Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Card Of The Week October 19

With the Hawks defeating the Fighters yesterday, the teams for this year's Nippon Series are set - for the third time, the Hanshin Tigers will face the Hawks.  The Tigers have now faced all three incarnations of the Hawks - Nankai in 1964, Daiei in 2003 and Softbank in 2014.

The 1964 Series is interesting for a number of reasons - it was the last Nippon Series before the Giants' V9 run.  It was the last Nippon Series won by Hall of Fame manager Kazuto Tsuruoka, who managed the Hawks from 1946 to 1968.  (Actually maybe that's not so interesting - Tsuruoka only won two Nippon Series - the other was in 1959.  And he lead the Hawks to the 1965 and 1966 Pacific League pennants, only to be defeated by the Giants in the Series.)  But mostly it's interesting due to the performance of Joe Stanka of the Hawks.

Stanka had an impressive season in 1964, going 26-7 with an ERA of 2.40.  He threw 6 shutouts during the season and was voted the MVP of the league (I'm assuming that the announcement of the award wasn't until after the Series).  But his performance in the season was even better.

He threw a complete game, 3 hit shutout in Game One.  He came back three days later to start Game Three, but he was knocked out by the Tigers in the third inning.  He threw 2 1/3 innings and was charged with 4 earned runs, taking the loss.  Five days later, he took the mound for Game Six with the Hawks down 3 games to 2 in the Series.  He threw another complete game shutout, this time only giving up 2 hits.  Then he came back THE VERY NEXT DAY and threw yet another complete game shutout in Game Seven to win the Series for the Hawks.  His numbers for the Series were a 3-1 record with a 1.23 ERA in the four games.  As you might expect, he was named MVP of the Series, the first Westerner to win that award (three years earlier he had been the first Westerner to win the Fighting Sprit award, a sort of MVP for the losing team in the Nippon Series).

Here's a card of Stanka from the 2013 BBM Hawks 75th Anniversary set, apparently showing him celebrating winning the MVP award:

2013 BBM 75th Anniversary #14



Monday, October 20, 2014

This is odd

I decided a few years back to moderate the comments on the blog, mostly due to spam.  No comment gets posted that's not approved by me.  I've got the settings set to send me notifications of new comments to my personal yahoo mail account.

A number of times over the last few weeks, I've discovered that there were comments left by people that I didn't get a notification for.  It doesn't appear that these notifications are going to my spam folder (well, most of them anyway - I just found one), so I don't know what's going on with them.  I don't know if the problem is Blogger not sending them out or the Yahoo mail server for not receiving them.

So anyway, my point here is that I want to apologize for being slow in moderating comments.  If I don't think to check the "Awaiting Moderation" tab in Blogger, I don't know I've gotten a comment.

Been a crazy couple days here but I hope to get Card Of The Week up tomorrow.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Makoto Kaneko

Makoto Kaneko was a third round pick of the Fighters in the November, 1993 draft out of Joso Gakuin High School.  He made his NPB debut in 1995 and became the Fighters regular second baseman in 1996.  His BBM rookie card was #511 in the 1994 BBM set.  His next BBM card wouldn't be until the 1996 Diamond Heroes set.  His first Calbee card was #011 in the 1997 set.

1997 BBM #303

1999 Calbee #122

2001 Upper Deck #132

He shifted to shortstop in 2002.  Fighters manager Trey Hillman named him team captain in 2007, the season after the Fighters had won the Nippon Series for the first time since 1962.

2004 BBM 1st Version #143 Facsimile Autograph Parallel

2010 Calbee #052

2013 BBM 1st Version #177
Kaneko started losing playing time over the last several years, falling victim to age and injury.  He last played over 100 games at ichi-gun in 2012 (although with only 311 plate appearances).  He only made it into 32 ichi-gun games in 2013 and only 15 this past season.  He did not make it into any of either BBM or Calbee's flagship sets this past year, so his last flagship card was the above 2013 BBM 1st Version card.

Kaneko never lead the league in any major category, but he was the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 1996.  Coincidentally, the Central League Rookie Of The Year that year, Toshihisa Nishi of the Giants, had gone to the same high school as Kaneko.

1997 BBM #27
Kaneko made the Pacfic League All Star team three times in his career - 2002, 2004 & 2009.  He played in four Nippon Series, winning it all in 2006 and coming up short in 2007, 2009 and 2012.

