Thursday, August 17, 2017

KBO Foreigner Set Plus Some Other New Items

- There have been no new KBO sets this year and the KBO sets that have been released over the past few years have not contained cards of foreign players.  Dan Skrezyna of Korean Cardboard is doing something about this - he's putting out a self-published set featuring all the foreign players from the 2016 KBO season.  The set is called "Foreign Attack" and contains 46 cards - 41 cards for all the foreign KBO players from last season, four cards for the four foreign players who have been named MVP of the KBO in its history (Tyrone Woods in 1998, Danny Rios in 2007, Eric Thames in 2015 and Dustin Nippert in 2016) and a checklist card.  The sets are only $23 shipped in the US ($30 shipped overseas although that price is not final) but Dan is only getting 20 of them printed up and at least eight are already spoken for.  If you want a set, contact Dan as soon as you can.  He's also planning on doing a 2017 set.  Dan is hoping to have these sets out by the end of this month.

- After several months of putting out reasonably priced sets of baseball cards, Epoch has jumped back into the premium sets.  First up is a set called "Hankyu Braves Greats" which features..uh...great players from the Hankyu Braves.   The MSRP on each box is 14,040 yen (~$128) although Discount Niki is selling them for 12,960 yen (~$118).  I'm not completely sure but I think each box has just six cards in it - three base set cards, one parallel or foil sign card and two autographed cards.  The base set has 30 cards that include Yutaka Fukumoto, Hisashi Yamada, Boomer Wells, Chico Barbon and Toshiharu Ueda.  The set will be out on September 16th.

- Epoch is also releasing a set called "Dragons Stars & Legends" that features both active and OB players from the Dragons.  Each box has an MSRP of 12,960 yen but again Discount Niki has a discounted price of 12,000 yen (~$110).  I believe that each box contains just six cards but I'm not sure of the breakdown - I'm pretty sure that each box contains at least one autographed card.  The base set has 47 cards and there is some sort of parallel version of it as well as the autographed cards.  Some of the OB players include Eiji Bando, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Norihiro Nakamura, Masaru Uno, Kenshin Kawakami and Kazuhiro Wada.  The set will be in stores on September 23rd.

- Hits issued a couple of team based "trading mini-colored paper" sets back in the spring.  Each of these sets featured "cards" of eight different players for the Hawks, Baystars, Carp and Swallows.  Hits is putting out a new version of the Baystars set called "Baystars ver 1.4" where they've now added cards for four new players to the original set.  I'm not completely sure of what's going on with this but I think that each box contains 10 "cards" - four cards of the new players and six of the eight of the original players.  The set comes out on September 9th.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Card Of The Week August 13

The 99th Japanese High School Baseball Championship (aka the Summer Koshien Tournament) kicked off this past week at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya.  Koshien Stadium is the oldest professional baseball stadium in Japan - it opened in 1924, 10 years before there was professional baseball in Japan and twelve years before the team that calls it home - the Hanshin Tigers - were born.  I don't know why I hadn't realized this before this past week, but the stadium was actually built to host the tournament.  In the first two years (1915-16) the tournament was played in Toyonaka Park in Osaka  (near the site of Osaka International Airport) and then from 1917-23 it was played at Naruo Stadium in Nishinomiya.  (If you're wondering why this year is the 99th tournament when it started in 1915, it's because the tournament was canceled in 1918 due to the "Rice Crisis" and from 1941 to 1945 due to the war.) Koshien stadium was built to handle the crowds that the tournament attracted - when built it seated 55,000.  It's current capacity is around 47,500.

Here's a card of the stadium from the 1992 BBM set (#103).  BBM did a subset that year showing all the ballparks currently in use (there were 11 since the Fighters were still sharing the Tokyo Dome with the Giants then).

For comparison's sake, here's a photo of the ballpark from 1924.  Hard to believe the surrounding area was ever that open.

I swiped this photo from the book "Nostalgic Stadiums Of Kansai".

I've said this before but I'd really like to see BBM do another subset showing all the ballparks.  Of the 11 ballparks featured in 1992, only six are still in use (Chiba Marine, Koshien, Jingu, Tokyo Dome, Yokohama and Seibu) and one of those (Seibu) has gone through major reconfiguration - it has a roof on it now.

