said I had to be physically fit, see. So they can't wait and see what's going to happen.

AH: What did you think you were going to do at that point? Did you think you were going to wait for the next year and try to catch on with another professional football team?

WY: Well, after I got through, then I came back to Hawaii. And they had a professional team in Hawaii called the Hawaiian Warriors. So I hook up with Hawaiian Warriors, and I played for the Warriors for two years.

AH: Baseball team or football?

WY: Football, yeah. Then, then I played baseball, and then I met Lefty O'Doul.

AH: Tell me about the Warriors before you get on to Lefty O'Doul.

WY: Oh. So, I played for the Warriors here and so that's the time we barnstormed, went to Portland, Oregon, we went to San Jose State, Fresno State and played against those teams. But I guess, Portland, that's when I had a great game then. That's how I hook up with the 49ers.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AH: So anyway, I'm sorry. I was thinking you were saying that you played for the Warriors again after that year you played for the 49ers. What happened was -- so I can get the sequence straight -- you played for the 49ers, and then you came and you played baseball, you got hurt and then the 49ers wouldn't take you back.

WY: Right.

AH: So then what did you do at that point?

WY: Then I came back to Honolulu, and then I played for the Hawaiian Warriors.

AH: I thought you said you played for the Warriors before you played for the 49ers.

WY: No, no, no.

AH: Okay.

WY: See, I played for the 49ers right out of high school. I went straight and played for the, straight for the 49ers.

AH: Oh, I see. So, now you played --

WY: Then I played one year, I played one year with the 49ers, then when I came back and I played baseball, then I fractured my wrist. And then, after one week, I was there and they released me. And then I came back and played for the Hawaii Warriors.

AH: Oh, so you had great games for the Warriors then, throughout those two years?

WY: Oh, yeah. But then, those days, the Warriors was just like a semi-pro team anyway. And I don't think they would have picked me up anyway. So when, and then I got to meet Lefty O'Doul and then played one year with him in Salt Lake City. And I had a good year; I batted .335 in Salt Lake. So Lefty told me, he said, "Why don't you go to Japan?" So I said, well, I said, "Lefty, you know Japan better than I do." So I took his advice and went to Japan.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AH: How did you know Lefty O'Doul, and where did he see you play baseball?

WY: Actually, he didn't see me play. He, somebody introduced me to Lefty because, I guess, being a football player, baseball player, and somebody in Hawaii introduced me to Lefty. And then Lefty... so I guess they must have told Lefty that I was a pretty good baseball player. So Lefty told me if I want to play with the Seals, he would sign me up. So I said, you know, now that I'm out of football, so I figured, "Well, I might as well play baseball." So started to, so I played, so I signed up with the Seals and we trained at El Centro, California. And then after spring training, then he told me "Go to Salt Lake, get some seasoning." So I went in Salt Lake and played one year at Salt Lake.

AH: And that was Class C?

WY: Class C, yeah.

AH: And you had a good year there.

WY: .335 I batted, yeah.

AH: Wow.

WY: So then Lefty was going to bring me up. But then Lefty told me, "Before I bring you up, I think you should go to Japan. I think the Japanese will love your style of play." So I said, I said, "If you think I should go," I said, "I'll go." And I didn't know anything about Japanese baseball.

AH: I was wondering why he said that, because when you actually got to Japan, they hated your style of baseball.

WY: Yeah. [Laughs] But I went, and I guess Lefty didn't think that I would knock guys down and all that stuff, maybe. But when I was in Japan, I had a field day. But my manager, Mr. Mizara, really helped me. He told me, "What you learned in the States, you do it here in Japan. I'll back you up 100 percent." And that's all I wanted to hear because... so after that when I started to play, anybody was in my way, I would knock 'em down.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

AH: What was the Japanese league like? I read that the Japanese professional league didn't start until about 1936, so it wasn't a very old league. It was fifteen years old when you got there in 1951, when you were twenty-five years old, when you were starting to play there. What would you say -- 'cause you'd seen the best of baseball. What did you think of the caliber of the Japanese league, say, compared to the Class C league that you had just played in?

WY: Well, when I went to Japan, the Japanese, they weren't aggressive and I would say they hit a ground ball to the shortstop and they would just jog to first base. And I changed all that. So even when I was in Japan, I made a speech at a place there and the old-timers came up to me and said, "You changed Japanese baseball." Because when I went there, I did real American-style. Guys, double play, I'd break double plays. And I used to run out from the dugout all the way to center field and run back, and they never used to see that. The Japanese were so slow, you know? But I gave 'em aggressive baseball in Japan.

AH: Is it exaggerated when they write that the Japanese fans disliked you because you were Japanese American? And that you were sort of seen kind of as a traitor, in a sense, to the ancestry? And then that people threw garbage at you and cursed you and also even challenged you, came out on the field and challenged you to fights and things like that?

WY: Some of that is true. Like people used to come up, even had gangsters come up and want to kill me, or they throw rocks at me.


AH: -- came out of the stands and challenged you and what was the cause for it. And you were saying that you think the cause was not so much that you were Japanese American, it was just that you were playing for a team that they didn't like.

WY: Yeah. Well, you know, could be some of the fans, maybe, I could be a Japanese American, too. But, more so, I was doing so well that the fans kind of hated me because I was a player of the Tokyo Giants. But I know they actually throw rocks at me and had a couple guys come down, they want to fight me and all that stuff.

AH: And then how did your teammates react to you?

WY: Well, they, they backed me up, yeah.

AH: Did you ever get into fights?

WY: Couple times. I mean, one time I knocked the catcher down and so both sides came out, but there were no punches thrown.

AH: What was the pitching like at that time, and at that level? I mean, since then we've had Hideo Nomos and things, that have been overpowering pitchers.

WY: But, you know, our days, maybe they might have one or two good pitchers. But those pitchers, every time they play the Tokyo Giants, these pitchers would pitch two or three games because the other pitchers could not beat us. And these guys were, I would say, better pitchers than Nomo. This guy Kaneda, he would throw maybe 97 miles an hour. Yeah. And you had this guy, Bessho, he threw, he can throw a forkball from here, here, anywhere. And he was fast, good control. You have a guy like Bessho, that was a good pitcher, too. But our days we had some good pitchers.

AH: You know, it's hard for me to read about the league because -- and get a sense of it because the teams are not tied to cities, they're tied to corporations and things. And where were most of the, there were two leagues -- there was Central League and then the Pacific League, right? And they each had six teams in the leagues. And then where were their home bases as far as the cities? I just can only imagine Osaka, probably, and Tokyo...

WY: They had, well, they had Tokyo, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, and Fukuoka.

AH: And did you have good crowds for games at that time?

WY: Well, we used to draw 30, 40,000.

AH: Really?

WY: Yeah.

AH: Now, I was reading that your travel arrangements were way better when you were in Salt Lake than when you were in Japan.

WY: Oh, definitely. Oh, yeah.

AH: Can you describe the differences?

WY: Well, even in Salt Lake, it was a real, what you call a tough for me because when I was with the 49ers, everything was first-class. You know, you go to restaurant, you'd sign, if you wanted steak three meals a day, you'd have steak and you sign. And the hotels were first-class. Then when I went to Salt Lake, I saw the third-class. You know, one time I remember from Salt Lake, we went all the way to Montana, sixteen hours on the bus and the bus didn't have any heat. It was so cold going up to Montana. [Laughs] But I went through all that, and a lot of times like in Salt Lake, they used to give us only two dollars' meal money. Sometimes, lunchtime, you cannot eat because you don't have enough money and they used to pay us only $150 a month in those days.