2004 BBM All Stars #A59

2012 BBM Nippon Series #S54
One other highlight of Kaneko's career is that in 2009 he set a record by doubling in seven consecutive games.  This was one of the "Historic Highlights" for the Fighters in BBM's Fighters 10th Season In Hokkaido set from 2013:

2013 BBM Fighters 10th Season In Hokkaido #82


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 14, 1974 - Shigeo Nagashima Retires

1974 was a transitional year for the Yomiuri Giants, although they may not have know it at the time.  The Giants had won their ninth consecutive Central League pennant and Nippon Series championship in 1973 and there was little reason to think that they wouldn't win their tenth in 1974.

Shigeo Nagashima was coming off a down year in 1973.  He hit below .300 for the second consecutive year and only hit 20 home runs, his smallest amount since 1967.  In addition, an injury (I think it was a broken finger) had sidelined at the end of the season, making him miss the Nippon Series entirely.  His manager Tetsuharu Kawakami had suggested that he consider retiring, but Nagashima rejected the idea.  He would be 38 when the 1974 season started.

The 1973 pennant race probably should have been a warning to the Giants.  After a number of years of having a fairly comfortable time winning the pennant, the 1973 season came down to the wire.  The Giants defeated the Tigers on the last day of the season, clinching first place with only a half game to spare.  The third place Dragons finished 1.5 games behind the Giants - in fact only 6.5 games separated the pennant winning Giants from the last place Carp.

1974 saw the Dragons and the Giants in a dog fight that Chunichi eventually won.  On October 12, with just two days left in the season, the Dragons clinched the pennant, ending the Giants' streak.  With the pennant lost, Nagashima announced his retirement.  The decline in his statistics had continued in 1974 - he finished with a .244 average and 15 home runs, both career lows.

His final game and retirement ceremony would be October 14.  It would be a double header against the Dragons.  It's unclear to me if that was a scheduled double header or not.  It looks like October 13 was a rainout but I don't know if it was a single game that got combined with a scheduled game on the 14th or if the 13th was supposed to be a double header.  Regardless, October 14 would be Nagashima's final games.

One odd quirk in all this is that the city of Nagoya, concerned that the Dragons' victory parade would be lost in all the coverage of Nagashima's retirement, scheduled the parade for October 14, meaning that the Dragons would basically send a ni-gun squad to Tokyo for the games, while manager Wally Yonamine and the team regulars were paraded through the streets of Nagoya to celebrate the Dragons' first pennant in 20 years (and only their second one ever).

As you would expect, Korakuen Stadium was packed to the rafters for the games on the 14th and Nagashima rose to the occasion.  He homered for the 444th and final time in the first game.  Sadaharu Oh also homered in the game, making it 105 times the ON Cannon would homer in the same game.  Following the Giants' victory, he took a victory lap around the field, waving to the fans as they cheered him and threw confetti and bouquets of flowers on the field.  Nagashima was overwhelmed by his emotions and was visibly crying while he walked around the field.

The second game was another Giant victory.  I think Nagashima got the last hit of his career in his third at bat but I don't know the details.  His final at bat was in the eighth - he ground into a double play.

After the game, the retirement ceremony began.  Nagashima stood by himself in the center of the field and received bouquets of flowers from the Dragons and the Giants (presented by Oh).  He then gave his retirement speech.  Robert Whiting's "The Chrysanthemum And The Bat" has a translation of part of the speech in which he thanks the fans for all their support during his 17 year career.  The Google translation of Nagashima's Japanese wikipedia page indicates that he said something about "immortality forever my Giants".  Following the speech, he shook hands with his teammates and left the field, again visibly crying.

Here's a couple You Tube videos I found for the event.  The first is a summary of the day, and features his final home run, his between game victory lap around the field, his final at bat and a portion of his speech.  The second shows the whole post-game ceremony:



Unknown at the time, this game was also the final game for catcher Masahiko Mori, who had been with the Giants for 20 seasons.  It was also the final game for Giants manager Kawakami, who would be replaced by Nagashima following the Giants exhibition games against the New York Mets in November.

This game and this ceremony are a big deal in Japan.  I've seen this ceremony likened to the Lou Gehrig "Luckiest Man" speech.  The Daily Yomiuri ranked it #4 among the top news stories of 1974.  In 1999, NPB published a book celebrating 50 years of the two league system.  The book had a section for each decade, listing a number of items regarding the decade including a Best 9 for each league for the entire period as well as a significant event during the decade.  The event chosen for the 1970's is Nagashima's retirement.  This was considered more significant than Sadaharu Oh passing Henry Aaron.

In 2000, BBM published a baseball card set dedicated to the best players of the 20th Century.  One of the insert sets for this set was entitled The Scene and showcased great events for 10 players.  One of the 10 was Nagashima and the event was his retirement:

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #S-03

In fact, this event is so significant that when a Epoch did a series of Nagashima figurines back in 2007, one of the three figurine poses is Nagashima giving this speech.

