Share the excellence of AJA with others

Well, our friend Glenn Mickens is at it again, trying to stir things up by pointing out the Kauai Americans of Japanese Ancestry baseball league allows only certain players based on race.

Mickens knows a little something about this. He had a brief Major League Baseball career as a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers (we should point out that anyone who makes it to the bigs had to be a great player) and pitched at the famed Ebbets Field when he was a young man. Mickens played with a man by the name of Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. He didn’t like it when people of different skin color were not treated the same then, and he still doesn’t like it. So, usually once a year, as the AJA season begins, Mickens writes a letter politely sharing his concerns with TGI and its readers.

Here’s some of what Glenn wrote this year:

First, Tom Shigemoto (Kauai AJA president) and his volunteers who keep baseball going on Kauai must be thanked for all they do. Since I coached a summer baseball team for 10 years at UCLA I know how much work it is to take care of the equipment, practice, raise money for what it takes to participate, and see to it that there are at least nine players and two umpires there on game day.

The one big exception to our league and the AJA league was that any player who had the ability to participate could play, white, black, red, yellow, brown, male or female; only ability mattered and nothing else and, in this non- discriminatory world that we are trying to make, this is the way it should be.

He went on to write:

Tom, you can only make your league stronger and without discrimination if you allow anyone with the talent to participate. In their wisdom Japan let foreigners play, and it has made them far stronger, just as the the NL and the AL have been strengthened with players like Suzuki and Ohtani playing in it.

For me, there is no downside for letting any boy or girl with the ability play baseball on Kauai, and since the Japanese were smart enough to keep baseball going it is the only baseball that can be played in the HS off-season.

Now, that doesn’t sound like the ramblings of some guy who is mad at the world. Let’s not tell him to go away, go back to the mainland if he doesn’t like the way things are here. His commentary is courteous, complimentary and respectful, as it should be. We appreciate that. So, when Mickens questions why AJA restricts who can play in its league, not based on talent, but race, let’s ask ourselves if he’s right, wrong, or should just be quiet and let the games go on as they have for decades, dating back to the 1920s. And, frankly, it hasn’t really been much of an issue for anyone, it seems, except Mickens. So what’s the problem, and why are we bringing this up now?

First we should also provide a bit of background about the Kauai AJA Baseball League, per its website, that might help explain how we got here and why:

“The indignities endured by our families, relatives and friends in World War II are but memories of the distant past but do serve as the spark that keeps the legacy of AJA baseball here on Kauai alive and well. The success of our association is largely due to the very committed and dedicated officials who year after year embrace the perpetuation of this very-important tradition. We want our players to be proud of our Japanese heritage but to appreciate who we are as citizens of this wonderful country and for the ability to participate together as friends with a common thread. Yet through our organization we have to remember the time-honored values of respect, honor and dignity so valuable to our cultural heritage. We have evolved into a program which enhances relationships through friendly competition amongst players and coaches which has brought our island community closer.”

This is definitely and without doubt a league Kauai can and should be proud of. Its coaches, organizers, players and volunteers have done an outstanding job. People have been involved for decades and take pride in the excellence of this league, as they should. They love what it does for its players, their families, the island.

And like Mickens, we praise the AJA league for its sportsmanship, competition, commitment to culture and its dedication to a great game and maintaining its legacy. No one questions the heart of this league and its intent to honor its Japanese heritage.

But we respectfully point out in this day and age of political correctness where almost any remark, expression or action can become a point of contention and lead to accusations of racism and create division, we would want to take every step to be sure all people are treated equally at every turn. We would want to take every step to be sure that race is not a factor that determines if a person can shop in a store, buy a house, attend a school, or join a sports team.

Perhaps it is time for organizers of AJA to consider, as Mickens requests, opening its doors to all young men and women who have the talents and the desire to compete at that level. It would seem this would enhance the league, as well as bring people even closer together to share their passion for this great game. If others of other races would like to enjoy the wonders and camaraderie of this outstanding baseball group and fine people, perhaps it is time to let them.

  1. Ken Conklin February 10, 2019 7:36 am Reply

    Oh my goodness. Such a careful editorial. Slowly, gingerly, politely, hesitatingly sneaking up to a conclusion. The editor realizes his essay will cause feelings of defensiveness or even defiance among people who have suffered horrible discrimination and therefore must have been feeling some level of guilt or even shame for many decades when they themselves discriminate against others. The editor realizes it’s politically incorrect for him, with no Japanese ancestry, to tell people who do have Japanese ancestry how they should behave. So it’s an act of considerable courage to do what Star Trek Captain Kirk did, and go [somewhat] boldly where none have dared to go before. But in doing it, display some Japanese manners like being humble, tentative, reluctant, soft-spoken.

