The Imperial Hotel Revisited

One of the goals of my tour of Japan was to compare what Japan was like when my father toured with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956 and today.  It’s hard to compare things very well when they don’t even exist anymore.  One example is the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo where the Dodgers stayed for over a week on the tour.  The Imperial Hotel was famous for hosting all kinds of famous and important guests including, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, Danny Kaye and Fred Kipp.

View of the restored Imperial Hotel near Nagoya.  This classic Frank Lloyd Wright construction.  Amy and I heard about it from an FLW fan when we were visiting Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles.

The Imperial Hotel was designed for westerners and many famous people have stayed there since it opened in 1890.  The hotel was partially owned by the Imperial family until General McCarthur made them sell their stake after WWII.  When I went there, a few weeks ago, the only part of the hotel that still exists from 1956 is the Imperial Hotel Bar.

I had to do some investigative research and see if the Mt. Fuji cocktail that my father talked about was still as good as he remembered.  I confirmed that it is still pink, delicious, expensive at about 1,600 Yen ($14.62) and strong. 

They wouldn’t let me take a picture of the drink or anything in the Old Imperial Bar, but it was a very long, wooden bar and had distinctive conical lighting that shined right on my pink Mt. Fuji cocktail.  I enjoyed having a drink where Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and my father had imbibed a few.

Me with a picture of Babe Ruth from 1934.  Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe are in the lower picture that was taken on their honeymoon in 1954.  Helen Keller is in a kimono above my left shoulder.

I showed the bartender pictures of the Brooklyn Dodgers and he was very interested to look at them.  The bar was empty when we arrived and he started going through each of the pictures and getting excited when he saw Jackie Robinson and other Dodgers.  Before he got through the stack of photos, people started coming into the bar and he had to make them drinks instead of checking out my Dodger photos.  I put the photos away after a few minutes and then he came back when he caught up on his work.   He asked to see the rest of the pictures, so I obliged.  He went through every one of them and asked questions about who the players were.  He recognized many of the Japanese baseball players.

Here’s a poster for the old Imperial Bar with some classic Art deco designs.

While I couldn’t take pictures inside the bar, I took this video at the entrance to the bar.

The bar was really cool, but I found out that there was more of the Imperial Hotel in another place.  The front of the hotel had been moved to an outdoor museum near Nagoya – Japan’s third largest city.  It would take me a few weeks to get there, but I finally made it.

The Museum Meiji-mura is an interesting complex of historical buildings from around the world that were relocated to this countryside park.  Most of the buildings were from Japan, but a few of them were from Hawaii, Seattle and other places.  The park is situated on 250 acres with over 60 reconstructed buildings, street cars and an old steam train to get people around.   The featured attraction is the FLW Imperial Hotel.

Instead of skyscrapers, the Imperial Hotel is surrounded by trees and teaming with school kids in yellow hats.
Video of entrance and lobby of Imperial Hotel.

Amy has designed theme parks for 25 years and was very impressed with the layout of this complex.  The historic building from up to 150 years ago were thoughtfully torn down, reconstructed and arranged on hillsides around a beautiful lake.  Within each building were antiques from the time.  The prison had reconstructed prison cells with mannequins of prisoners and the hospitals had old medical instruments and equipment.  One building had a collection of clocks while another had industrial equipment like textile processors or steam turbines.  Royal sleeper cars and other amazing treats sat in each building.

They served food in many kiosks and the steam train ran from end to end.  We ate some sandwiches and had coffee and dessert inside the Imperial Hotel with furniture that Wright designed as well.

I guess a wildcat got ahold of this velvet upholstered chair.  Art deco fans would love the windows of this place and Frank’s attention to detail.

I really enjoyed walking around the hotel lobby where my father had 62 years earlier.  While most of the stadiums where my father pitched in or places he stayed were destroyed, this hotel has been saved for posterity.  If you get a chance to go to Japan, I highly recommend this museum – especially if you are an architecture fan.