Obviously an event this momentous has made its way onto baseball cards other than the just the one above.  There's a 36 card "ON Series" included in Calbee's 1974-75 set that appears to be dedicated to this day.  I only have a couple cards from this series but I'm pretty sure they all are from October 14.  I'd like to believe that this first card shows him hitting his final home run but that may just be wishful thinking:

1974/75 Calbee #428
I believe that this card shows Nagashima leaving the playing field for the last time, walking off with Oh:

1974/75 Calbee #419
This card I know shows Nagashima receiving flowers from Oh during the retirement ceremony:

1974/75 Calbee #426
In addition to the cards, Calbee issued a card album completely covered with images from the day:

Front Cover

Inside Front Cover

Inside Back Cover

Back Cover
The image of Nagashima standing in the middle of the field, giving his speech with the scoreboard behind him is apparently iconic in Japan.  Besides the 2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 card, BBM has used the image at least two more time - in the 1999 Mr. Giants set (a biographical set for Nagashima that I'm guessing was issued for the 25th Anniversary of his retirement) and in the The Scene subset in the 2002 Giants team set that was devoted to Giants history:

1999 BBM Mr Giants #G34

2002 BBM Giants #G107
BBM has done at least one other Nagashima set that I don't have so I'm sure this image appears on other cards.  Epoch chose to use a different image in their 2014 Shigeo Nagashima Memorial Treasures set:

2014 Epoch Shigeo Nagashima Memorial Treasures #18
Sources for this post include Robert Whiting's The Chrysanthemum And The Bat, Robert Obojski's The Rise Of Japanese Baseball Power and Nagashima's Japanese Wikipedia page.  Thanks also to Ryan for bring those Nagashima figurines to my attention and to Sean for having a timely post about Calbee card albums that reminded me about the one shown here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Alex Ramirez

Continuing the theme of former NPB players announcing their retirement following one or more seasons in independent baseball, former Swallow, Giant and Baystar Alex Ramirez announced his retirement a few weeks back.  Ramirez had last played in NPB in 2013.

Alex Ramirez had originally signed with the Cleveland Indians as 16 year old from Venezuela in 1991.  He spent most of the 90's working his way up through the Indians' minor league system finally reaching the Show in 1998 when the rosters expanded at the end of the season.  He started 1999 with the Indians AAA team in Buffalo before being called up to the majors for good in mid-June.  The Indians traded him to Pittsburgh in the middle of the 2000 season and the Pirates sold his contract to the Swallows in the off season.

2001 BBM #339

2005 Calbee #123
Between his offensive production and his outgoing personality, Ramirez quickly became a fan favorite with the Swallows.  He remained with Yakult for seven seasons, which qualified him to become a free agent and also allowed him to no longer be considered a foreign player for roster purposes.  He was looking for a multi-year contract but Yakult only offered a one year deal, so he left the Swallows as a free agent and signed with the team just a few miles east in Tokyo, the Yomiuri Giants.

2009 BBM 2nd Version #656

2010 BBM Giants #G129
Ramirez put up amazing numbers in his first three seasons with the Giants - he averaged .315 with 41 home runs and 119 RBIs, winning back to back MVP awards in 2008 and 2009.  In 2011, however, his numbers dipped to .279 with 23 home runs and 73 RBIs and the Giants released him at the end of the season.  The Yokohoma Baystars, who were wanting to make a splash after being bought by DeNA (and changing their name to the Yokohama DeNA Baystars) picked him up.

2012 BBM 1st Version #312

2013 Front Runner Trading Cards Baystars Rookie & Young Stars #15
He brought his batting average up to .300 in his first season in Yokohama but his power numbers did not recover (which may have been due to the change to the "standard" ball).  Age appeared to catch up with him in 2013 and he was sent to the ni-gun team for the first time ever.  There was a lot of speculation in July that he might be dealt to a Pacific League team, but ultimately he remained with DeNA, who released him at the end of the season.  He spent 2014 with the Gunma Diamond Pegasus of the independent Baseball Challenge (BC) League.

Ramirez had quite a few awards and accolades during his career in Japan.  As mentioned above, he won the Central League MVP Award in 2008 and 2009.  He was the Central League batting champion in 2009 and was a league leader multiple times in hits (2003, 2007 & 2009), home runs (2003 & 2010), and RBIs (2003, 2007, 2008 & 2010).  He was the third player in NBP history to reach 200 hits in a season in 2007 and was the first foreign player ever to accumulate 2000 hits in a season and be inducted into the Meikyukai.  (I did a post on him a few years ago after he reached 2000 hits).

