Sunday, July 27, 2014

Card Of The Week July 27

There was a wild play in the bottom of the eighth in yesterday's Tigers-Carp game.  With the score tied at 5 each, the Carp had runners on second and third with one out.  Ryosuke Kikuchi was the batter and on the third pitch of the at bat (the first was a swinging foul and the second was a pitch out), he laid down a beautiful squeeze bunt.  The runner on third (Masato Akamatsu) scored without a throw and when Mauro Gomez, the Tigers 1st baseman threw to first in an unsuccessful attempt to put Kikuchi out, Shogo Kimura (the runner on second who was already at third when Gomez reached the ball) broke for the plate.  He just beat the throw to score the second run of the inning.  The 7-5 score held up (despite the Tigers loading the bases in the top of the ninth) for a Carp victory.

The only video I could find (well, I didn't find it - Reddit NPB tweeted the link) is of the entire bottom of the eighth.  The squeeze play happens are 7:30 in the clip:

While it was an amazing play, it does highlight the NPB managerial philosophy of "bunt early and bunt often".  Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura actually attempted to bunt in three straight at bats - the first resulted in a walk by Kimura who was obviously squaring to bunt, the second was a successful sacrifice by Shota Dohbayashi to move Akamatsu and Kimura up and the third was the squeeze play.

Here's a 2012 card of Kikuchi from the Front Runner/Hiroshima Athlete Magazine Carp Starting Lineup set (#16):

Thursday, July 24, 2014

1988 IFT Round Menko

I am not generally a fan of round menko and I'm also not generally a fan of cards that show caricatures of players rather than pictures.  So I was kind of surprised at myself that I ended up kind of liking an odd little set from 1988, the IFT Round Menko set catalogued in Engel as JRM 29.

I'd seen these cards being offered on Ebay and I just kind of ignored them.  But I bought some Calbee cards from the same seller and he included a handful of them as a bonus.  I looked them up for the first time then and realized that Engel had given them a scarcity rating of "R5", the most scarce rating he has.  It indicates that only "3 or fewer copies are known of most cards".  I still wasn't sure I was that interested in them but when the seller put the complete 30 card set up for sale at $30 (with free shipping from Japan), I was intrigued.  When he put them on sale for $27, I decided to go for it.

And I'm actually glad I did.  I get a kick out of the cartoon drawings of the players.  The cards are small, less than an inch and a half in diameter.  The drawings of the players do not include the team logos.  Of the 30 players in the set, there's only one gaijin player (Carlos Ponce).  With the exception of a handful of players from the Seibu Lions (Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Hiromichi Ishige, Taigen Kaku), all of the players in the set are from the Central League.  Most of the big names from the time are in the set - Hiromitsu Ochiai, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Tatsunori Hara, Norihiro Komada, Masumi Kuwata, Takehiro Ikeyama among others.

Engel mentions that there's a metallic parallel issue for the set.  Most of the cards I got in the complete set are actually the parallel issues.  Some of them have gold foil on them and some have silver - I don't know if there are two different parallels or just the one.

Here's some examples:

Regular and Silver Parallels of Meishi Ro of the Giants

Koji Akiyama

Katsumi Hirosawa

Masumi Kuwata

Hiromitsu Ochiai
I think it's kind of funny that the caricature of Ochiai looks more like he does now than how he looked in 1988.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alfredo Despaigne

The latest Cuban import to Japan is Alfredo Despaigne, who will likely make his debut with the Chiba Lotte Marines in the next week or so.  Despaigne actually started this season playing for Piratas de Campeche of the Mexican League but he was suspended for life from the league after it was discovered he was using a fake Domincan passport.  (Interestingly he is not the first Campeche player to move to the Pacific League this year - John Bowker started the season there before joining the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.)

Despaigne has had a pretty impressive career in Cuba, setting the single season home run record for Serie Nacional a few years back with 36 (breaking the record held jointly by Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes).  He played on the Cuban World Baseball Classic team in both 2009 and 2013 and well as their 2008 Olympic team.  He doesn't have many cards, however.  Jason has listed 17 cards over at Sports Card Forum's Inventory Manager but 14 of those are parallels.  He had a card in the 2009 Bowman Chrome WBC set (along with 11 parallels) and the 2013 Topps Tribute WBC set (along with three parallels).  He also appeared in the 2009 Konami WBC Heroes set in Japan.

2009 Bowman Chrome WBC #BCW50

2009 Konami WBC Heroes #W09R059

2013 Topps Tribute WBC #87
I'm not sure if Despaigne will have any cards in Japan this year.  It's way too late for him to show up in BBM's 2nd Version and the Marines' team set's been out for a month or so.  Calbee Series Three is probably the best possibility as that won't be released until mid-September (probably).

