Born in October of 1921, Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada, son of a soon to be widowed fieldworker, worked alongside his father in the fields as soon as he was able.
A lifelong athlete, Harada excelled in sports, particularly baseball, and was a star player on the Santa Maria High School baseball team.
After graduating from high school in 1940, Harada began playing semi-pro baseball and, according to his records, he was being scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals.
All of his plans for the future were put on hold when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. The very next day, he enlisted in the Army, where, most likely because he was bilingual, he was placed in military intelligence and remained there throughout the war.
Harada spent the early war years as a Japanese translator and scout, working in the jungles of New Guinea and the Philippines. He suffered a few broken bones in a plane crash behind enemy lines, and was reassigned to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff, where he suffered gunshot wounds on two different occasions.
With his wounds ruling out hopes for a baseball career, Harada remained in Tokyo as a member of MacArthur’s staff, where he worked as a translator for 10 years during the occupation of Japan.
When the war ended and Japan was in ruins, seeking a way to improve the morale of the Japanese people, the lieutenant was appointed as the right hand to Maj. William Marquat, director of the Supreme Command for the Allied Powers’ Economic and Scientific Section.
Marquat put Harada in charge of reviving Japanese sports, mostly baseball, to help raise the country’s morale. The two worked closely together: Marquat was the key decision-maker, while Harada was the forceful hand.
In 1949, they arranged for Japan’s best six swimmers to compete in Los Angeles at the U.S. National Championships, making it the first overseas tour of Japanese athletes since World War II.
The war had taken its toll and existing baseball stadiums stood in disarray. Although most had survived the bombings, the Allied forces were using the fields as motor pools and munitions dumps. Harada pulled in the necessary help to ready the stadiumsl, helping to restart professional baseball in Japan.
The Japanese pros played four All-Star games in the waning months of 1945 and play resumed the next year.
Baseball’s popularity soared to unexpected proportions, and in the 1940s and ’50s, much to MacArthur's delight, there were many U.S. baseball goodwill tours in Japan.
Lefty O’Doul’s San Francisco Seals made the first tour, playing 16 games with various newly organized Japanese teams.
In 1951 and ’53, the Joe DiMaggio All-Stars and the New York Giants also brought Major League Baseball stars to the Japanese ballparks. To the people who were struggling to recover from the devastation of the worst war in history, the tours were tremendous hits.
The American teams made a number of goodwill trips to Japan, and easily walked over the nonproficient Japanese players, mostly by blowout scores. It was said that if a person wanted to root for the underdog, he couldn’t lose by rooting for the Japanese. But that was about 70 years ago. Times have changed.
In 1953, when the Tokyo Giants, national champions of Japan, came to the U.S. on an exhibition tour and made Santa Maria its training headquarters, the Santa Maria Indians opened their season and thrilled their fans by beating the Tokyo team by a score of 10-6.
From 1951 to 1954, Harada was a special assistant to the Tokyo Giants’ manager and helped to guide the team to four straight championships. He also pioneered a two-league format and World Series-style playoff in Japan.
In 1965, Harada became the first Nisei to serve as general manager in the minors, when he was named general manager of the Lodi Crushers, now the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and an affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
Working for the San Francisco Giants as a special assistant in the scouting and player personnel department for 23 years, Harada is credited with signing the first Japanese player to a Major League contract -- left-hander Masanori Murakami on Sept. 1, 1964.
In 1966, The Sporting News and National Association of Profession Baseball named Harada Executive of the Year.
In 1979, still supporting baseball, Harada was appointed as the Washington state athletic commissioner.
Tsuneo “Cappy” Harada never forgot his hometown. His Hot Stove dinners and golf tournaments, which brought in celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio, Pete Rose and many others, helped finance Hancock College.
Baseball ambassador Harada died June 5, 2010, in Palm Springs.
More about Cappy Harada next Sunday when I cover his Hot Stove dinners and golf tournaments.