Monday, June 19, 2017

Tomokazu Ohka

Tomokazu "Tomo" Ohka, veteran pitcher from the Yokohama Baystars and several MLB teams, has announced his retirement.  Ohka was a third round pick of the Baystars in the fall 1993 draft.  He made only 34 appearances with the ichi-gun Baystars over the next five seasons and Yokohama sold his contract to the Boston Red Sox.  He would spend the next 11 seasons in MLB, playing in eight different organizations - Boston, Montreal/Washington, Milwaukee, Toronto, St Louis, Seattle, Chicago (White Sox) and Cleveland.  He was briefly with the Quintana Roo Tigers of the Mexican League in 2010 before returning to the Baystars.  He was let go by Yokohama after 2011 and he spent the next few seasons (after missing all of 2012) bouncing around the independent minors in Japan and the US - the Toyama Thunderbirds of the BC League in 2013, the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League in 2014, back to the Thunderbirds in 2015 and the Fukushima Hopes of the BC League in 2015-16.  He also went to spring training with Toronto in 2014 and Baltimore in 2017 but he was released before the end of spring training.

As far as I can tell he only had about 10 Japanese cards, of which I have five:

1994 BBM #493

1997 BBM #224

2010 BBM 2nd Version #745

2011 BBM 1st Version #306

2013 BBM Baystars 20th Anniversary #34
His other cards are #YB22 and #YB75 from the 2011 BBM Baystars set, #C10RB044 from the 2010 Konami Baseball Heroes Winner Heat Up Version Black set, #B11RB230 from the 2011 Konami Baseball Heroes ShineStar Opening Version Black set and #186 from the 2011 Owners League 01 set.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Norichika Aoki

I'm a little late in getting to this but last Sunday Norichika Aoki, formerly of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and currently with the Houston Astros, got his 2000th hit in NPB & MLB.  I did a post for Aoki when he left the Swallows for the Brewers back before the 2012 season so I'm just going to show some cards for him now:

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big Six #085

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #61

2004 BBM 1st Version #308

2007 BBM 1st Version #M@

2008 Calbee #S-12

2011 Swallows Team Issue #YsK10

2017 Topps "Throwback Thursday" #32

Card Of The Week June 18

Shun Yamaguchi left the Yokohama DeNA Baystars last winter as a free agent and signed with the Yomiuri Giants.  He had some shoulder issues that had delayed him from making a start with the ichi-gun Giants until last Wednesday.  He had a pretty auspicious debut - he combined on a no-hitter with relievers Scott Mathieson and Arquimedes Caminero to beat the Hawk 3-0.  Yamaguchi threw 102 pitches in six innings, striking out eight and walking four.  Hayato Sakamoto was the offensive hero in the game, hitting two home runs to drive in all three runs for the Giants.

As you'd expect, there aren't many cards of Yamaguchi with the Giants yet.  Here's one of them - from Calbee's Series One this year (#047):


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Study Abroad Program - Lodi

The first book on Japanese baseball published in the US was Robert Obojski's "The Rise Of Japanese Baseball Power".  Published in 1975, it's an interesting book dealing with many aspects of the game in Japan - history, Hall Of Fame, contemporary stars, gaijin, the ballparks, the game experience, etc.  I'd picked up a copy from a used book dealer on Amazon on few years back and greatly enjoyed reading it.

One chapter in the book was devoted to something I had never known had happened:  in 1972 Nagayoshi Nakamura, the owner of the Lotte Orions, bought the Lodi franchise in the Class A California League with the intent to send some players there to play in the US.  The team name was changed to the Lodi Orions and would officially be affiliated with the Orioles (they were a San Diego farm team in 1971 and called the Lodi Padres).  The team would be managed by Jimmie Schaefer but the team's GM was Ichizo Aoki, who was a longtime scout for the Orions (Obojski describes Aoki as having played the infield for the Hanshin Tigers after being a college star - actually Aoki moved directly into scouting for the then-Osaka Tigers after graduating from Kansai University in 1952 - he was a farm team coach for the Tigers from 1950-52 while still attending college).  Lotte sent four players there that season - infielder Yukihiro Ikeda, catcher Masaji Ishizuka and pitchers Junji Nakamura and Masao Sato.

Masao Sato was the only one of the four players to have a long career.  He was taken by Lotte in the fifth round of the 1969 draft and debuted with the Orions in 1971.  He spent the entire 1972 season in Lodi going 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 29 games.  He pitched again for Lotte in 1973 before being traded to the Chunichi Dragons midway through the season.  He moved to the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in 1981, returned to Lotte for the 1985 season and retired after 1987.