And then when I went to Japan, it was all third-class. Lot of times, I used to sleep on the floor of the train and, because the seat is a wooden seat, you know, something like this. And you traveled maybe somewhere from fifteen to twenty-five hours on a train. They stop every station and the food is real bad, not good at all. And there were many a times that I couldn't eat the food they put on the table. But I'm not going to argue with them because my goal was, I had a two-year contract going to Japan, and I wanted the players to like me. And if I did well and... so I didn't care. The first year, even if I didn't do well as a ballplayer, I wanted the players to like me. So I did everything what the Japanese players did -- sleep on the floor of the train, the food on the table that I could eat. Sometimes even, I would sit close to the window, and I had some food I couldn't eat, I would throw 'em out the window because I don't want them to see that the food is still on the table.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

AH: Did you develop close friends over there among teammates?

WY: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Some of these guys really took good care of me. You know, they come pick me up, take me to practice, take me to the stadium like that. So as far as making friends in Japan, I had no problem whatsoever. The guys were so nice to me.

AH: Did you date Japanese women?

WY: No.

AH: You didn't?

WY: No.

AH: So you just lived a sort of a celibate life?

WY: Yeah, so I... well, my first year I wasn't married. I was more just kind of engaged already. But then I came back, and my second year, I came back in February. I got married and went back there.

AH: So you had a family of sorts then right away, almost, didn't you?

WY: Yeah. But as far as I was concerned, I mean, Japanese girls are good, polite and all that, but I wasn't the type that wanted to marry a Japanese girl. I don't know. I mean, the way they do things, the way they think and all that, it's not my type. You know, I got to marry an American. [Laughs]

AH: How did you meet a Japanese American girl? How did you meet Jane, your wife?

WY: Oh, I met her here.

AH: Where?

WY: My friend introduced me to her. See, those days, when we used to go to, they had various social functions here, and they all used to, the girls and the boys used to go to maybe a gym, big auditorium. And then you would go and ask girls for dance and all that. So my friend told me, "Let's go," he wanted to introduce me to the girlfriend. So, I went, so they introduced, she, he introduced me to Jane.

AH: Was she a sports fan?

WY: Not too much. She's not that much of a sports fan. But now, today, somehow she, she's more interested in baseball than when I used to play. [Laughs] But she, I'm glad that I married her because she backed me up 100 percent. The way she, like when, when we first went to Japan, when we got married and went to Japan, in two days I had to leave for camp. And from Tokyo, we caught the train, took us twenty-six hours on the train to a place called Miyazaki, where the Giants train. And Jane was in Tokyo all by herself. For forty days, she was in Tokyo by herself. And those days... if today, okay because you get the good hotels and all that. When we first went there, we went there in '52, they didn't have that kind of hotels. They didn't have that kind of food. A lot of times, even like vegetables, you know, greens, salad, we couldn't eat those things because all the salad in those days, the greens were, they make it out of human... so naturally, you don't want to eat those things. But, so you try to do the best you can. Even like the first year, she was pregnant during the summer. We don't have any heat because we don't have that kind of money to buy a air conditioner. And so I would go out and buy a big block of ice and get a pan, put it right by the bed, and get this fan hitting the ice so it gets cool in our room. But in, after an hour the thing's all melt, nothing there. So even during the winter, it's so cold, and we didn't have any heat. So we used to, in Japan they have this, called, they called 'em kotatsu. They have a blanket there, and there was some kind of heat down there. And my wife and I, from morning to night, we'd be underneath there just staying like that because it was so cold, we couldn't stand the cold. You know, a guy from Hawaii and going to a place where February, March, it's so darn cold. But we went through all that, but now that I think about it, I'm so happy that I was patient enough to go through that, because Japanese baseball really changed me and my family's life completely.

AH: Who did you have for, in those early years of your marriage, who did you have for your circle of friends? Were they, tend to be through the ballplayers and their spouses? Or did it tend to be Americans who were over in Japan and things that you tended to...

WY: Well, during the early '50s like that, they had a lot of Niseis that were stationed in Japan. They were people that worked for the army. They weren't in the army, but they were civilians that worked for the army. And I had some good friends there. A guy by the name of Gordon Agena, who was from Maui, was my classmate at Lahainaluna. So he was there, and so he really took care of us, really nice to us, nice to my family. And then other Niseis that were stationed there, so we were very fortunate that we made some friends. See, when I was there in the early '50s, when I used to travel to all these small towns, cities, in Japan, and I don't know how these Niseis find out that I'm playing for the Tokyo Giants, especially my first year. But when I would go to, like, Sendai or some of these small towns like that, these Niseis would come and see me play. So then after, they said they want to take me to the camp. So I would go to the camp and I would have -- "What you want to eat?" I said, "Pie a la mode. Apple pie a la mode." [Laughs] Because they didn't have it in those days in Japan. But, oh, so things like that.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AH: You had a really good start in Japanese baseball in terms of your batting average. First seven years you were there, you hit over .300?

WY: Yeah.

AH: And during that period, was the league starting to change in terms of the traveling conditions and the facilities and things like that? Or was it still pretty...

WY: Pretty bad. The first five, six years was bad. We were, at home, we didn't have an air conditioner, no heat. First five, six years was bad. And we didn't have that kind of money that we can spend and try to get a good air conditioner or heat, because I was making only, what, $285 a month, American money. So, we're gonna, and we don't know, I don't know how long I'm going to be there, so I have to try to save and try to bring some money home. That's the reason why in Japan, I was there in baseball for thirty-eight years in uniform. But one way that I could, whatever money I made, my kids, after that, they started to go to college in the States. And since I didn't go to college, I wanted my kids to go to college. So whatever money I had, I had to send it to my kids because my kids, two of them when to USF and one went to Fordham. So we had to send kids money so that they could go to school. My two daughters... my wife was very strict. My two daughters, they would not let them stay in the same apartment. She wanted them to learn how to budget themselves so they were always staying, they could be next door, but they had their own apartment. So, they would figure out how they can save money. So that really helped them, I think, in the long run.

AH: Your kids were not old enough by the time you quit playing, right? Because you played 'til 1962.

WY: Right, right.

AH: And they, your kids must've been very young at that time.

WY: Right, right.

AH: So, I mean, you had the financial burden of being able to try to raise a family when you were carving out a career in baseball. Did your salary to up substantially as you were starting to win your first and then your second and then your third batting champion?

WY: Our days, our days, salary wasn't that great. See, by 19-, my third year I think it was, I batted .361, and I went in and talked contract with the general manager. And first day I went and I talked, I argued with him for six hours and he would not give me a raise. So I went home, and next day I went another six hours. Couldn't come to terms, so I went home. Third day I went for another six hours. Couldn't come to terms. I fought, I talked for three hours, I got so tired that I signed the contract, and he gave me only, in those days was only 100,000 yen raise. So right now it'd be only $1000, below $1000 raise, batting .361. And many years after, I asked one of the general managers, "Today a guy hit .361, had a batting title, what kind of raise you give him?" He said, "At least a million dollars," he said. [Laughs]

AH: Now, did the Giants have the biggest payroll of any of the other teams?

WY: Giants or the Chunichi Dragons. Dragons paid them pretty good money, too, I heard.

AH: And those are the two teams you played with.