Check out some details of this Wright hotel.
Here’s a panoramic side view of the hotel.
The front desk of the lobby where my father stayed for a week in 1956.
This bizarre ornament is made of oya stone and is designed in the Mayan Revival style that was popular in the 1910s.
An FLW lamp with classic art deco.
Here’s Amy in the restored hotel lobby.  We had snacks above the lobby where people are seated.

Found in Translation

My father turns 87 on October 1, 2018 and I have a special gift for him.  While in Japan, I was able to have some Japanese friends translate a few things that I found in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum under the Tokyo Dome.  I couldn’t read the articles in Japanese and Google Translate is pretty sketchy.  I wanted to find out if any of the articles were about him.  Luckily, this guy who worked in my hostel in Hiroshima was a big baseball fan and helped me out.

This guy was a big baseball fan and he helped translate some Japanese articles for me.  Notice that he is wearing the American Kris Johnson’s jersey with the number 42 for Jackie Robinson.  On the TV in the background, Kris is celebrating their league winning game on the field.

The articles are from a Japan baseball magazine that I hadn’t seen before.  I didn’t know what was about my father until my friend translated it for me.  The article below says how my dad threw a shutout against the Japan All-Stars on October 31, 1956 in Shimonoseki Stadium.  Unfortunately, they didn’t include a picture of him even though he was the headline.

Fred Kipp threw a shutout against the Japanese All-Star team on Halloween 1956.

I could identify my dad in another page of the magazine.  The Dodgers and the All Japan team formed a “D” and I can see him in the back of the photo.  I marked him with the blue arrow.  You might notice that there is a pitcher in the upper right picture on the page.  I wasn’t sure it was him until he was found in the translation.

My friend translated the photo and said how the text talked about how my father manipulated the ball in mid air.  He tried to translate a word about how the ball shifted in the air, but the best he could come up with was “manipulated”.  There are other newspaper articles where the Japanese called him a knuckleball artist.  

The Japanese had never seen a southpaw knuckleball like my dad’s. They called him the “knuckleball artist”.

A professor I ran into at the baseball museum helped me translate this picture that I already had.  Check it out.

This picture is in the book The Last Yankee Dodger.  I just never new what the text stood for.  The letters of his name are spelled out and they didn’t add the extra “P” in “KIPP” because there isn’t a sound for it.

While my father was a great knuckleballer on the field, he always threw us softballs that made my life easy.  Thanks for all the support over the decades Dad!

Hiroshima Carp Win Division and Go Wild

When I checked into the hostel in Hiroshima, I knew I was in a baseball town.  Behind the front desk hung a baseball jersey of Kris Johnson – an American pitcher for the Hiroshima Carp.  I had been in contact with Kris because my brother works with Kris’s brother-in-law.  Anyway, the hostel staff told me that Kris was pitching for the Central League that afternoon.  The game was starting in 10 minutes!

Amy and I dropped our bags off and headed over to the stadium.  The stadium was a fifteen minute walk from the hostel and we could soon hear the cheers from the stadium.  I tried to find some tickets, but there were crowds of people looking for the same thing.  The only ones I found were going to $200 a pop.  I wasn’t going to pay that.

Amy with all the fans outside of the gate.  

We cheered for the home team for a while with the fans at the gate.  The Carp scored two runs in the light rain and the crowd was way into it.  We didn’t think we could get any affordable tickets, so we decided to go to a local sports bar – The Red Helmet.  The Carp had team colors and logos like the Cincinnati Reds and everyone was wearing their uniform to create a sea of red – like Kansas City when the Chiefs are playing.  The sports bar was very busy and they ran out of seats before we got ours.  They apologized and said they couldn’t serve us unless we had a seat, so we had to go.  We figured that there must be a fire code to prevent people from being served if they didn’t have a seat.

Kris on the big screens.  He wears number “42” like many foreign players do in tribute to Jackie Robinson.