Yukihiro Ikeda was signed by Lotte outside the draft in 1971.  He only played in 19 games with Lodi in 1972 but he hit .317.  He appeared in 3 games with the Orions in 1973 and 1974 before retiring.

Masaji Ishizuka had an interesting background - after playing at Nihon University and then Mitsubishi in the industrial leagues, he (like Hidehiko Koga) was a member of the Tokyo Dragons of the ill-fated Global League in 1969.  He signed outside the draft with the Yakult Atoms in 1970 (I think he was an ikusei player if they had them at the time) and was released by them at the end of the season.  He signed with Lotte before the 1971 season and appeared in 2 games with them that season.  He appeared in 24 games with Lodi in 1972 and hit .161.  He spent 1973 with Lotte's farm team and retired after that.

Junji Nakamura was a third round pick of the Orions in the 1970 draft.  He spent all of 1971 with the Orions farm team and all of 1972 in Lodi, going 5-4 with a 4.75 ERA in 28 games.  He retired after the 1972 season without ever having played for the ichi-gun Orions.

The 1972-73 off season was an interesting one for Nakamura.  He apparently bought into the Nishitetsu Lions and had to sell his interest in the Orions.  The Lodi team must have been owned by him personally because the team was renamed the Lodi Lions for 1973 and stocked with six players from the Nishitetsu Lions (who would be renamed the Taiheiyo Club Lions that season) - infielders Haruki Ihara and Akinobu Mayumi, outfielder Fumio Takahashi, catcher Yoshiharu Wakana and pitchers Akira Kawahara and Keisuke Nakajima.

Akinobu Mayumi is easily the most famous of this group of players.  He was the third round pick of the Lions in the fall 1972 draft and debuted with the ichi-gun team in May of 1973.  He was sent to Lodi in July and got into 25 games, hitting only .183.  By 1978, however, he had established himself as the Lions' star shortstop and was named to the All Star team and the post season Best 9 team for the first time.  After the season, however, he was traded to the Hanshin Tigers in a five-player trade that brought Koichi Tabuchi to the Lions (which had just been bought by Seibu).  He continued as a star for the Tigers, making the All Star team eight more times and the Best 9 team two more times and winning a batting crown in 1983.  He retired following the 1995 season.  Mayumi went on to manage the Tigers for three seasons from 2009 to 2011.  His best showing was a second place finish in 2010 but the Tigers were swept by the third place Giants in the First Stage of the Climax Series.

2007 BBM Draft Story #015
Haruki Ihara was the second round pick of the Lions in the fall 1970 draft.  He became the starting third baseman for Nishitetsu in 1972 but lost his job to Shojiro Kikukawa the next season.  Like Mayumi he spent only part of 1973 with Lodi - he played 77 games in California and hit .225.  He remained a Lion for two more seasons before he was traded to Yomiuri along with Hajime Kato for Mitsuhiro Sekimoto and Nobuhiro Tamai before the 1976 season.  He returned to the Lions in 1978 and retired as a player following the 1980 season.  He then coached for the team for the next 21 years (with the exception of one season he spent coaching with the Hanshin Tigers in 2000) before becoming manager of the Lions in 2002.  He took the team to the Nippon Series that year but got swept by the Giants.  He was let go by Seibu following the 2003 season and became the manager of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes for what turned out to be their final season in 2004.  He's been mostly a TV commentator since then although he coached for the Giants from 2007-10 and managed the Lions for half a season in 2014 before he abruptly resigned.

2014 BBM Lions Legends #11
Yoshiharu Wakana was taken by the Lions in the fourth round of the fall 1971 draft.  I don't know for sure but I think he also only spent part of the 1973 season in Lodi - he appeared in 49 games and hit .278.  He also appears to have made one appearance on the mound - he pitched three innings with one strikeout, one walk, one hit-by-pitch and gave up three hits including a solo home run.  He made his ichi-gun debut with the Lions in 1974 and became the Lions' starting catcher in 1977 and made his first All Star team that season.  After the 1978 season he was sent to the Tigers in the five player trade that Mayumi was involved in - it was Wakana, Mayumi and Masafumi Takeda (plus 20 million yen) for Tabuchi and Kenji Furusawa.  Wakana was the starting catcher for Hanshin for the next four seasons, making the All Star team each year.  He abruptly quit baseball halfway through the 1982 season, however, when the affair he was having with actress Kazuko Shirakawa became public.  He began the 1983 season back in the US, coaching for the Tidewater Tides, the Mets AAA team in Norfolk, Virginia.  He returned to Japan later that season and signed with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales.  He spent six seasons with the Whales, making the All Star team again in 1985.  He spent the last three years of his career with the Nippon Ham Fighters, retiring at the end of the 1991 season.  He was the last former Nishitetsu Lion still active in NPB.  He coached for the Hawks from 1997 to 2001 - he was let go after the 2001 season after he admitted to ordering pitchers to pitch around Tuffy Rhodes because he didn't want a foreigner to break Sadaharu Oh's single season home run record.