WY: Yeah. But see, when I was, after I retired as a active player, I became a coach and things. I went to about six different teams in my thirty-eight years, and the reason why I did that, see, when my contract expired -- I signed a two-year contract, three-year contract -- when my contract expired, I was always in demand because the other teams wanted me as a coach. So when I go with another team, they give me a good bonus. Maybe they would give me 40-, 50,000 as a bonus. And so, I would not stay with one team when I was a coach. And see, when you're a coach, when your contract expires, you can go to any team you want. But as a player you cannot do that. So, when my contract expired as a coach, so I went to five or six different teams just to get that bonus because if I have that bonus as my savings, then the salary that I get all goes to my kids to go to college. That's how I used to do it.

AH: So you were, you were going up the ladder by changing jobs all the time. And the coaches the same as it is here? Because I wasn't sure if the coach and the manager were equivalent terms to those positions here. Is a coach like a, like the third base coach or the first base coach or pitching coach?

WY: Yeah. Right.

AH: Okay, and then you were also the manager. And of course, you, as a manager, you won a Japanese series, right?

WY: Right. Six years I was a manager. But about twelve or fourteen years, I was a coach. So, I was a manager for about six years.

AH: And what about the scout period? Was that later on?

WY: That was only two years, towards the end of my career. My good friend, Mr. Nagashima, was manager of the Giants, and he wanted to get American players, so he asked me to go to the States and try to get American players. So that's the reason why I became a scout.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

AH: When you were playing with the Giants, they were perennial champions. And everybody else, as you already established, would throw their best pitcher at them and really shoot to beat them. There were some particular players on the Giants when you were playing that were themselves very, very big stars, and so it was a star-studded line-up. And one of the people that you mentioned already was Bessho. Did you call him Akita or did you call him Takehiko, because I have both names for him.

WY: Well, we usually, see, in Japan, we don't call him by their first name. We always called them by their, like, Bessho-san.

AH: So Bessho.

WY: I don't say Bessho, but I used the san -- Bessho-san. See, he's, he's older than I am and he's a veteran, so I always called him Bessho-san. Or Kawakami-san.

AH: Now, he had been playing there before you got there for the Giants.

WY: Yes, yes.

AH: And can you tell me a little bit about him?

WY: Well, Bessho, he came, he was with the Nankai Hawks before, and in a trade, the Giants picked him up. And Bessho was a hell of a pitcher -- very good pitcher. I think today if he were to go to the mainland, I mean, go to the major leagues, I think he'd be one good pitcher. He was, he had a good fastball, just like American. Like Walter Craig-type, he can come with the fastball and good curve, good control. So Bessho was a real good, pretty good hitter, too.

AH: And was he a friend of yours, or was he just, because he was older, you just deferred to him?

WY: No, I know Bessho was always nice to me. I respect that guy because he was really nice to me.

AH: What about Shigeo Nagashima?

WY: Nagashima is, to me, I think, he's one of my closest friend. I don't know how he feels towards me, but as far as I'm concerned, I like Nagashima real well because he and I played together for three years, and we used to hang around a lot. And he'd come to Hawaii and we get together. I go to Japan, when I go to Japan when he was managing, I always go to the Dome and visit with him. So I'm pretty close to Nagashima.

AH: He's characterized in this article as probably the most popular Japanese player of all time.

WY: Oh, yes.

AH: Would you agree with that?

WY: He's more popular than the prime minister. [Laughs]

AH: 444 home runs. A .305 batting average, which is a little less than yours. And he won the Most Valuable Player award six times. So he was a hell of a ballplayer, wasn't he?

WY: He was a real, he was a good ballplayer. See, what he, when he was at Rikkyo University, I was with the Giants already. And he told us that... see, when I signed with the Giants and they started to write about me and how I played and all that, so he said he used to come and watch me play because he just wanted to see what kind of ballplayer I was. And naturally, I could do everything. He'd run, pitch -- I mean, he'd run and everything, defense. So when he saw me play, he said, "I want to be just like Wally Yonamine," because a lot of times in Japan, lot of these guys, if you can hit, you're a lousy defensive player, or you're a lousy base runner. But, he wanted to be somebody that, more all-around. So he told me that, and he really, I always taught him -- one time, I even taught him how to slide. [Laughs]

AH: Of course, the one person that everybody knows in the world probably, of Japanese baseball, is Sadaharu Oh. And he hit 868 career home runs, which is almost twice as much as Nagashima, and yet Nagashima is described here as the most popular Japanese player of all time. What accounts for that difference, do you think?

WY: Well, I think, I don't know, maybe I shouldn't say this. But, I think maybe, see, Sadaharu Oh, the father is Chinese, Taiwan, the mother is Japanese. And a lot of times, the Japanese, when you're half-breed or you're a foreigner, they don't think as much as a Japanese. And maybe that has something to do with that.

AH: He's a pretty nice person?

WY: Oh, a wonderful guy, nice guy. Gentleman, you know, you never can find another nicer guy than that.

AH: The years that you overlapped with him were not his best years. It seemed like he was not hitting well. And later on, of course, he matured into not only a great home run hitter but a person who hit for a very high average -- almost like the Babe Ruth type of thing. When he was struggling during that period, do you remember the situation when he first came up and when he was having years that were not so outstanding?

WY: See, when he first came up, Sadaharu Oh and I played two years together. And at that time, he was playing first base and a lot of times he would strike out and I would take his place at first base. I was playing center field and the manager wanted me to play first base because he was striking out a lot. And then, but he developed to become a real good hitter. I mean, he would swing the bat maybe 5-, 700 times a night. Just swing, swing. And he really made himself to be a real fantastic hitter. And then towards the end of the career, during batting practice, he would hit about thirty in the stands. But they would just lob the ball in, he could hit it all. But I remember telling Sadaharu Oh, every day he would come and take batting practice, and I would tell him, "Why don't you rest? Keep your strength for the game." But he would just, he can't rest because that's how he was brought up. From day one, when he started to come with the Giants, he used to practice, practice, practice. After about eighteen or twenty years after, he just cannot, even he can't hit. He cannot sit down and think that he's going to hit, so he had to go out and work out. But I know that during the game he started doing the right things, because the he'll be lunging or he would bail out, because when the pitcher throw him a good fast ball, he would lunge because if he stays there, he could get jammed. So, all those things, and I've seen that, that's the reason why I told Sadaharu Oh that, "Take a rest," because if he get, he rests, maybe he'd get a faster bat and the hands would come out. But he just couldn't do that. He wouldn't do that.

AH: Now, a person who was apparently at odds with you for a long time and had it in for you, even, was quite a great ballplayer, Tetsuharu Kawakami.

WY: Yeah.

AH: So tell me a little bit about him. I mean, I know that as manager, he got eleven pennants in fourteen years before losing one to you. And then, but in addition, here he has a batting average, a career average a couple of points higher than you, .313. Had 181 home runs and was leading the league in hitting quite a few times. So, what about him as a person?

WY: Well, Mr. Kawakami was, see, he and I were sort of rivals. When I went with the Giants, whether he was going to win the batting title or I was going to win the batting title. See, when I first went to the Giants, right off I looked at the players and I said, "Who's the best hitter on the team?" because I had to get somebody that I could work so that they give me more incentive to do better. So, when I went to the Giants, I found out that he was the best hitter. So, I didn't say anything to anybody. But when I went to spring training and all that, in my heart I said, "I got to beat that guy. In order for me to win the batting title, I got to beat that guy." So even in spring training, I always work, work double as much as he does, practice as much as he can so that I can beat him.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

AH: Sometimes you have your life transformed as much by somebody who you're in opposition to than somebody who you're in harmony with. And you had some wonderful teammates, and we've talked about them. And you had another teammate who was a wonderful ballplayer but, with respect to his relationships with you, they weren't particularly favorable and it may be that it wasn't favorable with other members of the team. But, we've talked a little bit about him already, Tetsuharu Kawakami. So, could you kind of explain the chemistry between the two of you and how that played out over the course of your time with the Giants?

