In a League of His Own: Peter O’Malley Featured

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In a League of His Own: Peter O’Malley

Former Owner of the L.A. Dodgers and Ambassador of U.S.-Japan Baseball

Peter O’Malley, a member of the Japan House steering committee, shared his views on Japan House and his love of Japan and baseball with Tokyo Journal Editor-in-Chief Anthony Al-Jamie. As a former owner and president of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, O’Malley has long been involved not only with the sport, but also with international cooperation and the promotion of Japanese culture. He has visited Japan 80 times since 1956. In 2015, he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon for promoting friendly relations between Japan and the United States through baseball, and for helping in the development of Japanese baseball. The Decoration Bureau of the Office of the Prime Minister administers the awarding of the honor in the name of the Emperor of Japan. O’Malley has been widely praised for running the Dodgers as a highly respected, professional, and emulated organization. Indeed, Fortune magazine named the Dodgers as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” three times under his leadership, the only sports franchise to receive such an accolade. His innumerable achievements in baseball and intercultural relations include his role in introducing baseball as an Olympic sport, his contributions to the U.S. Little League program as the longtime chairman of the Little League Foundation, and his decades of promotion of baseball globally, especially in Japan, Latin America, and China. His funding led to the building of China’s first baseball stadium, named Dodger Stadium, in the city of Tianjin in 1986. Other investments have been in the O’Malley baseball fields in Managua, Nicaragua in 1992, and in Corkagh Park in Clondalkin, West Dublin, Ireland in 1998, regarded as the main home of Irish baseball.

TJ: How did you get involved with Japan House, and why do you feel that the organization is so important?
Consul General [Harry] Horinouchi told me about Japan House and convinced me to join the advisory board, and I’m so glad I did. Years ago, Japan made great cameras – Canon and Nikon. Then, it was the pearl industry. Then, it was cars, and then it was sushi. But that’s not fair to Japan to have thought about the country in those terms. Even food today... the food is so extraordinary – forget sushi. I thought there was a bigger story to be told, and if people in Los Angeles and tourists that come here could connect with the culture, it would create a much better understanding between our two countries. Under the leadership of Yuko [Kaifu], with the exhibits and artists that they’ve brought in, the people that go there linger, study, and read the displays. I think it has served a meaningful purpose, and Consul General Horinouchi told me that was their vision. Japan House is important, significant, and has a meaningful role to play for people to have a better understanding of Japan and what the people are all about.

TJ: What’s the most interesting event that you’ve attended?
Current Consul General [Akira] Muto and two others talked about the relationship between Japan and China. The audience was primarily educators, scholars, and people with a keen interest in that subject. It was fascinating! So, it’s not just the exhibits. It’s the events that they have been holding and will hold again in the future that will appeal to different audiences.

TJ: How did you first become acquainted with Japanese culture?
Well, it all began in 1956. My dad was president of the ball club and I was in college. Our family bonded with a man named Sotaro Suzuki. Matsutaro Shoriki, the father of Japanese baseball, had sent Suzuki to New York to talk to my dad about bringing the Dodgers to Japan. I took a semester off from college and went with the team, and the trip made a lasting, profound impression which permeated the Dodgers organization. Very soon thereafter, players and coaches from the Yomiuri Giants began visiting Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida, and the team started winning in Japan. Our friendships with [Sadaharu] Oh and [Shigeo] Nagashima, and then later on [Senichi] Hoshino with the Dragons and others, it all followed. We were really pioneers in Japan.

TJ: How many times have you been back to Japan since the ’56 trip?
I’m going to guess it’s around 80. I was hoping to get there 100 times. I have more friends in Japan than any other country in the world. I send more Christmas cards to Japan than to the United States. My most recent visit was when Hideo [Nomo] went into the Hall of Fame. It was at the all-star game, and I was to give him this beautiful bouquet of flowers at home plate. It’s time for me to hand it to him and he smiled – I’ll never forget that great smile. He owns a home here and comes back and forth with his two sons and his wife, so I see him frequently.

TJ: I understand that your longtime assistant was Japanese as well. Is that correct? Akihiro Ikuhara? What was he like?
Correct. His nickname was Ike. He followed the ’56 tour in Japan, read a lot about the Dodgers, and wanted to study baseball in the United States. He tried several times to get our friend, Mr. Suzuki, to introduce him to my dad and myself. He was so persistent that he went to Yokohama to Mr. Suzuki’s home to convince him. In those days I was running the Dodgers farm team up in Spokane, Washington, and we decided that Ike should start there. Two years later when I came to Dodger Stadium, I asked him to come down with me and help with the organization. Ike was smart, he was honest, and he understood what was important to me and the team. He was actually admitted to the Hall of Fame in Japan, which was a big deal. I went over there for that with his family.

TJ: The international exchange between you and Ike seems really special. Do you think we’ll continue to see more international exchanges like that in baseball?
Definitely. The inclusion of baseball in the Olympics is a big deal because it enables developing countries to get money from the International Olympic Committee to build baseball programs. China is a good example. Although they’re not a developing country, China has a keen interest in any sport that’s an Olympic sport. I actually helped China build their first baseball field in Tianjin a number of years ago. Now they have a league there and it’s growing, and China will do well in international baseball. I was actually thinking of going back to Japan for the Olympics since baseball is now on the program.


The complete article can be found in Issue #280 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.

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