We had to walk 20 minutes downtown to another bar.  Meanwhile, the Carp started giving up runs.  The locals said that Kris had trouble controlling his pitches in the rain.  Kris gave up four runs in the third inning and that ended it for him.  The Carp never recovered and they would have to wait for another day to win the championship.

Kris pitching on the TVs.  There must be a time delay between the TVs because you can see different parts of the windup and his number between the screens.

The next day, I was walking to the Hiroshima Peace Park to recreate some pictures of my father from the time he played here with the Dodgers.  I was crossing the street when I ran into Kris Johnson walking in the other direction.  I wouldn’t have known it was him unless I’d seen him all over the TV the day before.  His black Royals baseball cap gave it away.  He was shopping with his wife, baby and probably mother-in-law.

I started talking to him in the middle of the busy intersection and changed direction to finally meet him.  We’d been communicating through email, but I didn’t think I’d see him.  I gave him a copy of my father’s book and showed him how my father had been in Hiroshima playing baseball as well with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Don Drysdale and all the others.

Kris was disappointed that he hadn’t won the title the day before.  The picture below says it all.  I told him that he couldn’t win them all.  I explained to his wife that my brother worked with her brother in Kansas City.  I wish I would have taken a picture with him, but they seemed to be in a hurry.  He had another game that night.

Kris Johnson was not happy about missing his chance to close out the championship with the Carp. It would take another couple days before they would win.

Amy and I went out to dinner that night and wanted to watch the game while we ate.  We found a little restaurant next to our hostel that had TVs on.  The owner was a real baseball fan and had memorabilia all over the walls.  He had probably ten bats and pictures of old players like the picture below.

Ryohei Nasegawa was a star for the Hiroshima Carp when my father played baseball in Japan. He might have been on the All-Japan team that played my dad.

The restaurant didn’t have an English menu, but the owner helped us order some ramen.  The restaurant was a one-man show like so many in Japan.  They could probably seat only 20 people. Quite a few people were hanging out watching the game and cheering the Carp on.  I told the owner how my father was in Hiroshima with the Brooklyn Dodgers and he showed me a picture of the plaque that used to be in the old stadium.  Here is a picture of the plaque that the Dodgers donated to the stadium.

The owner had a wooden keg that looked like an old sake keg.  The tradition is to smash the keg with a wooden mallet to expose the sake.  He said they were going to break it open when the Carp won.  He gave us a beer for free and we stayed till the end of the game.  The Carp lost the game that night as well and I was surprised to see that everyone stayed around afterwards.  They stayed because if the Yakult Swallows lost, the Carp would win the division.  The Swallows won too, so the Carps fate was in their hands the next night when they faced the Swallows.

On our last night in Hiroshima, the Carp finally rose to the occasion and whooped the Swallows 10-0.  I watched the game in the hostel and one of the workers was a big fan and we exchanged hats to celebrate in this picture.

My friend in the hostel helped explain a few things about Japan baseball and how many of the foreign players wore the number 42 in support of Jackie Robinson.  You can see that he had Kris Johnson’s jersey from the number that is retired in the US.

He told us how there would be a big party downtown since they won, so we went down to see what it was like.  I couldn’t believe how many thousands of fans were downtown after 11:00 to celebrate.  They were all chanting like in the video at the top of the page.  Some had beer and they were shaking it and spraying it on the crowd.  Amy even got some of it.  The Carp and Hiroshima really liked celebrating their victory.  Good luck in the playoffs!

Takahiro Arai is being thrown in the air.  He’s played for the Carp since 1999 and will retire this year.  Kris was out their celebrating with the rest of them.
They poured beer all over each other and players were interviewed on the TV while getting beer sprayed in their face.  It was hilarious! 

1956 Japan Photos of Fred Kipp Found

Before the Yomiuri Giants game yesterday in Tokyo, Amy and I went to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum under the Tokyo Dome.  One room in the museum is dedicated to American baseball and the American baseball tours of Japan.  Thirty nine American baseball teams have toured Japan between 1908 to 2014 with more on the way.