WY: Well, lot of times, you know, it's just like Mickey Mantle or, what you call... who was it, the other guy?

AH: Roger Maris?

WY: Roger Maris. You know, they say that maybe they might hate each other. But it's just a matter of, just like Nagashima and Oh, they're just rivals. I mean, like Kawakami and I, we're trying to win the batting title and either he's going to win it or I'm going to win it. But when I went to Japan in '51, the first thing I thought of was, "Who's the best hitter on the Giants team?" And if I can beat the best hitter on the team, then I have a chance of winning the batting title. So I found out that Kawakami was the best hitter. So, when I go to spring training, started spring training, I tried to work as hard as I can so that I can beat him. And the eight years that he and I were teammates, he won it three times, and I won it three times. But, a lot of times, the media, they say things that kind of make it real bad for the players. And so now Kawakami, Mr. Kawakami and I, the way the media writes, it's just like we hate each other. But actually, when a guy, a guy like me, coming from Hawaii going to Japan, I went to Japan to make a living. I had to feed my wife and kids and I didn't care what the other players did. The main thing is for me to do well so I can get good paycheck and have my family, the kids can go to college and all that. But you can't help with the media, too. They want to get something going, things like that. But, every spring that I would go to camp, I would say, "I'm going to beat him," because if I beat him I know that I'm going to be the batting title, I get to be, win the batting champ. So that really helped me in my career.

So even when I was with the Giants -- I was with the Giants ten years -- I would come back, maybe I would be hitting .300 or winning the batting title. I would come back to Hawaii and arrive in Honolulu, and then the next flight I would go back to Maui and see the old house where I used to live or the cane field I used to cut grass about twelve, fourteen years old. And that would give me incentive to try harder, so that when I go back the following year, then I have a good chance of beating Kawakami and winning the batting title. And I think that, not only baseball player, but I guess no matter, whatever job you go into, you got to go and you got to be hungry, I think. If you're not hungry, I think you're not going to make it.

Just like my son, he's a chairman for Bering Point in Japan. He has a thousand guys working under him and all that. But, I remember one time, my son told me that the only reason why he's a workaholic because he used to see Jane and I work the way we work all our lives, and that's the reason why he works so hard. But this is something that, you know, in baseball, you see a lot of these young kids today, they make good money, which I think is great for them to make good money. But some of them, they forget where they came from. I saw as, when they were kids they really struggled and they didn't have money. But now that they have lot of money, they forget when they were kids, you know. So even like the kids in the States and Japan, even Japan like that, lot of these kids, sometimes I think, "Boy, they sure forget where their roots were." What they should do and what they can do and try to help other people. So I remember, my daughter, twelve years ago she had leukemia. And she was cured and she had a treatment at UCLA. And Dr. Nimer looked after her, and she's completely cured today.

AH: Which daughter is that?

WY: Amy. And then Dr. Nimer told me one time that he wished that he had $10,000 so he can do research, and that was always in my mind. So after my daughter was cured and all that, then I always remembered what Dr. Nimer told me. So I started a leukemia foundation at Sloan-Kettering and UCLA also. So, I donated some money to Sloan-Kettering because of Dr. Nimer because he wanted to do research. You know, and like, when my daughter had, when she had leukemia, she had... not acute, but -- when you have acute, it's so hard, but when you have chronic leukemia, now they have a, just a pill that can cure you. Before, when my daughter had leukemia, my son was a donor, was a complete, he was the one that helped my daughter get well. But today, if you have a chronic leukemia, they can help you. Just one pill, I heard that they can cure. But if you have acute, then it's a little different. So, so when Dr. Nimer told me about something like that, I said I want to donate money to the Sloan-Kettering or UCLA so they can have a... what you call, medicine that can help. So that really, today, when you see that they have something like that, can cure people that have chronic leukemia, I think it's so good. But see, lot of the ball players today, they make good money. I think some of them, they should consider donating money to things like that.

AH: Some do and some don't.

WY: Yeah.

AH: We started out by talking here about Tetsuharu and Kawakami.

WH: Oh. [Laughs]

AH: And I think what you were saying, though, is that Kawakami pushed you to play hard and to maximize your talents. And in some ways that converted, really, into a more successful career which, which converts into more money and then start thinking about when you're going to support your family and things. It goes all the way to the end, and it's not only supporting your family, it's supporting society. And something like leukemia brings home the point that it's not just a problem with your own daughter, but generally, so you're giving back. The stories that I read about your relationship with Kawakami end in a situation whereby he becomes the manager and then promptly trades you away. Now, you could look at your career at that time was starting to fade a bit, too, that your average was going down. So it was either a prudent move on his part, and it wasn't based upon simply personal animus, or it was, that he just wanted to get rid of you. You were a thorn in his side or what. So, how do you feel about that situation?

WY: Well, when, after ten years, the Giants, when I was with the Giants, my average was .316. And I played one year with Chunichi and my average came down to .311. But I have the highest batting average with the Giants. Kawakami had .313, but my average with the Giants is .316.

AH: Career average.

WY: Average, yeah. And Sadaharu Oh told me that. I didn't know that, but Sadaharu told me that I have the best average with the Giants. But when I played with Kawakami like that, sometimes I think the biggest mistake he made was, sometimes he used to needle me a lot. After the game, if I would go 0 for 4 and he would get two or three hits, we'd go and take a shower and he would needle me a lot, and I used to get so mad. But I didn't say anything because he's the old-timer, I'm the rookie. So I used to just tell myself, "I'm going to beat you. I'm going to beat you." And then, that's the reason why it gave me more drive to, then I want to beat him. But he, he was a real good hitter. The only thing at that time, defensive, defensively, he wasn't that good a defensive player. But as far as hitting, he was a, he did that batting stand and he looked like a million dollars right there.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AH: And what happened to your career after you left the Giants?

WY: So after I left the Giants, so I was with the Giants and then, so naturally I was really down, because the Giants was the only team that I really loved because I went with the Giants 1951 and played there with them for ten years. And I did so much for the Giants -- breaking double plays. Even, I collided with the shortstop, I broke my jaw in four parts and all these things. With the Giants, it's the only thing that I really loved in Japan. Then when the Giants fired me with a .316 batting average and they fired me, naturally, I was really down. But when I think back today, I think that maybe the good Lord wanted me to leave the Giants and go to, because after I got fired from the Giants and I went home, naturally in those days, I was a pretty big star in those days. I went home and all the media, they would be lining up outside. They had about fifteen cars lining up and waiting to see what I was going to do and all that. So that night, I told my wife, "Let's not stay home," because so much guys are outside like that. So my wife and I went to see a movie. So we went to see a theater down in Ginza, and this guy that I met, I haven't seen him for a long time. And he, this guy asked me, "You look so sad today." I said, "Yeah, I just got fired from the Giants." So he told me, "You want to play with the Chunichi Dragons?" I said, "Well, I'm out of a job. If I can't get a job somewhere else, I don't mind going." And then he said, "You wait. I'll go back to Nagoya and talk to the Dragons," because he knew one of the directors there.

