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Hawaii sports pioneer Wally Yonamine dies

  • PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA/DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Wally Yonamine had his sports exhibit unveiled at the Honolulu Airport (arrival area). He and his wife, Jane stand next to one of two show cases that exhibit some of his athletic memorabilia.
  • PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA/DODA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Wally Yonamine had his sports exhibit unveiled at the Honolulu Airport (arrival area) on January 20, 2004. He is next to his wife, Jane and their 3 grandchildren, (l-r) John (8), Andrea (6) and Bryan (12) Yonamine. Wally is standing next to his baseball uniform where he played center field and was the lead off man for the Yomiuri Giants. A portion of his resume includes: he was given a football scholarship to Ohio St., but decided to sign a professional football contract with the San Francisco 49er's instead (the first of Asian ancestry). When he injured his wrist, he went to Japan and signed with the Yomiuri Giants. In his rookie year, he hit 0.354 and help lead the Giants to the Japan Series. He had a 12 year career as a player winning 3 batting titles (1954, 56, 57), MVP in 1957, and being named to 7 consecutive Central League All Star teams. In his 10 year at the Giants, his teams won 8 pennants and 4 Japan Series titles. He was inducted into the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • PHOTO BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL/CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Wally Yonamine at a Sept. 1, 2007 ceremony honoring the Pearl City Junior Little League Baseball World Series champions at Pearlridge Center. Yonamine is a former San Francisco 49er football player and the first U.S. citizen to play Japanese baseball. He has been inducted in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • PHOTO BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL/CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Wally Yonamine spoke at a ceremony honoring the Pearl City Junior Little League Baseball World Series champions at Pearlridge Center. Yonamine is a former San Francisco 49er football player and the first U.S. citizen to play Japanese baseball. He has been inducted in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • PHOTO BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL/CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Mayor Mufi Hannemann addressed the crowd as Wally Yonamine and Keith Amemiya held the $200,000 check donated by Yonamine at the Hawaii High School Athletics Awards Recognition Dinner on June 11, 2006t. The money helped the HHSA to set up an endowment for State Baseball Tournament.
  • FILE PHOTO
    Wally Yonamine was among the inductees to the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 20, 2004. Hawaii Sports Hall Of Fame Inaugural Inductees that attended last nights ceremony (l-r)William " Bill" Woolsey (Olympic gold medal in swimming), Herman Wedemeyer (Hawaii's first consensus All-American, Football), Allen Stack (Olympic gold medal in swimming), Wally Yonamine (player-manager in Japan Major Leaue Baseball), Keo Nakama (first to swim the Molokai Channel), Jackie Liwai Pung (LPGA Champion), Thomas Kaulukukui (UH football player, coach, sportsman), Charlie Teetai Ane (All-Pro NFL, Detroit Lions), Carl "Bobo" Olson (World Middleweight Boxing Champion), Ford Konno (Olympic gold medal in swimming), Yoshinobu Oyakawa (Olympic gold medal in swimming) and William "Bill" Smith (Olympic gold medal in swimming). PHOTO BY DENNIS ODA. FEB. 3, 1998. fp\b0\i0\fs10???????????????????????????????? fp\i0\b\fs16Copyright 1998 fp\b0\i0\fs10Year=1998; Month=2; Month=Feb; Day=3; Day=Tu; Copyright=Star_Bulletin-Yes; Photographer~Oda_Dennis; Person=Woolsey_William_"Bill"/Wedemeyer_Herman/Stack_Allen/Yonamine_Wally/Nakama_Keo; Identity=Athlete; Action=Posing; Mood=Happy/Smiling; State=Hawaii; Mainkey=Sport/Olympic_Games; Subkey=Sport/Athlete; Aspect=Local:Staff; Aspect=03.02.1998; Aspect=Color; Aspect=1998; Aspect=2; Aspect=Feb; Aspect=3; Aspect=Tu; Aspect=Star_Bulletin-Yes; Aspect=Oda_Dennis; Aspect=Woolsey_William_"Bill"; Aspect=Wedemeyer_Herman; Aspect=Stack_Allen; Aspect=Yonamine_Wally; Aspect=Nakama_Keo; Aspect=Athlete; Aspect=Posing; Aspect=Happy; Aspect=Smiling; Aspect=Hawaii; Aspect=Sport; Aspect=Olympic_Games; Aspect=Sport; Aspect=Athlete;
  • PHOTO BY CRAIG T. KOJIMA/CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Wally Yonamine had his sports exhibit unveiled at the Honolulu Airport on Jan. 20, 2004.
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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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