The most famous tour was in 1934 when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig toured.  The museum had this poster in the room that Sotaro Suzuki used to lure Babe to Japan.  

Baby Faced Babe

I also found a collection of baseballs from the many tours.  At the very bottom of one of the baseballs was my father’s signature!  I was very pleased that he was in the museum in this little way.

I looked around some more and most of the rest of the museum was about Japanese baseball – no surprise there.  In the back corner of the museum was a research library and archive.  I got excited and showed the two librarians the book that I write with my father about his baseball career and how a chapter of the book was about the tour of Japan.  They spoke pretty good English and found a collection of newspaper articles about the 1956 Brooklyn Dodger Goodwill Tour of Japan.  The newspapers would have some pictures of the Dodger stars, but not of my father.

One librarian would show Amy and I what they found while the other would scurry around in the archive and find more stuff.  They found a Japanese memorabilia magazine that my brother Greg has a copy of.  I included some of those pictures in the book, but they weren’t new to me.

Two helpful librarians in the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum Library

While I was looking at some of the articles, the two librarians went “Ohhh,  tomichi gawa.  OOhh..”  Their cute and controlled enthusiasm was infectious.  I don’t know what they really said, but they were really excited and brought over another magazine to me.  This magazine featured a full page picture of my father with Jim Gentile and Don Demeter.  I love the smile and goofy stance that my dad has in this picture:

Jim Gentile, Fred Kipp and Don Demeter in Japan

I took a picture of the first few lines into Google Translate and this is what it says:

Gentil first baseman from the left, Kip pitcher, Demeter middle-hand. Both are in the Dodgers, and they are especially selected and participated in the next visit to Japan. Perfect opportunity for three people to be a major leaguer

I kept looking through the magazine and then I found another picture of Jackie Robinson and Jim Gilliam walking up some stairs with my dad and Don Demeter behind him.  My dad was always hanging around with Don and Jackie of course was the person they were photographing.  The resolution isn’t very good because it is a picture of a photocopy of a magazine, but you can still see the wide black band on my father’s styling hat.

Jim Gilliam and Jackie Robinson in Japan with Fred Kipp and Don Demeter behind.

I was so happy to find some more artifacts from my father’s baseball career.  He was so fortunate and worked so hard to play with the Dodgers.  It’s amazing to me how many things I have found and there is no way to include them all in a short book, but I can include them in a big website!

Passport Comparison from 1955 to 2018

I want to compare my father’s passports from 1955 to my passport in 2018. The first picture shows the outside cover. Not very interesting back then or now.

Here is the passport that my father used in the 1950s.

My Passport

The next photo of his passport is interesting in that they put his occupation as PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER.  They also state that he doesn’t have a wife or kids.  This was issued on October 5th, 1955 – the day after the Brooklyn Dodgers won their first World Series.  My father was in New York getting his passport when they won.  He was playing with the Mobile Bears – a farm team of the Dodgers – that year.

Here’s the photo page of his passport from 1955.  I think someone incorrectly stamped the page when he returned from Venezuela in 1955 after playing there for a little more than a month.  It’s interesting that the Department of State issued the passport in NY and then the Department of Justice stamped his passport.  Some interesting advice in the pages as well.

Here’s my colorful new passport with the cool eagle.
Here is the pages that the Japanese stamped.  He arrived on October 18th 1956 and departed on November 16th.  They also recorded when he exchanged money.  On the right page is his VISA that was issued on October 4th when he would have been pitching batting practice for Game 2 of the World Series, but it got rained out.

Here are some stamps from Venezuela.  He was only there for a month and 10 days in 1955.

Here’s the return stamp issued in Hawaii from the Japan tour and his VISA for Venezuela.