So he went back, and about three or four days after, he came back home and told me, "The Chunichi Dragons are interested in you." So he wants me to come to Nagoya. So I went to Nagoya and they gave me a two-year contract. So I signed right away because at that time, when I signed with the Dragons, they gave me $25,000 bonus on that. So, I signed it and, but, so I played with the Dragons for only one year and the next year they asked me to be a coach. But all those things really fell in place because when they gave me $25,000 at that time, and my wife... every year when I was with the Giants, every year after the season we would pack our things up, put in storage, and we would come back to Hawaii. And then go back again and she would go find another apartment and put all the things in. And she did that for ten years, and she got so disgusted with something like that because every year she had to change. So after I got, I signed with the Dragons, she tells me she want to buy a place. I said, "We can't buy a place now because I'm on my way out now. I'm thirty-six years old. Maybe I have only a year or two to go, and we cannot buy a place, we have to think of going back to Hawaii." And, "No, I want to buy a place."

So I went see this property, I must have went to see the property about ten times because I didn't want to buy it because I know I'm ready to go home, because I know I don't have it anymore. But she was so hard-headed, so I said, "Okay then." So we bought that property, we built a home. So when I built the home, see, in Japan, you buy the land but when people want to buy the home, it's not the home, it's the land. So I didn't put too much money in the house because the land was more important. I figured in two years I'm going to sell it and I got to go back. So, after the first year, then my kids were getting sick because the house wasn't built too good, and during the wintertime, all the breezes would come in the house, and so I had to knock that house, maybe at least 80 percent, I had to knock it down and build all over again -- put central heating and things like that. So then right after that, I started to be a coach. And when I, they asked me to be a coach, then everything started to fall in place. And so I bought that piece of property, built a home there. And then when I, before I became a coach, I knew that all, when I figured all my expenses, I was going to make only $5000. And I figured, "Gee, $5000 is not that much." So I called my friend, my accountant back in Hawaii. I said, "After all my expenses, I'm going to make only $5000. What you think?" He tells me, "If you can make $5000 after all your expenses, don't come back. Stay in Japan." So I took his advice, I stayed in Japan. And lucky thing I stayed in Japan because I stayed in Japan right through and then, you know, I had a chance to become a manager with the Chunichi Dragons. And so naturally, I was in uniform thirty-eight years as a player, coach and manager in Japan.

AH: By the time that you were traded to the -- or not traded...

WY: Fired.

AH: Fired and then you went with the Dragons, during that period, were you starting to feel like a Japanese as opposed to a Hawaiian?

WY: Pardon me?

AH: Were you starting to feel like a Japanese rather than a Hawaiian by the time that you were finishing your stint as a player with the Giants?

WY: No, you know, all the years that, all the years I was in Japan, I never felt at one time that I was really a Japanese. I always thought that I was an American, Japanese American. But sometimes, the general managers would get mad at me because they tell me that, "You," he says, "when you sign a contract, if you think that you should be an American, you make it as if you're American. But sometimes you, when we talk to you, you just like, you make as if you are Japanese." [Laughs] So I'd go both ways, see? But always, even, even my son at one time, he wanted to play baseball in Japan, and in order for him to play ball in Japan, he had to lose his citizenship and get a, be a national, Japanese national. So he asked me, "Dad, what do you think? I want to play ball. Do you think I should give up my citizenship and be a Japanese?" I said, "No way." I said, "No way. Once you give it up, you can't get it back." So then he just forgot it. But then we had some other friends that changed their citizenship. They wanted to play ball in Japan, and they gave up their citizenship. And they have a hard time getting it back now.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

AH: The last year that you played as an active ballplayer, you sensed, I think as you alluded to, that you were losing it a bit.

WY: Yeah.

AH: And how does that, number one, show itself up in your career, and how does it affect you sort of emotionally, psychologically and everything, to be at the top of your game? Really, you had over .300 the year before that.

WY: Yeah, yeah.

AH: And then it's falling off the table a bit.

WY: You know, I tell you... when I used to play, all the years that I used to hit .300, I used to come home, some nights I'd come home and I go, I don't get a hit. And I would come home, I would stay in my room, and every pitch that the pitcher throws, I remember, and I'd say, "The first time I bat, the pitcher was better than I am." Okay. "The second time I bat..." but my wife and my maid could not come in my room until I called them because I would concentrate for that game that night and see what I did wrong that I didn't get a hit. So when, then after, when I was on my way out, those days, I knew that I had it. I knew I was a good ball player, good hitter. But, towards the end of my career now, the tenth year when I got fired and all that, I knew that I didn't have it anymore. So I would come home, I had 0 for 4, and I'll be laughing because I knew that I didn't have it anymore. [Laughs] So my wife was so relieved that, she thought that I'd be worried so much that I'd come home and I'm on my way out. But I knew at that time that I didn't have it. So I come home and I was normal because when I, when I, all my years when I was really good like that, my wife and the maid could not come in the room until I called them. I was real stubborn. I'd bring everything home. Some ballplayers, they don't do that. When they had the game, is there, but, when they come home, they're a different person. But me, I always brought my work home. So I was always, so I wasn't fair with my wife. But this is my way, and I was always the time that I always used to worry about things.

AH: Did you do that as a coach, too?

WY: Yeah, I always used to worry. As a manager, when I was a manager, sometimes I couldn't sleep at night. Sometimes I'd be dreaming. One time, I remember, as a manager I kicked the wall, and think, "Gee, how come my leg's so sore?" I put the light on, my toes, all the feeling all came out. And the next day, I go down to the playing field, one of my guys fighting, and I cut, I had to cut my shoes, like the spikes, so my toe would come out. And my, the captain is fighting on the field, I had to run out and try stop it because I don't want him to get kicked out of the game. And I, like this, ran. [Ed. note: Pantomimes limping.]

AH: Some people who were good players are not good coaches or good managers, and there's a different skill set and things. Were you a good coach immediately, or did it take you a number of years? And what did it entail to be a coach as opposed to a player?

WY: To me, coming from -- I'm bragging, but I thought I was a good coach because I knew how to relate to my players. I knew how to, the mistakes, what they did right, what they did wrong. I can work with them and I know how to get the best out of them. That's why one time, in my thirty-eighth year in baseball, one of the writers came to me and said they want to interview me. And the writer told me, "How come you, you been in baseball thirty-eight straight years?" In Japan, see, when you're with a company so long or a team so long, they think that, in Japan, they do this, it's just like you always praising the higher-ups so they give you a job, see. And so the writer told me, "Maybe you're the type that you try to always butter up the guys up there and that's the reason why you get a job." And I said, "No, I'm not that type." I said, "The only reason why I'm here thirty-eight years is because I know my job, and that's the reason why." When I get, when my contract expires, other teams, two or three teams want me, and they come ask me. And so I jump from one team to another.

AH: Were you mostly a hitting coach?

WY: Hitting, base run, I do everything -- hitting, base running, sliding. Because I did everything. Outfield, I used to coach the outfield. That's why. that's why they wanted me, because I did everything when I used to play before. Some guys, if they're hitters, they're only a hitting coach. But me, I'm the type that when I used to play, I did everything.

AH: So your fundamentals were sound as a player, and that translated into being able to communicate things to other players, younger players.

WY: So when I, see, when I became a manager, I think the team that I, won the batting -- I mean, won the championship and all that because when I became a manager, what I did is, the first thing I became a manager, I studied my players, I took all my twenty-five players, I studied them, try to see each individual, what kind of attitude they have. So there were about seven guys, they think different. One guy, no guts. So I realized that this guy, no guts, you cannot scold him. Always, even he makes an error, or he strikes out, you have to praise him all the time. So once they get, once he has his confidence, he's going to do good for you. There's another guy, maybe you cannot scold. I had two guys that you cannot scold. You scold them, they quit and they go home. But all these guys, some guys, had two other guys, you can scold them, scold them, go through one ear, come out the other; they didn't care. But some guys you scold and they get so mad. And you, see, this is how I used to work my players in those days. But they kind of respected me because when it come to sliding or bunting or whatever, I went there and teach 'em myself.