2008 BBM Back To The 70's #058
Fumio Takahashi was the only one of the Japanese players to spend most if not all his 1973 season in Lodi.  He appeared in 124 of the team's 140 games and hit .289.  At age 25 he was the oldest of the Japanese at Lodi that season.  "Mickey" (as he was nicknamed according to Obojski) was originally drafted by the Lions in the first round of the fall 1970 draft.  He was the regular leadoff hitter for the Lions as a rookie in 1971 but started to lose some playing time in 1972.  He was again a regular in 1974 but he fell out of favor with player/manager Shinichi Etoh in 1975 and spent most of the season with the farm team.  He was let go at the end of the season and signed with Lotte.  He retired following the 1978 season.

Akira Kawahara had already had five seasons with the Lions under his belt before being sent to Lodi.  He was Nishitetsu's first round pick in the fall 1967 draft and was worked pretty hard in those five seasons, appearing in more than 40 games in four of them.  He lead the Pacific League in several categories in the early 70's, all of them bad for a pitcher.  He lead the league in losses and hit by pitches in both 1970 and 1971 and walks in 1970.  He split 1973 between Lodi and the ichi-gun Lions, going 4-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 games in California and 0-1 with a 4.66 ERA in six games back in Japan.  After a 5-10 season in 1974 he was traded to the Taiyo Whales for the mentioned Shinichi Etoh.  He retired after an injury-marred single season with the Whales in 1975.

2010 BBM Lions 60th Anniversary #65
Hiromi Nakajima was the first round pick of the Lions in the fall 1972 draft.  He made 13 starts with Lodi and went 6-3 with a 4.11 ERA.  He also pitched in three games with the ichi-gun Lions that season, going 1-0 with a 5.62 ERA.  That would be his only appearances with the top team.  He'd remain in the Lions organization until 1978 when he retired.  He changed his registered name to Keisuke Nakajima for his last two seasons and that's the name that his NPB stats are listed under on Baseball-Reference.

In addition to these six players, veteran catcher Hiromi "Hank" Wada joined the team as first base coach.  Wada had just retired following the 1972 season after an 18 year career with the Lions.  Obojski credits him with becoming the "first full-time Japanese coach in U. S. pro baseball".  He would later return to the California League to coach with the San Jose Bees from 1983 to 1986 when they were being supplied players by the Lions.

2008 BBM Lions Legend #11
Nakamura ended his experiment with the Lodi franchise after the 1973 season, selling the team to local businessmen.  Obojski says that Nakamura had wanted to move the team to Sacramento, which had been without a team since 1961 but was "thwarted in his efforts".  The franchise would remain in Lodi through the 1984 season.  After a hiatus of one season (in which the California League operated with only nine teams) the team relocated to Ventura and became the Ventura County Gulls in 1986.  After one season, the team moved to San Bernardino and was renamed the Spirit.  They moved again before the 1993 season and became the team they are still know as today - the Rancho Cucamunga Quakes.

One of the more interesting tidbits of trivia of all this is that the man who Nakamura hired to be the business manager for the Lodi team was Marty Kuehnert.  Kuehnert would move to Japan to become the Lions director of sales and promotions and would go onto do a great many things over the next few decades - he opened the first sports bar in Japan; had a consulting firm called International Sports Management and Consulting (ISMAC); hosted a TV sports talk show; wrote columns for the Daily Yomiuri and Japan Times; co-owned the Birmingham Barons of the Class AA Southern League with Suntory in the early 1990's and was the first GM of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2005).  He would also play a major role in the creation of the modern Japanese baseball card hobby.