I'd also like to see a set commemorating the tournament - maybe along the lines of the OB college sets BBM did a few years back.  Something showing current NPB players in their high school uniforms and highlighting what they did at the tournament.  Perhaps this could be a tie-in with the 100th tournament next year.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Study Abroad - The Buffaloes Of Salt Lake City

The 1980's were the Golden Age of NPB teams sending players to the US to play in the minor leagues.  It started with the Seibu Lions sending players to San Jose in the California League in 1983 and by the end of the decade eight of the other NPB teams had sent players overseas to North America.  Only Lotte, Nippon Ham and Hankyu/Orix did not.  I don't know why this happened for sure but I can speculate.  First of all Seibu was by far the most successful team in Japan in the 1980's, winning six Pacific League pennants and five Nippon Series during the decade so it would make sense for other teams to emulate them.  Secondly the 1980's were when Japan was really flexing its muscles as a global economic superpower and I suspect that somehow sending players to learn in America tied into that although I don't think I know enough to understand quite how.

The first team to follow the Lions lead in sending players to America was the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1986.  Like Seibu the Buffaloes made an agreement with an independent team in the affiliated minors - the Salt Lake City Trappers of the Pioneer League (Rookie Classification).  Unlike San Jose however the Trappers were very successful on the field - they had won the league championship in 1985.

The Buffaloes sent two pitchers to Utah in 1986 - Tsuneto Fukuchi and Shintaro Yamasaki.  While neither player put up fantastic numbers (Fukuchi went 2-4 with a 5.43 ERA, Yamasaki went 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA) but both were mainstays of the rotation - Yamasaki had the most starts of any Trapper pitcher that year (14) and Fukuchi was tied for third most starts (with 12).  The Trappers ended up winning another Pioneer League Championship that season.

Kintetsu send two more pitchers in 1987 - Yasuhiro Hiyama and Koichi Ikeue.  Ikeue started the second most games of any Trapper pitcher (12) and went 6-3 with a 4.70 ERA while Hiyama started seven games and went 3-1 with a 5.57 ERA.  The Trappers had a record setting 29 game winning streak that season on their way to their third straight Pioneer League title.

The Buffaloes did not send any players to Salt Lake City in 1988 and the Trappers failed to win the league championship for the first time that season.  The two events are probably not related but just to make sure the Trappers got three players from Kintetsu for the 1989 season.  In addition to the now standard two pitchers (Akihiro Fukushima and Shigeki Taguchi) the Trappers also got a position player - Shingo Matsukubo.  Fukushima went 3-5 with a 5.10 ERA in 16 games that were split between the starting rotation and the bullpen.  Taguchi pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen - he only made one start in the 14 games he appeared in, going 0-1 with a 8.57 ERA.  Matsukubo barely appeared for the team - he got one single in six pinch hitting appearances.  It's not clear to me that he ever actually played in the field.  The Trappers finished in second place but suffered their only sub-500 finish in the eight years they played in the Pioneer League.

1989 was the final season the Buffaloes sent players to Salt Lake City.  I don't know if either the Trappers poor finish or the Buffaloes winning the Pacific League that year had any effect on the decision to end the agreement - in fact I don't know who decided to end it.  The Trappers had their third straight second place finish in 1990 but made the playoffs which they ultimately lost to Great Falls.  They won the league championship again in 1991 and finished first one last time in 1992 before losing in the playoffs to Billings.

To some degree it was an embarrassment for MLB to have an independent team dominate a league of affiliated teams and the Trappers were ultimately eliminated by the AAA Portland Beavers moving to Salt Lake City in 1993, forcing the Trappers to move to Pocatello Idaho and become a Co-op team called the Posse.  The team moved to Ogden, Utah in 1994 and became the Raptors.  They picked up a Player Development Contract with the Brewers in 1996 and have been affiliated with the Dodgers since 2003.  It's probably not an unreasonable assumption that the success of the unaffiliated Trappers helped inspire the independent minor leagues like the Northern and Frontier Leagues which started in 1993.  In fact actor Bill Murray was involved in the ownership group of the Trappers and would be involved in the ownership group of the most prominent Northern League team - the St Paul Saints.

Here's a summary of the players the Buffaloes sent to Salt Lake City:

Year Name Draft Played For
1986 Shintaro Yamasaki 3rd round 1984 Kintetsu 1985-97, Hawks 1998-99, Carp 2000, Orix 2001-02
1986 Tsuneto Fukuchi 5th round 1985 Kintetsu 1986-90
1987 Yasuhiro Hiyama 1st round 1985 Kintetsu 1986-91, Ssangbangwool Raiders (KBO) 1992
1987 Koichi Ikeue 4th round 1985 Kintetsu 1986-98, Baystars 1999
1989 Akihiro Fukushima 3rd round 1985 Kintetsu 1985-93
1989 Shingo Matsukubo 3rd round 1987 Kintetsu 1988-96, Baystars 1997-98
1989 Shigeki Taguchi 3rd round 1988 Kintetsu 1989-03

1994 BBM All Stars #A49
Yamasaki by far had the most successful career of the seven players.  He spent 16 of his 18 year career at the ichi-gun level and went 87-92.  His best seasons were probably 1988 when he went 13-7 with a 3.10 ERA and 1994 when he went 12-10 with a 3.41 ERA and made the All Star team.  Yamasaki also has appeared on the most Japanese baseball cards of the former Trappers - including cards from Takara, Calbee, Lotte, Q-Cards, Konami, Epoch and of course BBM.