AH: And you did this as a manager as well as a coach?

WY: Yeah. Because other coaches cannot teach the way I can. So I can, I know that I am better than they are, so I would go there and actually teach them.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

AH: In 1974 you won it all, right?

WY: Right.

AH: And was that the high point of your career even though it wasn't a playing, you know, you weren't a player anymore, you were a manager, and you won this championship. You've won championships as a player, but we're in, this is in a different situation. Now you're in charge of the whole ball of wax. Was that more satisfying or less than?

WY: That's the best thing happened, you know. I mean, I was with the Giants, we won the championship eight times. But when you're a manager and you can win a championship like this, the feeling is altogether different. When I was in Nagoya, the team didn't win the championship for twenty years. So that year when we won the championship, they had about 700,000 people in the street that day. We had a parade. And actually, I would, the fans would come shake your hand. The first half an hour you can shake their hand, but after that, my hand started getting swollen. After that, you couldn't shake their hand. It hurt you so much. But you just... something, something that it's hard to explain, because it's just great when you win a championship, you're the manager. And I love managing because when you're a coach in Japan, I might tell the manager something. If you want to use it, usually... but lot of times, you tell a manager something, they might not use it, or sometimes we have a meeting. A meeting can last twenty minutes and it's all over. But Japanese-style, sometimes that thing last for hour-and-a-half, two hours, because nobody want to take the responsibility. But when I became a manager, I can tell in the meeting with the coaches, they discuss something, said, "Let's do this, do this..." so in ten, fifteen minutes, we're all done. That's the reason why I love to be a manager because I'm the boss. [Laughs]

AH: What finally got you out of managing?

WY: Well, see, I was with the Dragons six years. And after six years, they fired me. Then being a Japanese American or a Nisei or whatever, they would not give me a chance to manage again. That's the thing, I was very fortunate that I had a chance of managing in Japan. But usually, you're a foreigner, you have a hard time managing. Now they Valentine or Albert Hugh. They're getting a chance to let them manage, if you're going to do something different. They have these guys as manager. But in my days, my early, in the '50s, '60s, '70s, you can't even think of an American being a manager.

AH: You were the first foreigner to ever manage a baseball team.

WY: After the war. Before the war, they had a guy by the name of Bozo Wakabayashi. He was there before the war. He was a good ballplayer from Hawaii, and he managed a couple years with the Mainichi Orange or something like that.

AH: So you were the first, actually, foreign baseball player after the war, and you were the first foreign manager after the war?

WY: Right, right.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

AH: And so what did you do to continue your thirty-eight years in baseball after you got out as a manager?

WY: Well, so naturally, I started out as a player and then became a coach and then become a manager. After I managed, I became a coach again. But when I accepted the job as a manager with the Chunichi Dragons, I was so kind of leery that, see, the Dragons, when they hire you as a manager, that team, they fire you right away. If you can't do your job, they're going to fire you right away. So I was still young, I thought, and I needed a job. So, I went to see one of my friends, a Japanese friend, asked him, "What do you think?" I said, "If I get fired, I won't have a job, if I accept the job." So that guy gave me good advice. He said, "You take that job. Even if you get fired, you always, you always can go back as a coach again because you're a foreigner, you're American. Japanese, they have so much pride that they cannot go back and be a coach again. But you, you're American, you can go back as a coach." And that's what I did. I went back and became a coach again. And that's the reason why I was in it for thirty-eight straight years.

AH: And would Jane move along with you, because you were coach at different cities around Japan? So did you have to keep changing around your residence?

WY: No. When I was with the Dragons, that was in Osaka. Jane and the kids were always in Tokyo because my kids, they went to Sacred Hearts, one of the good schools. And if they would come to Nagoya, the schools were not that good, for Americans anyway. So we sacrificed. So she stayed in Tokyo so the kids could go to a good school at Sacred Hearts there. So I would stay in a hotel. But, maybe sometimes weekends, or sometimes during the summer, they would come to Nagoya and spend maybe a couple weeks with me at the hotel or something like that.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

AH: Right now the name Wally Yonamine means a lot in terms of what you did in the past as an athlete, but it means a lot, too, in terms of your name being attached to thing called Yonamine Pearls, which is really run pretty much by your wife and your daughters. How did that get started and what has it led to?

WY: Well, we started, see, there was a man by the name of Hung Wo Ching, he was a chairman of Aloha Airlines. And I got to meet him, and so he used to come to Japan, do PR work for Aloha Airlines. And so one day he told me, he said, why don't I work for Aloha Airlines part-time? So I said okay. So I worked for Aloha Airlines for seventeen years, part-time, I was a ball player or as a coach. And when I have time, I used to go to the travel agents and try to sell Aloha Airlines. And so we became good friends. So after that, in the meantime, my wife, I told my wife that, "As long as the kids are okay, if you want to start a business, you can. But when the kids are still young, I don't want you going to business. I want you to stay home and watch the kids." So when the kids started to go to college or to high school, then I told her, "If you want to start, okay." So this Dr. Ching, who was the chairman of Aloha Airlines, told us that why don't we -- well, told my wife, actually, why don't she start a pearl business in Tokyo? She can, he would kind of back us up. So we started the business through Dr. Ching, Hung Wo Ching. And so, but as we started the business, so we started get the pearl dealers coming to our shop. But we were so lucky that all the pearl dealers knew who I was. So they would leave their pearls with us on consignment. Maybe they would leave 20,000, 50,000 worth of pearls all on consignment. If we sell, we pay them and return the rest. If we don't sell, we just return it. And this is going on right through. So now after forty years, my wife is established, so the pearl dealers just want to leave their things with my wife because we're one of the shops in -- there are about 2,000 shops in Tokyo -- we're one of the few shops that are doing real well in Tokyo. And lot of these pearl dealers, they can't sell these things because Japan, now, economy is so bad that they're willing to leave their things with us so we have a lot of American customers come to our shops.

AH: When did you, you started in Tokyo, then.

WY: Yeah.

AH: When did you expand to have a shop in Honolulu and also one in Southern California?

WY: Well, right after that, I would say about ten, fifteen years, then we started here in Hawaii. See, I made, I made her to, tell her to quit over here because, see, she would come back from Japan, and we had a condominium right across the street called the Wailana coffee shop here, and we were on the sixth floor. And she'd be working from 7 in the morning to 11 o'clock at night. People would call and she would go downstairs. We had a shop right there. So I told her, "This is no good." I said, "You come home, you got to relax." So we sold that business. And then my two daughters wanted to open a business. They started at, well, nowadays Redondo Beach, but they started at Rodeo Drive. They had a shop at Rodeo Drive for five years. But after five years, they leased that place for five years. But see, Rodeo Drive is so expensive, rents are expensive. And the time that they have to put in like that not worth it. And when you go in the morning, you get the rush hour, going back and all that. So after the lease came up, they quit there and came to Redondo Beach, which they were lucky to do that. So, today, now that they're at Redondo Beach, things are much cheaper. Rent is cheaper and all that. They're doing real well now the customers come in, in Torrance area.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

AH: ...reflections on things, looking back over your whole life. What's most important in your life right now?

WY: My grandchildren.

AH: Your what? Your grandchildren?

WY: My grandchildren.

AH: And how many are there?

WY: Seven.