2005 BBM Eagles Box Set #E02
Since the bulk of minor league cards in the US date from 1975 and later, there aren't any minor league cards available for any of these Japanese players  (although Wakana had a card in the 1983 TCMA Tidewater Tides set).  Sato is the only one of the four Orions players who had any cards in Japan - he appeared in a number of Takara team sets between 1979 and 1986.  There were a large number of Calbee, Takara and BBM cards issued for Mayumi and Wakana during their careers (although it doesn't look like there were any from when they were Lions) but there doesn't appear to be any contemporary cards of the other players.  Ihara has several cards from when he managed the Lions and Buffaloes and there are OB cards of both him and Kawahara.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Card Of The Week June 11

The Giants ended their franchise record 13 game losing streak on Friday by defeating the Fighters 2-1.  Miles Mikolas pitched 8 innings, giving up one run on five hits and striking out 10 while Scott Mathieson pitched a perfect ninth for the win.

Here's a "Title Holder" subset card of Mikolas (#T-13) from last year's Calbee set (he lead the Central League in winning percentage in 2015):


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

More Memories Of Uniform - Everybody Else Edition

There are a handful of teams in Japanese professional baseball history that longer exist.  Many of these teams "merged" into other teams but some merely folded.  The BBM Memories Of Uniform set really didn't address any of these teams (with the exception of Kintetsu) so I thought I'd finish off this series of posts with a round up of these teams.  I'm not expecting to find too many representative cards as the most recent team to disappear before Kintetsu in 2004 was the Daiei Unons in 1957.

As always I'm using The History Of Uniform and the Professional Baseball Uniforms Encyclopedia 1936-2013 as sources.

Dai Tokyo


The Dai Tokyo team was one of the original teams in the Japanese Baseball League (JBL) in 1936.  As you might guess from the name, they played in Tokyo.  They changed their name to Lion (yes, singular) midway through the Fall 1937 season (the JBL played a fall season in 1936 and spring and fall seasons in 1937 and 1938).  In 1941 the team moved to Osaka and changed their name to Asahi.  Pro baseball in Japan shut down in 1945 due to the war.  When things started up again in 1946 the team was now known as Pacific.  The name changed again to the Taiyo Robins in 1947 - the "Taiyo" involved was the fabric store owned by team owner Komajiro Tamura - Taiyo Rayon, as opposed to the Taiyo Fishing Company, an amateur baseball team owned by the Maruha Corporation that would become the Taiyo Whales in 1950.  Tamura sold a share of the team to the Shochiku movie studio and the team was renamed the Shochiku Robins in 1950 as they moved into the Central League when the single league JBL transformed into the two league Nippon Professional Baseball organization.  The Robins won the initial Central League pennant that year before losing to the Mainichi Orions in the first Nippon Series.  The team merged with the Taiyo Whales following the 1952 season to become the Taiyo Shochiku Robins in 1953 and the Yosho Robins in 1954.  Shochiku divested themselves of the team after 1954 and the team named reverted to the Taiyo Whales.  (Source Wikipedia.)

I've covered the merged team's uniforms with the Baystars uniform history so I'm only doing up to 1952 here.

1936-37 (2 different)

1937-40 (4 different)

1940-42 (2 different)

1941-43 (2 different)

1946 (2 different)

2004 BBM Golden Arms #001
1947-48 (2 different)

2012 BBM No-Hitters #21
1949 JBR 53 (Junzo Sanada)
1949 (2 different)

1950 Home (2 different)

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #035
1950 Away (2 different)

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #036
~1950 Uncatalouged Giant Bromide (Makoto Kozuru)
1951 Home

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #034
1951 Away

1952 Home

1952 Away
2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #209

Tokyo Senators


Another one of the inaugural JBL teams in 1936 was the Tokyo Senators.  The team changed it's name to Tsubasa in 1940 as part of the move away from English names in the league.  They merged with the Nagoya Kinko club in 1941 and became known as Taiyo (which as far as I know had no relation to either the Taiyo Robins or the Taiyo Whales).  They were sold to the Nishi-Nippon Railroad and renamed Nishitetsu for the 1943 season, after which they folded.  Nishi-Nippon of course ended up with two teams in 1950 - the Nishitetsu Clippers and Nishi-Nippon Pirates who merged to become the team now known as the Saitama Seibu Lions.  This is why the Lions wore Tokyo Senators uniforms for the Lions Classic series in 2013.  (Source Wikipedia.)

1936-37 (2 different)

1937-40 (2 different)
2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #049

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #060

1941-42 (2 different)

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #169
1943

Nagoya Kinko


The Nagoya Golden Dolphins were another inaugural JBL team in 1936.  They changed their name to Nagoya Kinko in 1937 and kept that name until they merged with Tsubasa in 1941.   (Source Wikipedia.)

