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Hawaii sports pioneer Wally Yonamine dies

By Ferd Lewis

LAST UPDATED: 12:36 p.m. HST, Mar 01, 2011


Wally Kaname Yonamine, one of Hawaii's greatest athletes and a pioneer in two professional sports, died last night, family and friends said.

He was 85.

Born in Olowalu, Maui, Yonamine was an all-around athlete at Lahainaluna and Farrington High schools before playing professional football for the San Francisco 49ers (1947) and professional baseball for the San Francisco Seals and Salt Lake City Bees. Yonamine went to Japan in 1951 and starred 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.

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