AH: Wow.

WY: Yeah.

AH: And how many kids do you have? Three, is it?

WY: Three, two girls, a boy.

AH: How many kids do each of them have?

WY: My oldest daughter, Amy, has two. My second daughter, Lois, has two. And my son has three.

AH: And you're an old coach and a manager and everything else, how do you coach and manage these kids?

WY: Well, when they get out of line, I just laugh because they said the grandparents is not supposed to scold them, see. You're not supposed to hit them, so I just stay back and laugh. Sometimes when my two youngest ones, the eight-year and six-year-old, they fight each other and I'm there watching them, I would stop them. But, I just... you know.

AH: And the grandchildren from your daughters live in Southern California, but what about your son's kids, where do they live?

WY: They live here in Honolulu. My son was in Tokyo, just moved back about three months ago. He was, he was there for five years and came back, and now he's in America. He wanted to bring his family back because he wanted to bring the kids back to... so he got them in at Punahou.

AH: So you see them very regularly, a lot more than you see your daughter's children?

WY: Oh, yeah. They're all big. Like, the oldest one went to Boston College. He's working for KPMG. And my second one, my granddaughter is at Boston College also. She's going to be a nurse practitioner. And then my other grandson is here at UH taking business. And my other granddaughter at University of Chicago. She going to be a nurse practitioner also. So, they're all out already.

AH: That's a pretty good record for a person who used to skip classes.

WY: [Laughs] Yeah. That's why every time, every time, when the kids are in school like that, like my granddaughter, she's a senior now. She's going to graduate in May next year, so she's just taking exam, you know, finals, and she called me and say, "Grandpa, pray for me so that I can pass." So I go to church and pray for her. [Laughs]

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

AH: You're at the age where you're starting to take stock, increasingly, of your life and measuring the whole of it, when you look back on it. And when you do reflect in that way, and you think about things that if you had it to do over again, you would change, what are they, if anything?

WY: I don't think I'd change anything. I'm so happy that, what I have today. There's nothing that... sometimes I kid my wife, saying, next time, if I have to start over again, maybe I want to be a attorney. But deep inside, I still want to be a ballplayer. [Laughs]

AH: Looking back at your life, what is your greatest achievement, and then link to that what are you most proud of?

WY: Well, my first thing is a boy coming from a hick town like Olowalu, Maui, never did I know that one day I would have all these opportunity. Even the people that I... last night, they're telling me, "You should be proud of yourself that you come from a small town like that, and what you accomplished all these years." But I really, when I think of those days, how I started, and come up all this, and to see my children all doing well, that is something that I think money cannot buy, because -- a good example, like my son, I didn't think that he would do so well, but he's the chairman for a very important, in Japan. He has about a thousand guys working for him, at Bering Point in Tokyo. He covers from Beijing, Shanghai, Australia, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong. He has about 3,500 guys working for him right now. But he's in all these area now. And then he's working out of Hawaii now because his big boss in the States told him that he can come back to Hawaii and work out of Hawaii. So he makes trips here and there, but to see, I think we're so fortunate that my family are all doing well. My three children are doing well and my son-in-law is an international attorney. My other son-in-law is a general manager for Asahi beer in L.A. My two daughters have their own shop there, and my wife doing so well with the business like that. So...

AH: So your greatest achievement was really coming from Maui to where you are now, but your greatest pride has to do with what has happened with your kids, your grandkids, and even your wife.

WY: Yeah. And that, and that, another thing is when I first went to Japan, it was only a dream, but I thought I wish that I could accomplish these three things. And one was to be a manager of a baseball team in Japan and win the championship, which I did. And the second was to get into Japan Hall of Fame one day, which I did.

AH: In 1994.

WY: Yeah. And then the third was what I thought was very impossible, but to shake hands with Emperor of Japan, which I did. I shake hands with the Emperor of Japan. [Laughs] But something like this, it just... so I'm really grateful to the good Lord that give me all these chance, opportunity like this. And I think if I wasn't a ballplayer, maybe I wouldn't be here today talking to you folks. So I wouldn't make so many friends. I have so much friends in Hawaii, Japan. And it's so easy for us, being a athlete, to make friends. But even if you're a athlete, if you're not down-to-earth, I mean, if you're not really humble and things like that, you're not going to make friends. That's what I learned from that. I know, because you get some athletes, they're so up there and they don't want to be doing anything for people like that, which I think is wrong. But I'm really happy that what I am today, and I, I try to be nice to anybody in Hawaii or Japan or stateside.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

AH: What words of advice or words of wisdom based upon what you've lived through for almost eighty years now, could you offer your descendants about life? And you've got a lot of descendants that you see on a regular basis. [Laughs] What would you offer them and what do you offer them in the way of advice?

WY: You mean the guys that are living today?

AH: Like your, like, say, your grandchildren, or if you're talking to...

WY: Well, I think, well, the way I think is, since I did well, the main thing is I always told my grandsons or my son, "Try your best, don't give up, give your 100 percent, whatever you do." And if you do that, the three things, this is what I did when I, my career. I always tried my best. Because there was many a nights that I went 0 for 4 but never gave up. Tried my best. Sometimes, in Japan, like from February until October, I didn't take a day off. I practiced from February until October every day. But by doing that, if you try your best, don't give up, give 100, even, like my, my granddaughter, she takes these tests and things like that, but I called her in Boston, I tell her, "Don't feel sorry for yourself. When you, sometimes you're going to do well, sometimes you don't. But don't give up. Always try your best. Give your 100 percent." I say, "In life," I said, "main thing is you got to be hungry whatever you do. Nothing easy is going to come to you. But, if you're hungry, you'll be okay."

AH: What's your opinion about the state of the world today? You're on the planet for a long time, and you're not only on baseball diamonds and football gridirons and basketball courts, but you're out there walking around the streets of Tokyo and Honolulu and down in Southern California. Take TV, everything else that you see coming into your life, you've lived a long time. What do you think about the world as it is now and where it might be going?

WY: [Laughs] That's a tough one. Well, you know, I don't know whether this is going to answer your question, but here, today, I think that, especially in Hawaii, there's so many different races here -- race, I mean, you have Chinese, Hawaiian, Japanese, haoles and all that. But everybody thinks different. Like before, when we grow up here in Hawaii, everybody was so friendly and kind and all that. But with all these nationalities coming out like that, they all think different. And so I made up my mind that when I'm driving a car like that, you cannot get mad. You just have to mind your own business and do what you think is right and try to help people in whatever you can. That's why, like me, like my religion, I'm a Catholic, pretty good Catholic, and when people do things to me, sometimes I get so mad, but in my religion, you got to forgive. So sometimes if I get mad like that, or if I say things about people, I got to go mass and go confession and say that I'm sorry I did something like that. But I think in this world today, you just, maybe it's hard, but I think that you have to try to forgive people if you can. Then by doing that, maybe the world today would be a much better place to live, I think.

AH: Probably it would be.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

AH: John, before I ask a final question, do you have some questions that you would like to ask Wally?

JE: Maybe when you were finally selected for the Hall of Fame, what kind of feelings did you have?

