Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara

Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara was a Dodger executive who brought American and Asian relationships closer together and was posthumously inducted into the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame for his efforts. Ike played baseball and graduated from the law college of prestigious Waseda University, Tokyo in 1959. He worked for a sewing machine manufacturing company before landing a position as Head Baseball Coach (1961-1964) at Asia University. A native of Kawara, Fukuoka, Japan, his dream was to learn more about professional baseball in the United States. He sought out well-respected Yomiuri columnist Sotaro Suzuki’s assistance for an introduction to Dodger President Walter O’Malley. Three times, Suzuki turned him away. Ikuhara was persistent and, on the fourth occasion, he brought his wife Kimiko dressed in a kimono with him. She and Suzuki’s wife Toku spoke at the door and finally Ike was invited into the home’s drawing room. After asking many questions, Suzuki was convinced of Ike’s sincerity and he crafted a letter of introduction to Walter on February 8, 1965 about a 28-year-old who doesn’t speak English but wants to travel to America and learn about the business side of baseball. He mentioned that Ike had enthusiastically followed Suzuki’s writing for years. In the letter, Suzuki suggested that Ike start by traveling that spring to Dodgertown and he would accompany him to Vero Beach, Florida. Walter was happy to oblige and hired Ike. Ike had to secure $7,000 to make the trip and pay for expenses for two years. Kimiko’s father and Ike’s dad made that possible.

National League President Warren C. Giles (far left) visits Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida to welcome the Yomiuri Giants for Spring Training activities in 1967. Walter O’Malley invited the Giants from Tokyo, Japan to Dodgertown for training purposes. Shown with Giants players is Ike Ikuhara, who would work for the Dodgers until 1992 when he passed. In 2002, Ikuhara was inducted into the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame.

On March 12, 1965, Ike arrived in Vero Beach, having traveled on the Dodger-owned “Kay ’O” Lockheed Electra II airplane from Los Angeles. Kimiko temporarily stayed in Japan to raise their son Mutsuo. Ike started immediately with the Dodgers at Dodgertown to learn the basic operations of a major league front office. He then worked with Peter O’Malley in Spokane, Washington at the Dodgers’ Triple-A minor league team for two years (1965-66). In June, 1966 with encouragement from Walter and Peter, Ike finally had his family join him in Spokane. In the fall of 1966, Ikuhara assisted with coordinating arrangements of the Dodgers Goodwill Tour to Japan, their second trip throughout the country in a decade. When Peter moved to Los Angeles as Vice President in 1967, Ike joined him to further his baseball business education at Dodger Stadium. The family moved to Gardena, CA. Ike’s career encompassed working as clubhouse assistant, ticket sales, marketing, player development and minor league operations, plus as interpreter. The Dodgers found Ike an extremely hard worker, first to arrive in the morning at Dodger Stadium. He was a man of great character and a good listener, always trying to improve his English language skills.

Ike was the goodwill ambassador for and supervised the visits of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants at Dodgertown in 1967, 1971, 1975, 1981, plus the Chunichi Dragons in 1985. Ike handwrote instructions for the teams in Japanese about the rules and regulations, and daily schedule at Dodgertown. In 1985, he was personally asked to mentor struggling left-hand pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto of the Dragons, who was on the verge of being cut. Through the long, hot Florida summer with the Single-A Vero Beach Dodgers, Ike taught Yamamoto a new pitch – the screwball – and it propelled Yamamoto’s career like a rocket. In 2022, Yamamoto became a Japan Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, following his 29-season career with Chunichi which lasted until he was 50. He won 219 games.

(L-R) Dr. Shigeyoshi Matsumae, founder, Tokai University; Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara and Peter O’Malley, President, Los Angeles Dodgers (1970-1998) and College Hall of Fame baseball coach from USC Rod Dedeaux (standing behind). Dr. Matsumae, a Japan Baseball Hall of Famer, founded Tokai University in Miho, Shimizu City, Japan, visited Dodger Stadium on June 14, 1983 and sat in the Chairman’s Box with Peter O’Malley.

In 1982, Ike was named Assistant to the President and was indispensable in Peter’s efforts of diplomacy to expand the global growth of baseball. He was by Peter’s side, serving as an interpreter and developing friendships the world over. Ike and Peter traveled to many countries to advocate baseball’s inclusion into the Olympic Games as a gold medal sport. In 1982, Peter’s friend Dr. Shigeyoshi Matsumae, founder of Tokai University, Tokyo had an idea to assist the international baseball movement. He suggested that Peter and Ike travel to Moscow, Russia and Dr. Matsumae open the door through his friendships there. In October, 1982, O’Malley sent Ike to Moscow, Russia on behalf of the International Amateur Baseball Association and the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to seek support from Soviet Union Minister of Sports Sergei Pavlov for baseball to become an official Olympic sport, while at the same time offering the Dodgers’ assistance to the Russians in developing baseball. O’Malley, who had to cancel joining Ike at the last minute, provided a letter of introduction to Ike to hand carry to Pavlov, from Pavlov’s good friend Dr. Matsumae. Thus October 7, 1982 marked the first time baseball in the Western Hemisphere made official “contact” with the Soviet Union. The meeting, held in Moscow, was also attended by Isao “Dutch” Odachi, baseball advisor to Dr. Matsumae. “The message was that we would appreciate it if Russia would not veto baseball and Dr. Matsumae was planning to build a baseball stadium at Moscow State University on Lenin Hill in Moscow,” said O’Malley. Ikuhara and Odachi then traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland to meet Dr. Arpad Csanadi (from Hungary), chairman of the IOC Programing Committee, with the message that Pavlov (also president of the USSR National Olympic Committee) would not oppose the movement for baseball to become an official Olympic sport.       

Ikuhara teamed with Japan Baseball Hall of Famer Shigeo Nagashima to broadcast the World Series in Japan from 1981-1986. Ike wrote two baseball books in Japanese: “The Man Who Survives the Race” in 1984 and “Dodger Way: A Winning Tradition” in 1985. His wife Kimiko also authored a book, “The Man Who Married the Dodgers” in 1997. Ike passed away October 26, 1992. Peter traveled to Tokyo to attend a memorial service in honor of friend and longtime assistant Ike. Ichiro Yoshikuni, Commissioner of Baseball in Japan, recognized Ike’s significant contributions to improving baseball and promoting goodwill between the U.S. and Japan. To honor the memory of Ikuhara, the Los Angeles Dodgers wore a special black “IKE” rectangular patch on their uniforms (right sleeves) during the 1993 Friendship Series to Taiwan and Japan. On January 11, 2002, Ike became the only major league executive from the U.S. to be elected to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame. Induction ceremonies took place on July 12, 2002 during the Japanese League All-Star Game at Tokyo Dome. Peter traveled to Tokyo to participate, alongside Ike’s family members and Dodger executives. In 2003, to honor his longtime friend, Peter developed, established, and sponsored the Akihiro “Ike” Ikuhara and Peter O’Malley Memorial Sports Management Class at Waseda University as a way of encouraging and helping students to pursue a sports business career. A series of 12 lectures with prominent speakers including two U.S. Presidents ensued. In 2013, Ike’s brother Nobuhisa wrote a biography about Ike’s storied life and donated copies to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Japan Baseball Hall of Fame and Waseda University. In 2019, an exhibit of Ike’s career was held in his hometown.