In addition to Despaigne, there's a fourth Cuban player coming to Japan shortly as well.  The Giants signed pitcher Hector Mendoza last week.  Mendoza is only 20 and did not play in last year's WBC.  His likelihood of getting a card this year is roughly the same as Despaigne's.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Card Of The Week July 20

During the first inning of yesterday's All Star game at Koshien, Fighters pitcher (and outfielder) Shohei Ohtani matched the all time NPB pitch speed record (held by Marc Kroon, then of the Baystars I think) of 162 kph (about 100 1/2 mph) twice.  Here's a video of the first time he did it - it's the second pitch in the video.  The first one was only 161 kph.

I find the NPB All Star games to be a lot more fun than the MLB one.  I think for the most part the players are pretty loose and just having a good time.  For example, in yesterday's game, Sho Nakata hit a ball to left that he thought was a home run but it stayed in the ballpark.  When he stopped at second on what turned out to be a double instead, he started doing pushups.  I don't think such a thing would have happened at the MLB game which has become a Very Serious Event in the last few years, because, you know, it means something.

A couple months back, Greg Dunn asked me if BBM had ever issued a card showing Ohtani both pitching and batting on the front.  At the time I didn't think they had but I later discovered (and obtained) this card from last year's BBM Young FIghters set (#YF01):

Friday, July 18, 2014

Calbee All Stars From 1975 And 1976

With the All Star break currently in full swing in Japan, I thought it might be fun to show some cards that commemorated earlier All Star games.  The huge (1472 cards!) 1975/76 Calbee set had two subsets or card series dedicated to All Star games.  According to Ryan's research, cards 1-36 in the set were dedicated to the 1975 All Star games, while cards 861-932 were for "All Star Game Participants" for the 1976 games.  I'm assuming that the pictures on these cards were taken during the respective All Star games but I probably don't have enough of either series to know for sure.

Most of the cards that I have are for the 1975 games and it looks like most of those are for Game 1, which was played on July 19 at Koshien.  The first card from this game is actually the first card in the 1975/76 set.  The picture must have been taken during pregame infield practice as you can see Shigeo Nagashima on the right hitting grounders.  The three players to his left are (from left to right) catchers Tatsuhiko Kimata of the Dragons, Koichi Tabuchi of the Tigers and Akihiko Ohya of the Swallows.  You can see the lower halves of the Pacific League players warming up at the top of the photo.

1975/76 Calbee #1

These next two cards show Tsutomu Wakamatsu of the Swallows and Sachio Kinugasa of the Carp batting respectively.  Katsuya Nomura of the Hawks is the catcher for the Pacific League.  Kinugasa hit two home runs in this game so it's possible that this photo is of him hitting one of them.

1975/76 Calbee #5

1975/76 Calbee #8

Kinugasa's teammate Koji Yamamoto also hit two home runs in this game.  This next card shows him scoring after one of them.  My best guess is that it was a three run homer that scored Wakamatsu (the #1 on the furthest left) and Taira Fujita (#6 on the right).  Sadaharu Oh is the other #1 in the picture and he was batting after Yamamoto (you can see he has a bat in his hand).  Once again, Nomura is the catcher (behind Wakamatsu).

1975/76 Calbee #11
Game 2 was played in Nagoya Stadium, the then-home of the Dragons, on July 20.  I only have one card worth showing from this game.  It shows the Pacific League players lined up for the pre-game ceremonies.

1975/76 Calbee #17
Meiji Jingu Stadium was the venue for Game 3 which was played on July 22.  Once again I really only have one card worth showing - this card shows Koichi Tabuchi hitting (with Nomura once again visible behind him).  Tabuchi went 0-3 in the game so whatever he did here was an out.

1975/76 Calbee #34
I've only got one really good card from the 1976 games.  This one is from Game 3 (played on July 20 at Osaka Stadium, then-home of the Nankai Hawks) and for a change shows a Pacific League batter - Bobby Marcano of the Hankyu Braves with Tabuchi catching behind him.  Marcano went 1-3 in the game with two strikeouts but it's really impossible to make any assumptions about this photo given that he hasn't swung at the ball yet.

