Monday, October 26, 2009

1949 San Francisco Seals Tour

According to Baseball Reference's Bullpen, today is the 60th Anniversary of the completion of the San Francisco Seal's Asian tour of 1949, which included five games in Japan (Robert Whiting says it was 7 in "You Gotta Have Wa"). The Seals were managed by Frank "Lefty" O'Doul who had a major impact on the development of professional baseball in Japan. The Giants take their name and uniform colors from the New York Giants because that's the team that O'Doul was playing for during his visits to Japan in the early 1930's. The Seals tour was the first visit by a US team to Japan following the war (and at the time, the Pacific Coast League was practically a third major league). According to Rob Fitts' biography of Wally Yonamine: "The Japanese interpreted [the Seals'] presence as a sign of respect, which helped reestablish baseball's popularity after the war". O'Doul's contributions to Japanese baseball were recognized in 2002 by his election to the Japanese Baseball Hall Of Fame.

The Seals' tour was commemorated by several sets of baseball cards - a bromide set called "Yakyu Shonen Sepia Bottom Line Strip" and at least eight menko sets. The bromide set and one of the menko sets had been up for auction in the last Prestige Collectibles auction, so you can still see the pages for them for now.

I don't have any cards from the Seals' sets, so I'll have to settle for the above 1991 Conlon Collection card of O'Doul (#165).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 BBM 2nd Version

It's been out for about two months now and I've had my set for about a month, but I'm finally getting around to blogging about the 2009 BBM 2nd Version set. It's a 255 card set that is numbered as a continuation of this year's 1st Version set.

Like last year's set, this year's set has 180 player cards (15 per team). As usual, BBM has found some outstanding photographs for the cards. Here's a selection:

Card numbers: Kanemoto #673, Iguchi #608, Nakajima #562, Lee #655, Yoshinori #705, Oyama #682

There are 13 players who have "regular" (as opposed to 1st Version Update) cards in the 2nd Version set but did not appear in this year's 1st Version set. They are Atsushi Fujii (Dragons), Keiji Oyama (Dragons), Shinsuke Saitoh (Dragons), Yuya Hasegawa (Hawks), DJ Houlton (Hawks), Yasushi Kamiuchi (Hawks), Satoru Morimoto (Hawks), Atsushi Nohmi (Tigers), Tomoya Yagi (Fighters), Marcus Gwyn (Golden Eagles), Aaron Guiel (Swallows), Satoshi Fukuda (Giants) and Tetsuya Matsumoto (Giants).

One thing I noticed about the cards in this set - they have the player's name in English on the back of the cards. I think that's the first time I've seen that with BBM cards. Typically the name on the back will only be in Kanji for the Japanese players. (UPDATE - I guess I'm not very observant because this is the fourth year in a row that the 2nd Version cards have had the player's names on the back in English.)

In addition to the 13 previously mentioned cards, there's a 17 card "1st Version Update" subset. This subset contains cards that are in the style of this year's 1st Version set (although the text on the front does say "2nd Version"). I'm not quite sure what the difference between these 17 players and the 13 players listed above, but the update subset does contain players who signed later in the season (Craig Brazell), traded players (Ryuji Miyade and Yoshihiro Ichiba) and the BayStars interim manager Tomio Toshiro. But it also includes a card of Edgardo Alfonzo, who was NOT a late signing player.

Here's the list of the 1st Version Update players: Kentaro Hashimoto (Marines), Hiroshi Miyamoto (Marines), Juan Carlos Muniz (Marines), Yoshifumi Okada (Marines), Hayato Douue (Hawks), Jose Ortiz (Hawks), Craig Brazell (Tigers), Kai-Wen Cheng (Tigers), Yasutomo Kubo (Tigers), Scott McClain (Carp), Luis Jimenez (Fighters), Jobu (Golden Eagles), Ryuji Miyade (Golden Eagles), Yasuhiro Ichiba (Swallows), Yuki (Swallows), Tomio Toshiro (BayStars) and Edgardo Alfonzo (Giants). Here's the cards of Miyade (#777) and Toshiro (#787):

The set also contains three 12 card subsets, each featuring one player from each team. The subsets are "Team Specialities" which features one of the top stars from each team - Darvish, Ogasawara, Iwakuma, Kanemoto, etc (and yes, that title is misspelled - don't know if they were going for "Specialists" or "Specialties"); "Golden Age - Around 20" which features a promising early 20-something player like Masahiro Tanaka or Sho Nakata for each team (well, some are more promising than others...:-)); and the "Craftsmanship" subset which features a veteran for each team who's at least in their mid-30's if not older - Kudoh, Komiyama, Takuro Ishii, etc. Here's example cards from each subset:

Card numbers: Ogasawara #741, Maeda #756, Kosaka #763

There are 12 team checklist cards in the set. The pictures don't have any real theme - they are a combination of action shots, mascot interaction pictures and one or two just plain odd pictures. Here for examples are the Giants (#794) and BayStars (#799) cards:

Finally, there is a ten card "Ceremonial First Pitch" subset showing various Japanese celebrities throwing out the first pitch at a game. I was a little bummed (although not surprised) that there was no Tom Hanks card. Not living in Japan, it's usually hard for me to figure out who these people are - not all of them show up in Wikipedia. Here's the list: Hideo Higashikokubaru (Comedian), Sachi Jinno (Actress), Yumi Kobayashi (Model), Hidehiko Masuda (Comedian), Satoko Miyata (Model), Miyuki (?), Mari Motohashi (Curler), Tomoaki Ogura (Newscaster), Keisuke Okada (?), and Shosuke Tanihara (Actor). The only Keisuke Okada that comes up in a Wikipedia search was an Admiral in the Imperial Navy and Prime Minister of Japan in the mid 1930's. I don't think it's him.

I thought it was cool that there was an Olympic Curler in the bunch as my sister-in-law was a curling official at the 2002 Winter Olympics. So here's the card of Motohashi (#804):

Card Of The Week October 25

Kenji Johjima announced this past week that he was opting out of his contract with the Mariners and heading back to Japan. So far both the Tigers and Hawks have expressed interest in signing him. Here's his 2005 BBM 1st Version Best 9 insert card (#BN2):

I'm trying to think now of all the other Japanese players that went to the US, then played in NPB again. Sasaki, Yoshii, Masao Kida, Kaz Ishii, Shinjo, Hideki Irabu, Komiyama, Iguchi, and Fukumori all come to mind off the top of my head. The only Japanese players to go to MLB and retire without returning to play in Japan first that I can think are Hideo Nomo and Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And Still More WBC cards?

A couple WBC related items:

- Topps has just released their Update set and (besides a bunch of memorabilia cards) it only has three World Baseball Classic cards. None of the three feature any Japanese players - one shows the US team celebrating after their walk off win against Puerto Rico, one shows Derek Jeter and David Wright and the last shows David Ortiz with Alex Rodriguez (who gets his third WBC card despite not actually playing in it).

- Jason's comment about Konami the other day made me go looking for a website for Konami (which has been added to the list on the right). In browsing their site, I was surprised to discover that it looks like Konami had released WBC cards. I'm not quite sure I follow what's on this page, but those certainly look like WBC baseball cards of David Ortiz, Akinori Iwamura, Jose Lopez, Derk Jeter, and Mark DeRosa. Are the Konami cards used with a video game? I know Deanna wrote something about this once but I don't have time to look for it right now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The 500 Pound Gorilla

Frequently when I work on posts for this blog, I feel like I'm shilling for BBM. It seems like all the sets I talk about are BBM ones, and most of the cards that I post are BBM ones. Well, there's a reason for that - BBM has no real competition in the production of baseball cards in Japan.

Now, you're probably saying to yourself - wait a minute, what about Calbee? OK, here are some stats about card sets produced in Japan for 2008. These aren't production numbers (total number of cards printed) but counts of "regular" (cards that aren't insert or memorabilia cards) per set.

First, here's BBM's count per set for 2008:

1st Version523
2nd Version252
All Stars65
Back To The 70's144
Baystars 30th99
Baystars Team Set99
Buffaloes Team Set99
Carp Memorial45
Carp Team Set99
College National Team44
Dragons Team Set99
Eagles Team Set107
Fighters Team Set99
Giants Team Set117
Hakata Lions Memorial39
Hawks 70th99
Hawks Team Set99
Lions 30th99
Lions Classic24
Lions Team Set99
Lotte 40th99
Marines Team Set99
Nippon Series60
Olympic Team28
Rookie Edition100
Rookie Premium48
Swallows Team Set99
Tigers Team Set108
Tokyo Big 6 Autumn Version36
Tokyo Big 6 Spring Version60
Tomohiro Kuroki Memorial27
Touch The Game132

So that's 32 sets for a total of 3246 cards. Now, again, that's just "regular" cards - that doesn't include insert or memorabilia cards.

In contrast, here's what Calbee did in 2008:
Series One166
Series Two160
Series Three161

So that's 487 cards in three sets. And that count contains all the subset cards in addition to the 288 "regular" player cards.

It's not even close. This is not meant to disparage Calbee, just to point out how dominant BBM is in the Japanese card market. This is a little like the baseball card market in the US in the 1970's - dominated by one company - Topps. Except that BBM makes a hell of a lot more cards in a year than Topps did. And Calbee is basically the equivalent of the Kelloggs 3-D sets.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I was going to title this "Sledge Hammer" or "the Terrmel-ator", but I'm sure it's already been done. Terrmel Sledge had a really good day today and if you don't know what I'm talking about, you should read Yakyu Baka and the Kyodo New Service's stories, as well as an account from a Fighter's fan (Deanna) as well as an Eagles fan.

