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The Major Leaguer from Tianjin, China

One of the great time wasters, at least for me, is the Baseball Reference site created by Sean Forman. You see, I was one of those kids with his nose buried in a stack of baseball cards wondering just who was the best player back in 1982 (Robin Yount) and wondering why I had not been born blessed with the hand/eye coordination necessary to hit a curve ball. (It didn’t help that my coach was fond of yelling such useful advice as “Stick your leg out a little bit. Getting hit is as good as a hit!”)

Since I do regret my occasional procrastination (at times), I thought I would give myself the illusion of productivity by combing Baseball Reference for things Chinese and, lo and behold, there he was: Harry Lees Kingman, born in Tianjin, China in 1892. Kingman’s grandfather came to Tianjin in 1860, part of the first wave of missionaries following the signing of the Beijing Convention. Kingman’s mother was, she claimed, the first white baby ever born in North China.

Kingman is the only major leaguer ever to hail from mainland China. (In the interests of not sleeping on the couch, I’ll leave the nationality of Taiwanese stars such as Chien-Ming Wang 王建民 an open question for now.)

A Yankee before Babe Ruth was swiped from the Red Sox and thus made being a Yankee cool, Kingman was called up for a cup of (tea) in June, 1914. In fact, Kingman was a kind of accidental Yankee. He had actually been signed by the Washington Senators whom the Yankees were visiting that summer day. But when Kingman arrived at the ballpark he was told by Washington manager Clark Griffith to report to the visitor’s clubhouse—he had been traded that very morning!

That summer the lefthander was a defensive replacement at first base and an occasional pinch hitter. Appearing in four games, he went to bat three times walking once and striking out twice. He recorded three outs in the field. Such is the statistical legacy of Harry Kingman.

Apparently, I was not the only one fascinated by the ballplayer from China. Bob Timmermann has a great article on Harry Lee Kingman at the Baseball Biography Project Website.

Some quick highlights from Timmermann’s piece which is well worth reading in its entirety: After his brief outing that summer, the Yankees wanted to turn the lanky southpaw (He was 6’1—quite tall for the time) into a pitcher but Kingman just didn’t have it in him. After a hitch in the army, Kingman returned to China in 1921 as a missionary and physical education teacher with the YMCA. While in China, Harry Kingman became increasingly involved in politics, in particular opposition to what he saw as the unfairness of colonialism. Falling out with the YMCA, Kingman moved to Japan where he coached baseball including a stint as the coach at Waseda University. Finally in 1927, Kingman returned to the states and began a long career, first at Stiles Hall at UC Berkeley and then as an activist and lobbyist for different political causes, particularly civil rights. He and his wife formed the group The Citizen’s Lobby for Freedom and Fairplay.

Harry Lees Kingman died in 1982 in Oakland, California at the age of 90.

Kingman’s legacy is in the archives at the UC Berkeley Regional Oral History Office. In addition to a transcript of an interview with Kingman by Rosemary Levenson, the wife of the brilliant historian Joseph Levenson, there are also the mementos of a lifetime of activism including a handwritten letter to Kingman from Mohandas Gandhi and a postcard from H.G. Wells.


Sources and Additional Reading:

Bob Timmermann, “Harry Lees Kingman.” The Baseball Biography Project.

Harry Kingman, Baseball Reference Bullpen

2 Comments on The Major Leaguer from Tianjin, China

  1. Tianjin is famous for its celebraties: Kingman, Huo Yuanjia, crazy chineses who raped the nuns in 1860’s and…lemur.

  2. 花崗齋之愚公 // August 29, 2006 at 1:40 pm //




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