When I first started collecting Japanese cards, I didn't know much about Japanese baseball or who any of the cards were of. (It can be argued that I have not come far from that point.) There were a couple of names that I kept seeing over and over though that started sinking in. It seemed like anytime I bought a lot of singles or got a BBM All Star set, I would get yet another card of one or more of these guys. I came to be a fan of these players, even though I didn't know a whole lot about them. The players were Atsuya Furuta, Koji Akiyama and Kazuhiro Kiyohara. The last remaining active player of this group, Kiyohara, last week announced that he'll be retiring at the end of the season.
As I've learned more about Japanese baseball, I've learned that there's a lot of mixed opinions on Kiyohara and I'm not sure if he were someone that I watched on a regular basis if I would still be a fan of his. Perhaps I would - I tend to be contrary sometimes in players that I like and end up defending the likes of Milton Bradley and Albert Belle, at least as ballplayers.
Be that as it may, I thought a retrospective of Kiyohara would be appropriate:
He was Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 1986. Here's his rookie card from Calbee (#225):
1989 Calbee #50:
1992 Calbee #51:
1994 Tomy #82:
In 1997, Kiyohara left the Lions for the Giants, who released Hiromitsu Ochiai to make room for him. 1997 BBM #290:
2000 BBM #414:
He played in 10 Japan Series in his 23 year career. He hit .301 with 15 homers in 60 games. He won an "Outstanding Player" Award in the 1986, 1988, and 2002 Series's and the "Fighting Spirit" award in the 1993 and 1994 Series's. Here's his 2002 BBM Nippon Series card (#S15), his final Series:
On April 29, 2005, he became the eighth player in NPB history to reach 500 home runs. He is currently fifth in history, behind Sadaharu Oh, Katsuya Nomura, Hiromitsu Kadota and Koji Yamamoto. Here's the 2005 BBM 2nd Version card (#826) commemorating his 500th home run:
In 2006, he left the Giants and signed with Orix. He missed a lot of time due to injuries, but when healthy, was still elected to All Star teams. He was named to an All Star team 19 times in 23 seasons. He was named MVP of an All Star game 7 times, in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 2000. Here's his final BBM All Star card, from the 2006 set (#A15):
He was also named to the Pacific League Best 9 teams in 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992.