Maui Sports

Maui mourns passing of sports great Wally Yonamine

March 2, 2011, 7:02 AM HST
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By Fred Guzman

He was born in the plantation village of Olowalu in 1925. He passed away Monday on Oahu.

During those 85 years, Wally Yonamine compiled a sporting resume that earned him widespread recognition as the greatest athlete ever produced by the Valley Isle.

He spent 12 years as an all-star baseball player in Japan, winning three batting titles and earning induction into Japan’s baseball hall of fame. He spent an additional 20 years in that country as a manager and coach.

Before arriving in Japan, he earned the distinction of becoming the first Asian-American to play professional football, spending two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.

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But that only tells a part of story regarding Wally Yonamine, who in his way could be regarded as the Jackie Robinson of his race.

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As noted by Dave Reardon in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Americans hated him for being Japanese and Japanese hated him for being American.”

When he joined the Niners in 1947, many Americans of Japanese descent were a couple of years removed from internment camps.

When he joined the Yomiuri Giants in 1951, there was still widespread resentment – if not outright hatred – aimed at a man who came from a country that had defeated Japan in a long and cruel war.

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Through it all, Wally Yonamine kept his composure, earned the respect of Japanese fans and brought pride to his ancestral island.

Years later, he continued to contribute to Hawaii’s youth. His foundation is – and will continue to be — the sponsor of the state high school baseball tournament.

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