1936-37 (2 different)

1937-40 (2 different)

Korakuen Eagles


The Korakuen Eagles entered the JBL in time for the spring 1937 season.  They changed their name to Kurowashi in 1940 and then to Yamato in 1942 when they were purchased by Yamato Ironworks  president Kenkichi Saeki.  The team folded following the 1943 season.  (Source Wikipedia.)

1937 (3 different)

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #385

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #265
1938-40 (2 different)

2012 BBM No-Hitters #06
1940-42 (2 different)

Gold Star


The Gold Star team entered the JBL when the league resumed business in 1946 after the war.  They were owned by Komajiro Tamura, the same man who owned the Taiyo Robins.  The team changed its name to the Kinsei Stars in 1947.  Tamura sold the team to the Daiei Motion Picture Company (not to be confused with the Daiei Supermarket chain which owned the Hawks from 1989 to 2004 - that chain would not be founded until 1957) before the 1949 season and the team was renamed the Daiei Stars.  The team would merge with the Takahashi Unions in 1957 to become the Daiei Unions and them again with the Mainichi Orions in 1958 to become the Daimai Orions.  (This was the final merger in NPB until Orix and Kintetsu merged following the 2004 season and it brought the number of teams down to twelve.)  (Source Wikipedia.)

1946 (2 different)

1947-48 (2 different)

1948 (2 different)

1949-50 (2 different)

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #362
~1949 Uncatalouged Bromide (Shigeya Iijima)
1951-54 Home

2012 BBM No-Hitters #24
1951-54 Away

1953-54 Home

1953-54 Away

1955-56 Home (2 different)

1955-56 Away

1957 Home

1957 Away

2006 BBM Record Makers #072

Takahashi Unions


The Takahashi Unions entered the Pacific League in 1954 in an attempt to bring the league to an even number of teams after four seasons of having an unwieldy seven teams in the league.  The team was owned by and named for Ryutaro Takahashi who had owned the Korakuen Eagles from 1939 to 1941.  The team's name changed to the Tombow Unions in 1955 when Tombow Pencil bought into the team and reverted to the Takahashi Unions when Tombow dropped their share of the team in 1956.  The team merged with the Daiei Stars in 1957 to become the Daiei Unions (which put the Pacific League back at seven teams until the Unions merged with the Orions the following season).  (Source Wikipedia.)

The Unions played all three seasons at Kawasaki Stadium - the team they eventually merged into would call this stadium home from 1978 to 1991.

1954 Home

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #242
1954 Away

1955 Home

1955 Away

1956 Home

1956 Away

~1956 Uncatalouged Bromide (Shiro Itoh)
Notes:

This was going to be a tough one as half of these teams didn't survive the war so they didn't exist when there were any baseball cards of professional teams.  I did the best I could.

Neither source shows a Yamato uniform for 1943.

I'm pretty sure that's the 1951 Robins home uniform being worn by Ohoko because of the red sleeves.  There's a patch on the right arm that indicates the Robins were the 1950 Central League champs but it can't be seen in this shot.

It's hard to tell since they're black and white photos but those are actually two different uniforms in the two Harris McGalliard cards.  The uniform in the photo with his hat off is white while the uniform in the other photo is grey.  I'm assuming this from HOU saying that the white uniforms used white socks with a black stripe while the grey uniforms used black socks with white stripes.

Hector Mendoza of the St Louis Cardinals

The St Louis Cardinals have signed former Yomiuri Giant Hector Mendoza to a minor league contract.  Mendoza is Cuban and was one of four players that the Cuban government let play in Japan in 2014.  Mendoza arrived in Japan shortly before the deadline for adding new players (July 31) in 2014 and spent the remainder of the season plus the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Yomiuri.  The majority of his time was spent with the farm team - he only made five appearances with the ichi-gun Giants - 3 in 2015 and 2 in 2016.  And it doesn't look like he pitched a lot with the farm team either - he only pitched about 46 innings in two and half seasons (you can see his farm team stats for 2014, 2015 and 2016 at NPB's website).

I was surprised when I had read speculation about what MLB would sign him because I thought he was going back to Cuba after the Giants let him go last fall.  Turns out he defected during his return trip which is why he's eligible to sign with the Cardinals.

I'm only aware of three Japanese baseball cards for Mendoza - a "bonus"2014 BBM 2nd Version card that was an insert with Sports Card Magazine #107 and cards in the BBM Giants team sets in 2015 and 2016.  It's possible he has a card in one of the Bandai Owners League sets in 2014 or 2015 or a Giants team issued set but I don't know about any.

SCM #281 (2014 BBM 2nd Version #706)

2015 BBM Giants #G33

2016 BBM Giants #G30
H/T NPB Reddit for the story