WY: ...I know that I had some good years and stuff like that, but being a foreigner, I didn't think that the Japanese media would vote me in, because all the years that I played ball in Japan, I thought I had some other things that... I mean, I thought maybe one or two, I should have been MVP for one or two other things, but I didn't get it. And so when I, when my name went in the ballot there, I thought I was going to have a hard time because I was in Japanese baseball for thirty-eight years, and the only reason why I quit was because my friend with the Hochi newspaper told me -- see, in order to get into the Hall of Fame, you got to rest five years. You got to be out of uniform for five years just like in the States. Then I thought, well, if I can, I sure would like to get into the Hall of Fame, so I quit. I was seventy years old, but I could have gone a couple more years. But I thought, well, I might as well get out of uniform. In the meantime, my wife and my son told me, "Dad, maybe about time you retire." So I retired. So after five years, my name went in, and you have to get 75 percent vote from the sports media, and I had, the first time I had only about 65. So, I thought maybe I'm going to, hard time. But the next year, Sadaharu Oh, I know that he was going to get in right away. He was entitled to get in, so, he got in. So, I thought with Sadaharu Oh in, maybe I'm going to hard time to get in. But then I was lucky, I got 78 votes. So I got inducted, see. But to get inducted in Japan Hall of Fame was the greatest thing, I think, that happened to me.

Plus, when I got award from the emperor, was another great thing because before that, when I, before I got the award from the emperor or when I got in the Hall of Fame, they never include me. All the things, the commissioner had some kind of parties and things, never include me, because I guess I'm a foreigner. But as soon as I got into the Hall of Fame and I got the award from the emperor, every little thing, I'm invited now. [Laughs] I can't believe it, you know. But, so my wife and I, she go here, things like, if I didn't get into things like that, I wouldn't get invited to a lot of these things. Now, anything what the commissioner has, I'm always invited. So, when I got the award from the emperor, the Japanese government gave me a party. And the prime minister and all these guys all came to my party, because the Japanese government gave me the party. Then, like, the ambassador at that time was Foley, Foley, and they all came to my party. It was so great. I was so happy and proud of myself because you have all these big guys coming to my party. And so, but, so to get into the Hall of Fame was, I thought it just was fantastic.

AH: Did it also have a big impact on you to be inducted into the Hawaiian Sports Hall of Fame?

WY: Not as much as Japan. I thought Japan was, when I got in there, I was so happy. But, Hawaii, well, I was one of the guys. It's the first time, the Hawaii Hall of Fame, they had about thirty, thirty-five guys that got inducted at one time, because before that they didn't have that. So when we got into the Hawaiian Hall of Fame was, thirty-five of us got inducted. But I felt that, Hawaii, eventually I'm going to get in. So, I wasn't too worried about Hawaii. I was more worried about Japan, get in. But see, but when I got into the Hall of Fame in the San Francisco League, that was, I was really happy, because...

AH: It's the Japanese American Hall of Fame.

WY: Yeah. So they have Misaka, and they had Tommy Kono and Kristi Yamaguchi and Ann (Kiyomura) and myself. So when I got into that, that I was happy, too. Because that night, when they had the banquet, I thought maybe only about a hundred people could show. I didn't think that... they had about six, seven hundred people at that PacBell Stadium there. And the thing that was real great was, see, all the people got inducted at that time, they had a person that would introduce the person. And the guy that introduced me was Dr. York, who was owner of the 49ers. He asked this guy, Paul Ozaki, that he wanted to introduce me. And Dr. York really did his homework, because he knew a lot of things about me, some I didn't know. And I met Dr. York last year in Osaka, Japan. He, the 49ers honored me in Osaka, Japan, for the football. So the Japanese, they couldn't believe that I played for the 49ers. Which was so great, because I wanted the Japanese to know that I played for the 49ers. So when they introduced me, when they had the coin flip, when the commissioner, myself and the mayor went to the 50-yard line, and when they flip the coin, and the first quarter, Dr. York and I went to the goalpost and he presented me with the 49ers jersey. And the announcer would tell them who I was and what I did. And the only reason why the 49ers honored me that day, because when Paul Ozaki went to the 49ers office, or went to the NFL office and told them that I made the Japan Hall of Fame, now they were very interested. So, so they said sure, they want to honor me in Osaka, Japan because they didn't know that I made the Japan Hall of Fame in baseball, see. So that's how it started, but it's so great.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

AH: John, do you have any more questions?

JE: Amy was going to ask your opinion of the current Japanese players playing in the major leagues, like Hideki Matsui or Ichiro?

WY: Nomo. Well, five years ago, Asahi newspaper, one of the writers interviewed me and they asked me that question, what I thought about the Japanese going to the States. So I told this writer, I said, "To me, I feel that my dream was one day, the Japanese league and the major leagues play a series, a World Series." This was my dream. And now that all these guys are going to the States, there's no World Series like that whatsoever, anymore, because all the good guys are going to the mainland. So when this writer asked me what I thought about it, I told him, "Look, the owners should really think right now" -- this was five years ago -- "think right now, to stop these players, not to go to the mainland because if they go, the Japanese baseball will start going down," which they, the brand of ball is down. Just like the major leagues now, they get thirty teams in the major leagues. So the brand of ball... they have some Triple A players in the major league today. See, this was twenty or thirty years ago, these guys are all down in Double A, Triple A. But same thing in Japan, now. So when I go to Japan, I don't go see the game because the fundamentals are bad and I'm kind of disappointed the way they do things. But that's the only sad thing about Japanese baseball. But I guess you can't help, but, you take Matsui from the Yankees, they offered him 21 million in three years, he went. But I heard that the Tokyo Giants owner offered him 60 million, and he didn't stay back, he went. But I guess they, they want to try, and Matsui did real well with the Yankees.

AH: Who's going to be the Wally Yonamine from Japan that gets into the American Hall of Fame first?

WY: Yeah... could be Ichiro. I think Ichiro, he's not a home run hitter but he's a all-around player. And I think Matsui, he really surprised me this year -- defensively, base running. He did some good plays, defensive, and, because when he was with the Giants, he wasn't that good a outfielder. But this year, when I watched him, couple times he made some good plays. Base running, he used to be on third base and he was on third, off second base and things like that. But I think Ichiro is the one that have a good chance because he is a good contact hitter. So if he continue hitting the way he does and his defense is good and he got a good arm, I think.

AH: What do you think about the rejuvenation of Nomo?

WY: Nomo. Nomo, as long as he gets control, I'm very sure he can win. At one time he wasn't winning because his control is bad. But these past two years, his control is coming back. The only way Nomo can win is his forkball got to sink real good. And these past two years, Nomo been doing real well with his forkball.

AH: Which of the ballplayers from Japan that are here now did you have a chance to see as young players, when they were just starting to develop? Or even scout out some of those ballplayers?

WY: The one in the States now? Matsui, when Matsui was with the Giants, I was a coach at that time, but I didn't help him out, a little bit in the outfield, but not with his hitting. Who else? Ichiro was in the Pacific League, so I didn't have anything to do with him. I guess, just Matsui, I think.

AH: Are there any questions that... we've asked a lot of questions, but are there any questions that we haven't asked that you would like to answer?

WY: [Laughs] Well, from my standpoint, like when I first went to Japan like that, I think that a lot of what I went through my early years in Japan, I don't think that any of the Americans there now could have stand what I went through -- the food that we ate, or the traveling we did, no heat, no air condition, go to the stadiums where guys would come in and throw rocks and you have to, when the gangsters would come in and things like that. And something like that, and I know that my wife took a lot of beating with something like that. She'd be in Tokyo all by herself, and she wouldn't grumble. If that was a American wife, they would pack up and go home. [Laughs]

AH: You've got a great wife. You've had a great life. You had a great career, and I'd like to thank you very much. It's been a privilege and an honor and you're a Hall of Famer for us.

WY: Thank you, thank you. Anytime, anytime you guys want to ask me a question, let me know.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2003 Japanese American National Museum. All Rights Reserved.