This post over at japanesebaseball.com reminded me of things that I had wondered about when I started collecting Japanese Baseball cards. So in case anyone else was wondering...
1. What's the deal with the stuffed animals?
When batters for the home team hit home runs, they get handed one or more stuffed dolls of the team mascot to either throw into the crowd or keep. Here's a couple of videos from YouTube showing this, one of Julio Zuleta and one of Kenshin Kawakami.
I'm having a difficult time imagining David Ortiz throwing a Wally doll into the crowd at Fenway.
(2002 BBM Preview Team Leaders Insert A1)
2. Why does this BayStars player's uniform say "Searex" or "Shonan"?
The farm teams for the teams in NPB are different than the farm teams for the MLB teams. For one thing, each NPB team has only one farm team. This team can be referred to as the ni-gun team with the major league team being the ichi-gun team. For the most part, each farm team has the same name and uniform as its parent team. The BayStars are one of the exceptions. Their farm team is the Shonan Searex. Orix is another exception. Their team is Surpass (I think). I've seen a bunch of cards of Yokohama players wearing Searex uniforms, but I haven't been able to find any cards showing Surpass players.
This sort of answers the other question I get from time to time: are there any minor league cards in Japan? The answer is kind of yes-and-no. Yes, there are cards of minor league players (both the regular BBM sets and team sets contain cards of guys who are on the ni-gun team). No, there are no specific cards for say the Giants' ni-gun team. I don't believe you could buy a Shonan Searex team set the same way you could buy a Durham Bulls one.
I do not know if any of the teams in the couple of independent minor leagues in Japan or the industrial league teams have cards. I'd be very interested in knowing if they did.
(2001 BBM #75)
3. What are the Shoriki and Sawamura awards?
The Shoriki award is given to the person who has contributed the most to the "development of professional baseball" (which seems as nebulous as "most valuable player"). It is named for Matsutaro Shoriki, the founder of the Yomiuri Giants. It looks to me like more often than not it is given to the manager of the winning team in the Nippon Series. It has been awarded 34 times since 1977 (two people shared the award in 1994 and 2003). 22 of those award winners have been managers - 18 of them were managers of the champion team. The last player to win the award was Hideki Matsui of the Giants in 2000.
The Sawamura Award is given to the best starting pitcher in NPB. It's often called the equivalent of MLB's Cy Young Award, but it actually predates it by nine years (1947 vs 1956). Until 1990, the award was only given to Central League pitchers - Hideo Nomo was the first Pacific League pitcher to win the award. The award is named for Eiji Sawamura. There is only one award for both leagues (like the Cy Young was until 1967) and there have been years in which no one was deserving of the award (most recently in 2000).
(2000 BBM #29, 2003 BBM 1st Version #402)
4. What's so special about "Hanshin"?
This is NOT a request for Tiger fans to tell me why the Tigers are so great. This is something a little subtle that I've noticed. On the "regular" player cards for both BBM and Calbee, the team name listed for the player is usually just the team's nickname, not the full name (i.e. "Giants", not "Yomiuri Giants"). For some reason, for Tigers players, the full name ("Hanshin Tigers") is almost always listed.
It wasn't always like this. As far as I can tell, it started in 2001. The 2001 BBM Preview set had "Tigers", but the 2001 BBM regular set had "Hanshin Tigers". Since then, every BBM 1st & 2nd Version set, pretty much every All Star, Preview, Rookie and "Historic Collection" set and every Calbee set I've looked at has had "Hanshin Tigers" for Tigers players. Some of the sets have the full team name for all teams, but other than the 2002 BBM All Time Heroes set, I haven't seen a set since 2001 that lists the Hanshin players' team simply as "Tigers".
So...why is this? I don't know. It's been bugging me for a while, so if any of you have an answer, please share it.
(2003 Calbee #26 & #71)