Weary Dodgers Fly to Japan in 1956

My father and the Brooklyn Dodgers flew on a four-prop DC-7 to Japan in 1956.  Starting at JFK airport (then called Idlewild back then), they stopped in LA, Oahu, Maui, Wake Island and finally Tokyo.  The plane was loud and shook and had to hop from island to island across the Pacific to refuel.  They broke up the 29 hours of flight time with some sightseeing and exhibition games in Maui and Honolulu.  Traveling across the Pacific was a rather arduous journey with four long flights back in the day.

About sixty two years later, I flew direct from LAX to Narita in 10.5 hours in a Boeing 777-300 yesterday.  I could select from a wide variety of movies or play video games on the TV.  My door to door travel time took about 24 hours and the jet was pleasant and the food was pretty good on ANA.  Life has definitely gotten better.

The Dodgers chartered their plane and the players, coaches, many wives and several dignitaries were on board.  Many of the players were ready to blow some steam off after losing the World Series the day before to the Yankees in Game 7.  The story goes that a bottle of whiskey was going around between a few of the players and several of the guys got drunk.  The raucous 20-30 year-olds made a lot of noise and caused trouble until Walt Alston had to shut them up.  Walt was traveling with his wife and many other dignitaries and he wanted to have a civil flight.  When he had enough, he yelled at the players to shut up and got his way.

A few minutes later, Don Newcombe, the Cy Young Award winner and MVP of 1956 with a 27-7 record, came stumbling down the hall towards Walt.  Walt got up and told Don to go back to his seat.  Don had to go to the bathroom and threatened to piss on his Coach if he didn’t get out of the way.  Walt let him pass so Don could relieve himself.  I wrote about this episode in more detail in the book The Last Yankee DodgerI devoted a whole chapter of the book to the Japan Tour.

Another crazy thing that happened on the flight was that Vin Scully fell into a deep sleep in the front of the plane with the owner Walter O’Malley.  Walter, the guy that moved the Dodgers to LA and became the villain in Brooklyn because of it, thought he’d have some fun with Vin.  Walter got a marker and put a dot on Vin’s nose and then a big beard on Vin’s face!  Here’s a picture of the end product:

Walter O’Malley pranked Vin Scully on a long flight to Japan.  Vin told me that Walter was like a fatherly figure to him and that it was just a practical joke.  Vin had been fighting bronchitis before the trip and was exhausted when he started the long journey to Japan.
 Here’s a close-up of the marked up 29-year-old Vin Scully after O’Malley marked his face up.  They put a peach on his arm and dotted his nose too.  

One thing I want to point out is that Vin wasn’t drinking with the players!  I wrote Vin to endorse the book and Vin called me to make sure that I had the story straight. He wasn’t drinking with the players and never had.  His mentor, Red Barber told Vin to not drink, play cards or gamble with the players and Vin said he never did in his 67 years with the Dodgers. Vin wanted to stay objective about the players and is one of the most standup guys around. He gave the book this endorsement:

From Piqua, Kansas, to Tokyo, Japan, with stops along the way in Ebbets Field, LA Coliseum, and Yankee Stadium, Fred touched them all. You will be touched too when you read this book.

—Vin Scully, The Voice of Baseball and the Dodgers for 67 years

I wonder about what else happened on those four long flights across the Pacific from Brooklyn to Tokyo.  Caging up a bunch of young baseball players for that long was going to lead to trouble.

I’ll be talking about some other things that happened on the 1956 Brooklyn Dodger Goodwill Tour of Japan while I recreate some of the journey.

Recreating Brooklyn Dodgers Tour of Japan

In 1956, the Brooklyn Dodgers were the world champions for the first time in their storied history.  Although nobody knew it, Jackie Robinson was in his last year of play.  A 19-year-old rookie named Don Drysdale from Van Nuys, California was their new star.  In typical Brooklyn Dodger fashion, they broke their fans hearts by losing game seven of the 1956 World Series to the New York Yankees.  The day after their last World Series loss, the Dodgers loaded onto their plane headed for Japan. 

Modern picture of  Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park
Here’s a picture of Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and my father at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in 1956.