1975/76 Calbee #883
I do have a couple other cards from both the 1975 and 1976 series but they only show one picture on the card so the there's nothing to really distinguish the card from a non-All Star card of the player.  Here's an example of one them - Yutaka Enatsu pitching in Game 3 of the 1976 All Star series:

1975/76 Calbee #901

UPDATE: Got some stuff in the mail today that included one additional card for Game 2 in 1975 - this one shows Senichi Hoshino (#20) walking towards Shigeo Nagashima.  I think that maybe this is a pregame shot but I really have no idea:

1975/76 Calbee #18

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Card Of The Week July 13

Last week was an auspicious week for two former Fukuoka Daiei/Softbank Hawk pitchers.  On Wednesday, Tsuyoshi Wada of the Chicago Cubs made his first major league appearance.  Wada had left the Hawks and Japan following the 2011 season and signed with the Baltimore Orioles, but Tommy John surgery needed during his first spring with the O's effectively prevented him from pitching in the majors for them during his two year contract.  He joined the Cubs this spring and had been pitching at their AAA team in Iowa until he was called up for the spot start on Wednesday in the second game of a day/night double header against the Reds.  He went five innings and gave up five hits, one walk and one unearned run while striking out three.

On Saturday night in Tokyo, Toshiya Sugiuchi of the Yomiuri Giants became the 22nd player in Japanese baseball history to record 2000 strikeouts.  He was also the fastest pitcher to reach the milestone, getting there in 1930 2/3 innings.  Sugiuchi had also departed the Hawks after the 2011 season, but he stayed in Japan and signed with the Giants.  (Sugiuchi's 2011-12 seasons paralleled Kimiyasu Kudoh's 1999-2000 seasons - both players won a championship with the Hawks in the first of the two seasons, then left the Hawks for the Giants and won a championship with Yomiuri in the second season).

Here's a card of the two of them with Hayato Terahara back when the three of them were young pitchers with the Hawks (2003 BBM Hawks #097):

Wada's on the left (#21), Sugiuchi is in back and Terahara is on the right (#20).  It's kind of funny how things work out - Terahara was actually the one who was hyped as the big prospect back in the 2002-03 time frame but he's mostly had a mediocre career, especially compared to the other two, who have two Pacific League MVPs and a Sawamura award between them.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Junzo Sekine

The rosters for the two NPB All Star games were announced last week and Shohei Ohtani of the Fighters made the team as a pitcher.  This is his second All Star selection as he had made the team last year as an outfielder.

Ohtani is the second player to make All Star teams as both a pitcher and a position player*.  The first was Junzo Sekine, who played for Kintetsu in the 1950's.

I will caveat this by saying that while Sekine and Ohtani were the only players who were SELECTED to the team as both a pitcher and a position player, they aren't the only ones to play both positions in All Star games.  Lions pitcher Kimiyasu Kudoh played outfield in one of the 1990 games after an injury left the PL short position players in an extra inning game and Ichiro famously pitched to one batter in one of the 1996 games.

Sekine attended Hosei University just after the war.  He pitched a 12 inning complete game loss to the San Francisco Seals in their tour of Japan in 1949.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #048

He joined the then Kintetsu Pearls in their inaugural at the request of their manager, Shozo Fujita.  Fujita had been Sekine's coach at Hosei.  He went 65-94 over the next eight seasons for a mostly lousy Kintetsu team (they finished 7th in the then seven team Pacific League from 1950-1953 and never finished higher than fourth during that time.  That fourth place finish in 1954 was the only time the team was over .500 until 1963).  He made the All Star team as a pitcher in 1953.

~1956 Bromide (might be JBR 42)
I'm not quite sure but I think an injury forced him off the mound after the 1956 season.  Although he made two pitching appearances in 1957, he played 120 games in the outfield.  He remained with Kintetsu through their name changes in 1958 (to "Buffalo" - singular) and 1962 (to "Buffaloes" - plural) until 1965 when he joined the Giants for the first season of their V9 run.  He made the All Star team as an outfielder four times between 1959 and 1963, missing out only in 1961.  He retired after that season.

1959 Marusan JCM 12a

1962 Doyusha JCM 55

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #086
Sekine is the only player in the "modern" two league system to have recorded 50 wins and 1000 base hits.  The only other player to do so, Michio Nishizawa, racked up his wins in the pre-1950 one league system.

Following his playing days, Sekine was a coach for the Carp (1970) and Giants (1975-76).  He also managed for six seasons in the 1980's - three with the Whales (1982-1984) and Swallows (1987-89).  He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2003.

2008 BBM Yokohama 30th Anniversary #03

2009 Epoch All Japan Baseball Foundation #33

Gary Garland's Japan Baseball Daily website may be gone, but you can still see it at the Wayback Machine Internet Archive and so I was able to use it to research this post.  I also used Sekine's page on the Japanese version of Wikipedia.