2011 BBM 1st Version #332
He made the All Star team eight times (2002-03, 2007-2012) and was named MVP of Game 1 in 2007.

2007 BBM All Stars #A64
He played in three Nippon Series, one with the Swallows (2001) and two with the Giants (2008, 2009).  He won the "Fighting Spirit" Award (essentially the losing team's MVP) in the only one of the Series that his team lost (2008).

2009 BBM Nippon Series #S23

Card Of The Week October 12

It was looking a bit grim today for the Orix Buffaloes in Game 2 of the First Stage of the Pacific League Climax Series.  Down 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth and down one games to none to the Fighters in the best of three series, the team was just four outs away from going home for the winter.  But then Takahiro Okada, better known as T-Okada stepped up with two runners on and launched a go ahead home run to right center off of Keisuke Tanimoto.  The Buffaloes held on to win by a final score of 6-4, setting up a deciding Game Three to be played tomorrow afternoon (Japan time).

Here's a card of Okada from the "Active Stars In Japan" insert set from the 2011 BBM Hometown Heroes set.  Okada was born in Suita, a city in Osaka-prefecture just north of Osaka-city, so there's a gold blob in the shape of Osaka-prefecture on the front of the card:

#AS12



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tomochika Tsuboi

Former Tiger, Fighter and Buffaloe Tomochika Tsuboi announced his retirement a few weeks back.  Like Masao Kida, it had been a couple of years since his last appearance in NPB.

Tsuboi attended Aoyama Gakuin University in the Tohto League from 1992 to 1995.  Following his graduation, he spent a couple years playing for Toshiba in the industrial leagues.

2011 BBM Tohto 80th Memorial #74
He was drafted by the Hanshin Tigers in the fourth round of the November, 1997 draft.  His BBM and Calbee rookie cards were both in the respective 1998 sets - his BBM rookie was #370 and his Calbee rookie was #087.

1998 BBM #370
After a couple strong seasons to begin his NPB career, Tsuboi started to tail off.  Much of the decline was due to injuries.  He spent much of the 2001 and 2002 seasons at ni-gun.

2001 Upper Deck #100
Following the 2002 season, he was traded to the Nippon Ham Fighters for Toshihiro Noguchi.  He bounced back in his first season with the Fighters (in their final season in Tokyo), hitting .330 and playing in over 100 games for the first time since 2000.  He got the first hit ever by a Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighter by singling off of Hisashi Iwakuma and the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes on Opening Day in 2004.

2004 BBM 1st Version #146 (Facsimile Signature Parallel)
His numbers again declined following the 2003 season, again mostly due to nagging injuries.  Ultimately the Fighters released him following the 2010 season.  He signed with the Orix Buffaloes for the 2011 season, but he ended up only making 3 appearances with the ichi-gun team.  He never appeared in a BBM "flagship" set as a member of the Buffaloes but oddly enough he showed up in BBM's "Historic Collection" set for 2012 - the "Strongest Generation" set.  He appears in the "1973 Generation" subset which is a bit odd as he was actually born in 1974.  (He did appear in the 2011 BBM Buffaloes team set also.)

2012 BBM Strongest Generation #081
He was let go by Orix following the 2011 season and, like Masao Kida would do a year later, he decided to try to continue his career by signing with an independent league team.  Unlike Kida, however, he decided to do this in North America rather than Japan.  He split the 2012 season between three teams - the San Rafael Pacifics of the North American League (24 games), the Gary Southshore Railcats of the American Association (5 games) and the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWinds of the North American League (9 games).  He got into only 12 games in 2013, all with the Edinburg Roadrunners in the United League.  2014 saw him briefly play for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League - while he was somehow affiliated with the team the entire season, he was only officially on the roster from mid-June to early August and only appeared in 9 games (one of which I was lucky enough to see).

As far as I know, there are no cards of him with any of the indy teams he's been with the last few years.

Tsuboi never lead the league in any major category but his rookie season was recognized by Central League with a "CL Special Award" that was commemorated by BBM in their 1999 "flagship" set (#543):

1999 BBM #543

He made the All Star team twice, in 2000 and 2003.  He played in three Nippon Series, winning it all in 2006 and playing on the losing side in 2007 and 2009.

2003 Calbee #AS-52

2009 BBM Nippon Series #S54
One interesting thing about Tsuboi that I did not know until I started working on this post is that his father, Shinzaburo Tsuboi, played for the Dragons and Lions between 1970 and 1977.  I don't have any cards of the elder Tsuboi and to be completely honest, I'm not sure that any exist.