I’m leaving for Japan today to recreate some of the tour.  I’m going to compare and contrast the 1956 Brooklyn Dodger Goodwill Tour of Japan with modern day Japan.  I have tickets for the Tokyo Dome on September 17th when the Yomiuri Giants face the Chunichi Dragons.  I’m going to try and go to a playoff game of the Hiroshima Carps and recreate a picture of the Dodgers memorializing a plaque at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  I have 35 days to have some fun and watch some baseball!

I dedicated a whole chapter of The Last Yankee Dodger to the Japan tour where my father pitched more than any other Dodger.  If you want to read more about the tour, go to

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Here’s a blurry picture of the players boarding the plane in New York.  My father is on the far right.  You’ll see that hat in many other pictures.

60th Anniversary Game

Amy and I went to the 60th Anniversary celebration of the Dodgers on May 12th, 2018.  They started the celebration with an Old Timers game.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have the Dodgers who played 60 years ago come out and play.  I’m sure my father would have.  They did have guys like Tom Seaver come out though and my father did play against Tom in 1964 in the National Baseball Congress where he helped defeat Tom.

It was a great night and here are some photos.  This one shows the baseball cap that commemorates the 60th Anniversary of the move to LA.

Gotta get the bobblehead in!

March 4th Articles on Fred Kipp

Spring Training has started for the Dodgers and it’s always an exciting time of the year for baseball fans and players. The press is always at spring training and they write a lot to justify being in the warm weather and to get the fans interest up. They wrote these two articles written on March 4th that included my father Fred Kipp.

The first article was in spring training in 1957 when my father was trying out for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He’d been in the Dodger organization since graduating college in 1953 and had won Rookie of the Year in the International League in 1956 while playing for the Montreal Royals – the Dodgers top farm team. Here’s what Roscoe McGowen wrote for the New York Times:

“For a kid,” Alston said of the young southpaw, “He’s pretty good. He may not always be able to do what he tries to do but he knows how it ought to be done.”

Walter Alston was the manager of the Dodgers and always had to talk with the reporters. Here’s a picture of my father with Walter Alston and Jackie Robinson while in Japan.

What is funny to me is how the Iola Register, my father’s hometown paper, responded to the article. Here’s a excerpt from that article:

Where does he get the “kid” label? Fred’s eight years out of Emporia State, out of the army, and they call them old men at 30 in baseball.

As the Iola Register said, my dad wasn’t a kid at 25 years old so he shouldn’t have been called that, but he did look very young and had only been out of college for 4 years.

Iola Register Article

The third article was written by Frank Finch of the Los Angeles Times on March 4th, 1958. The Dodgers were in spring training in Vero Beach, but they were about to move to LA. The Dodgers were hot news 60 years ago when they were moving to Los Angeles that year- like I just did this week. Frank talked to the manager Walt Alston about the new pitchers. My father did make it on the roster that first year in LA. Here’s what the article said:

Kipp’s speed has impressed the boss. “Ordinarily, pitchers don’t get faster, but Kipp looks faster than last year,” Alston said. “Of course, both he and Williams pitched winter ball and are farther along than the others.”
Kipp, a 6-foot 4-inch Kansan, was the Dodgers’ most impressive hurler during the tour of Japan at the close of the 1956 season. He has quite an assortment of stuff, including the knuckler, two curves and a good changeup on his fast ball.

What I like about the article is that it mentions my father’s play in the Dominican Republic during the winter of 1957/58 and the 1956 Goodwill Tour of Japan. My father and the Dodgers traveled to so many places to play baseball. My father and I captured the various places in “The Last Yankee Dodger” – a memoir to my father.

I like how Vin Scully summed my father’s career up in his endorsement:
From Piqua, Kansas, to Tokyo, Japan, with stops along the way in Ebbets Field, LA Coliseum, and Yankee Stadium, Fred touched them all. You will be touched too when you read this book.
—Vin Scully, The Voice of Baseball and the Dodgers for 67 years

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