sports pioneer wally yonamine dies at 85

Sports pioneer Wally Yonamine, the first American to play professional baseball in Japan after World War II and a former running back with the San Francisco 49ers, died this week in Honolulu. He was 85: 'Nisei Jackie Robinson' dies at age 85.

Born in Hawaii, Yonamine played professional football for the San Francisco 49ers in their second season in 1947. He also played professional baseball for the San Francisco Seals and Salt Lake City Bees, and went to Japan in 1951 to play for the Yomiuri Giants and Chunichi Dragons:
In 12 seasons in Japan, Yonamine hit .311, won three batting titles, was a seven-time all-star and a most valuable player (1957). He spent two decades as a coach and manager before becoming a first-ballot inductee to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 49ers, who honored him with an annual award, said Yonamine was the first Asian-American to play pro football. He was the first American to go to Japan and play in the post-World War II era.

In Hawaii, Yonamine's foundation sponsored annual baseball clinics and he underwrote the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state baseball championships for 14 years.
More here: Hawaii sports pioneer Wally Yonamine dies. Yonamine is considered one of the greatest athletes to come out of Hawaii. They called him the "Nisei Jackie Robinson" for breaking into Japanese baseball and building ties between the countries in the highly sensitive period after World War II.

But he's not a pioneer in just one sport. Yonamine is believed to be the first player of Japanese ancestry to play pro football. For his impact on professional sports, the 49ers established the Perry/Yonamine Award in 2007. That's awesome. Props.

Now I think I'm going to have to pick up his biography, Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball by Robert K. Fitts.

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