    I’m a haole malihini. Only 27 years here, so not yet fully broken-in. Still niele if not maha’oi, so I’ll be clear. It is certainly immoral, and probably illegal, for government-owned parks to rent out or donate those facilities to a group that excludes people based on race. The fact that such immoral or illegal behavior has been ongoing for many decades does not excuse it — it makes it worse. Even if the AJA league owned its own baseball fields as private property, racial discrimination would still be immoral and might still be illegal in the same way that an owner of a mom and pop grocery store cannot engage in racial discrimination, and neither can a homeowner who advertises a bedroom for rent.

    There is a so-called solution which AJA baseball might like to consider. Groups like the Hawaiian Civic Clubs and Ka Lahui allow people of all races to become members and contribute money and labor, but anyone lacking Hawaiian blood is prohibited from voting or holding office. So ethnic Hawaiians are first-class members and everyone else can be only a second-class member. In the case of AJA baseball, maybe that would mean that someone with no Japanese ancestry could pay dues and wear the uniform and even participate on the field in games, but only as a batboy or gatorade server; never as a pitcher, catcher, coach or manager. I hope AJA baseball does not stoop to follow that example. Instead, follow the example of Sumo back in the motherland, where even a boy from Hawaii with no Japanese ancestry rose all the way to the top rank of Yokozuna, performing the ancient sacred rituals to the applause and respect of his Japanese audiences.

  2. hutch February 10, 2019 8:51 am Reply

    I agree with this commentary, but it treads WAAY too lightly on an issue that is rooted in racism pure and simple. If any other ethnic group did what local Japanese are doing with this league, they would have been called out long ago. But everyone walks on eggshells because they’re Japanese. That’s no excuse for their racism.

  3. James I Kuroiwa February 10, 2019 12:53 pm Reply

    TGi is aware that baseball in the 1920’s to the 1960’s consisted of many leagues on each of the Islands. I even participated in a few during the ’60’s, and only the AJA league persisted and remain. Remember even UH Manoa played teams in the Hawaii League, including military teams. Best to have a complete review of why the many other leagues failed and the AJA continued to preserve playing baseball. At that time after the review, we can truly have a discussion on the AJA League. Hey, I found out my dad, who played for Kipu, pitched against some of the Hawaii’s baseball greats in the 1930’s. I strongly believe we do not want Hawaii’s AJA Baseball League to fade away, as the others.

  4. Hide Tada February 10, 2019 2:05 pm Reply

    I used to get angry when Filipinos and Haoles would complain that my people were being racist. As I get older, though, I kind of understand what they mean. I don’t want to speak for them, but I have learned a lot from Japanese people who have come here from the mainland. Here in Hawaii, we pretty much are like the white people on the mainland in that we are the privileged ethnic group. We worked hard for it, but we have it. We have the highest incomes, the highest rates of home ownership, and the strongest presence in leadership of everything in our state, especially the government. People have given me opportunities because of my ethnicity, and they might have passed up a more qualified Korean in the process. When we tell other ethnic groups that what we are doing to them is not discrimination because of the internment camps that our people suffered through, it is like saying that the internment gives us a free pass to do whatever we want, forever. This attitude has really led our people away from the kinds of values that I want my children to understand. We have to show aloha to everyone.

  5. Wowlaulau February 11, 2019 5:38 am Reply

    If you been here for 27 years, why worry about it now? It never bothered you before, you have absolutely no interest in their league except to bitch about it. Form your own league and play if you feel left out

  6. ruthann jones March 5, 2019 8:27 am Reply

    how about a ‘whites only’ league? Would that fly?

  7. Tammy MIYAZAKI March 25, 2019 11:05 pm Reply

    OMG, we’re back to this again? Glenn, give it up already! Accusing the AJA of being racist is absolutely ridiculous! I am half Japanese and half Portuguese, would I be able to run for miss Kauai Filipina? Or Narcissus queen? Or better yet, since I’m married to a person with Hawaiian blood, do my kids from my previous relationship with NO Hawaiian blood in their veins now qualify for Hawaiian homes or any other programs? Everyone asking the AJA to change and accept anyone regardless of heritage is almost as dumb as girls now being accepted into the BOY scouts. The only thing that the AJA is guilty of is being STRONG in history and tradition, something that other leagues apparently lacked since they no longer exist. We are proud of where we came from, where we are currently and where we are heading. As for me and my family, we carry on our Japanese traditions like Dancing at the Bon Dance in the summer time, pounding mochi before the New Year, eating ozone on New Year’s day, celebrating yakudoshi’s, girls day, boys day, etc. And yes, my brothers play for AJA as well. We will continue to perpetuate our heritage and traditions. Maybe you should research yours, form a league and move on!

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