1993 Tomy #056
Ikeue made his ichi-gun debut in April of 1987, several months before going to America.  He's the only one of the seven players to play for the top team before playing for the Trappers.  He ended up spending most of his career working out of the bullpen - only starting 16 of the 167 NPB games he got in.  His best season was probably 1994 when he went 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA in a middle relief role.  He had around 10 Japanese baseball cards, mostly from Takara and BBM.

1996 BBM #457
Matsukubo only had 149 plate appearances in 79 games over six seasons with the ichi-gun Buffaloes but still managed to have five Japanese baseball cards - all from BBM except for one Takara card.  Hiyama did this one better - despite never making an appearance at the ichi-gun level, he had two Japanese baseball cards - Takara issues from 1986 and 1987 (neither of which I have).  I would guess this would be a function of him being the Buffaloes's 1st round draft pick in 1985.  

None of the other three players had any Japanese baseball cards.  Fukuchi is the only one of the three to play at the ichi-gun level - he made one appearance in 1987.  

According to Baseball-Reference, Salt Lake City was not the only minor league team that Shigeki Taguchi played for in 1989 - he also made 63 appearances for Salinas that season.  This seems a bit odd to me that Taguchi would get in that many games with Salinas and still appear in 14 games with Salt Lake City.  There's also the fact that Salinas' agreement was with the Hawks and Swallows.  Baseball America's 1990 Almanac lists the pitcher with Salinas as "Dragon Taguchi" which doesn't really help much.  I wonder if it's possible that the Salinas pitcher is actually Ryuji Taguchi, who was a left handed pitcher (like Shigeki Taguchi) and was the Hawks #1 pick in the 1984 draft.

There was no team set done for Salt Lake City in 1986 so there are no American minor league cards for Yamasaki or Fukuchi.  But there was a set in 1987 that was sponsored by the TacoTime chain of restaurants and Hiyama and Ikeue are both in it:

I don't actually own these cards - I swiped them from Trading Card DB where Jason had uploaded them.

There was also a team issued Salt Lake City set in 1989.  Fukushima, Matsukubo and Taguchi share card #12 in the set.  Unfortunately I have not been able to find an image of this card online anywhere. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Calbee Series Two Has Been Reins-tater-ed! (and other new stuff)

If you recall, a month ago I reported that Calbee's Series Two this year had been delayed by the fact that the potato crop in Hokkaido had failed this spring due to typhoons that hit the island last summer and that Calbee had had to halt production of much of its snack lines because they didn't have enough potatoes to make chips from.  I'm happy to report that Calbee's website is now reporting that the Series Two set will be released on or about September 4th.  The base set has 72 player cards (six per team), 12 "Draft Pick" cards featuring the 1st round draft pick for each team and four checklist cards for a total of 88 cards.  There's also the ubiquitous 24 card (2 per team) "Star" insert set.  The "Lucky Card" redemption set is a 12 card "Opening Pitcher" set that features the Opening Day starter for each of the 12 teams.  As always, Calbee has the checklist for the set available on-line.

With Series Two being delayed by roughly 2 1/2 months you may be asking yourself what this means for Series Three which typically is released in mid-September.  The answer is...I don't know.  I've sent a message off to Calbee this morning asking about Series Three but I've not gotten an answer yet.  It would be somewhat disappointing if there were no Series Three this season since that would also mean that there were no "regular" player cards for Shohei Ohtani, Tetsuto Yamada and Yuki Yanagita among others.

BBM has also recently announced a couple new team specific boxed sets - "Young Carp" and "Young Tigers".  Both of these box sets are from BBM's "Authentic Edition" series and contain 26 cards - 25 cards for the base set and one "special insert" card that's either a memorabilia card or an autograph.  The 25 players in the base set are all "young" players on the team - born after April 1990 in the case of the Carp and after April 1991 in case of the Tigers.  There are nine possible memorabilia cards for each set - I think they're all jersey cards in the case of the Tigers but there's a Seiya Suzuki bat card available with the Carp set.  The autograph cards include players who aren't in the base set (so they aren't necessarily young).  The sets will be out in late August and the MSRP on them is 6000 yen.  The sets are limited to 2000 apiece.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Card Of The Week August 6

Hitoki Iwase of the Dragons got into his 950th game today which now gives him the record for most pitching appearances in NPB history, passing Hall Of Famer Tetsuya Yoneda.  He got the save in the game against the Giants which extends his record for most career saves in NPB to 404.

Iwase was Chunichi's' second round pick in the fall 1998 draft (Kosuke Fukudome was the 1st round pick).  He had an outstanding rookie season in 1999 working middle relief for the CL pennant winning Dragons, going 10-2 with an ERA 1.57 in 65 games.  In another season that might have won him the Rookie Of The Year award however 1999 was also Koji Uehara of the Giants' rookie season and he went 20-4 and led the CL in strikeouts with 179.  Uehara won the award and I suspect Iwase finished a distant second although I haven't found the vote tally anywhere on-line.

Iwase did win the "Middle Relief" award in 1999 with a total of 28.15 points.  I don't know how this total is calculated but I think it has something to do with number of appearances, number of hold points and number of saves.  Here's his card commemorating this achievement from the "Leaders" subset of the 2000 BBM set (#26):

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tokyo Rocks

BBM stopped doing card sets for the Tokyo Big Six collegiate league after 2013 but it turns out that there is kinda-sorta another outfit doing cards for the league.  The catch is that they are virtual cards that only exist on the league's official mobile phone app.

The app is called "Tokyo Rocks" and is available for both Apple and Android platforms.  Here's how it works.  You get 10 points every day by opening the app and basically checking in (I think you get 100 points if you check in at Jingu Stadium).  The cards cost 10 points each.  You cash in your points and you randomly get a card.  For the past two years there have been a total of 66 cards - 11 for each of the teams in the league.  The 2016 cards were available until early April this year (or until you updated the app on your phone).  Since then all you can get are the 2017 cards.  (The switchover corresponds to the start of the Tokyo Big Six season this year).

The cards do not have backs and there's no way to trade them with other people so they're just kind of a curiosity.

Here's some example cards from 2016:

And here's some example cards from the 2017 set.  You can see that the card design didn't change.  There's at least a couple players who have the same picture on both their 2016 and 2017 cards:

I didn't get the entire 2016 set but I pooled resources with Dani (who I had learned about the cards from) to generate a nearly complete list of cards.  Some of the players in last year's set were drafted last October and are currently playing in NPB.

We also pooled resources on the 2017 cards so I could generate another list:

There's a little weirdness in this year's checklist - some of the players don't have uniform numbers and there's a "blank" card for one of the Meiji cards - apparently they recalled one of the cards.

The league started doing these cards back in 2015.  Dani wasn't quite sure but she thinks there were eventually 13 cards for each team that year but they added more cards as the year went on.  Here's a screenshot she sent me of the 2015 cards - I didn't attempt to put together a list of the cards:

I want to thank Dani for all her help with teaching me how to get these cards and providing me with screen shots of all her cards so that I could create the checklists for the 2016-17 cards.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Card Of The Week July 30

Last Wednesday the Chunichi Dragons were cruising along with a 10-0 lead over the Swallows going into the bottom of the seventh when all the wheels fell off.  The Swallows scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh on a two run home run by Yuhei Nakamura then exploded for eight runs in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game up.  They ended up winning 11-10 on a walk off home run by pinch hitter Shoitsu Ohmatsu in the bottom of the tenth.  Here's a video with the painful highlights (if you don't know, I am a Dragons fan) courtesy of NPB Reddit:

This is only the fourth time in Japanese professional baseball history that a team has come back from a ten run deficit and the first time in almost 20 years.   This was the second pinch hit walk off home run Ohmatsu had hit this year - he's now the fourth player in NPB history (and first in 40 years) to have two pinch hit walk off home runs in one season.

This is Ohmatsu's first season with the Swallows after 12 seasons with the Marines.  Lotte let him go at the end of last season while he was recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered with the farm team in late May.  The Swallows gave him a tryout during spring camp and ended up signing him to a contract.  The only cards I know of him in a Swallows uniform are from the BBM and Epoch Swallows sets, neither of which I have yet.  I did recently pick up a Konami card of him from when he was with the Marines in a lot of assorted cards I got on Ebay.  This is a "Special" card (I don't know enough about Konami's cards to know if that's the official name of the subset or not) from the 2008 Baseball Heroes Black Edition (#B08S032):