Here's Terrmel Sledge's 2009 BBM 2nd Version card (#597):

And just for fun, here's his first professional card ever - his 1999 Grandstand Everett AquaSox minor league baseball card:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

NPB Pitchers in the Arizona Fall League

Five pitchers from Japanese teams have arrived in Arizona to play for a couple of teams in the Arizona Fall League. They are Hiroshi Katayama from the Eagles; Toshiyuki Yanuki from the Fighters; Tooru Murata and Takanobu Tsujiuchi from the Giants; and Ken Nishimura from the Tigers. Nishimura will be replaced mid-season (around the beginning of November) by fellow Tiger Kenta Abe. Katayama and Yanuki will play for the Phoenix Sea Dogs and the rest will be with the Scottsdale Scorpions. There are more details at both NPB Tracker and (where there's a familiar name on the credit for the photo of Katayama).

So if you're going to check out a game and want to try to get an autograph, here's a list of some of the available BBM cards for the players. This is not a comprehensive list. Each player is probably in his team's BBM wax set for each season. If the player played in the past for another team, I'll list those teams after his cards.

Kenta Abe

2003 Rookie Edition #57 (shown above), 1st Version #243
2004 1st Version #73, 2nd Version Hot Prospects subset #832
2005 1st Version #180
2009 1st Version #267
Abe was with Kintetsu in 2003-2004, Orix in 2005-2007 and Hanshin in 2008-09.

Hiroshi Katayama

2006 Rookie Edition #41 (shown above)
2009 1st Version #152

Tooru Murata

2008 Rookie Edition #4, 1st Version #034 (shown above)

Ken Nishimura

2009 Rookie Edition #064 (shown above), 1st Version #288

Takanobu Tsujiuchi

2006 Rookie Edition #80, 1st Version #388
2007 1st Version Future Stars subset #442 (shown above)

Toshiyuki Yanuki

2009 Rookie Edition #014 (shown above), 1st Version #104

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Satoru Komiyama

Kind of lost in all the noise with Bobby Valentine's final days managing the Marines was the fact that Satoru Komiyama was retiring. Lotte scheduled his retirement ceremony for the same game as Valentine's, most likely as a slap at Valentine.

Komiyama has had an interesting career. He debuted with the then-Lotte Orions in 1990. He played for them until 2000, making the All Star team six times and leading the league in ERA in 1997. He signed with Yokohama as a free agent in 2000 and played for them for two years, making the All Star team again in 2000. In 2002, he reunited with Bobby Valentine in New York and played one season for the Mets. As far as I can tell, he was out of baseball completely in 2003. With Valentine's return to Chiba in 2004, Komiyama rejoined his former team. He was made a player-coach in 2007.

Here are some cards:

From the top, that's his 1991 Calbee rookie card (#100), his 1996 Calbee "Tokyo Snack" card (#25), his 2001 Upper Deck card (#30) and his final regular BBM card - 2009 BBM 1st Version (#113).

Card Of The Week October 18

Not content with simply making the playoffs for the first time in their history, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles swept the Hawks in two games to move on to Stage Two of the Pacific League Climax Series against the Fighters. The game (and Stage One) winning hit in Game 2 came in the form of a three run home run by Takeshi Yamasaki. Here's his 2009 BBM 2nd Version card (#625):

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Koichi Ogata

Koichi Ogata of the Carp played his last game yesterday. Ogata has spent part of the last 22 seasons playing for the ichi-gun Carp. He won five Gold Gloves and made one appearance in an All Star game. Here's a couple cards:

1991 BBM Nippon Series #S49 (the only time the Carp made the Series during his career):

2003 BBM 2nd Version #585:

2003 BBM Rookie Edition #115, showing him as he looked when drafted by the Carp back in the fall of 1986:

I'd have scanned some more cards, but it seems to me that a lot of the cards I have of him all have similar poses - following through after hitting the ball (like the Rookie Edition card above).

On a personal note, I just discovered something interesting from his Baseball Reference Bullpen biography - I've actually seen Ogata play. It turns out that in 1989 the Carp had some sort of working agreement with the independent Peninsula Pilots of the Carolina League (who are now the Wilmington Blue Rocks). The Carp sent three players to play for the woeful Pilots - Waturu Adachi, Tetsuya Katahira and Koichi Ogata. I had remembered seeing the Pilots play the Frederick Keys that summer and I dug up my scorecard - sure enough Ogata was batting second and playing second base (and wearing number 1 rather than his more familiar 9 or the 37 he wore early in his career). He went 0-2 with a walk. I also saw Katahira - he played left field and went 1-4 with an RBI. Nothing stands out in my mind about either of them - the only things I remembered about the game before I dug up the scorecard was it was a blowout (Frederick won 20-4) and that the Pilots had a position player come in to pitch (which was the first time I had ever seen that in person).

Of the three former Peninsula Pilots, Ogata by far had the longest career. Katahira played two more years with the Carp, mostly with the ni-gun team. Adachi played a few years longer, finishing his career with the Hawks in 1994. Here's Katahira's 1991 BBM card (#99, his only BBM card as far as I know) and Adachi's 1993 Tomy card (#165):

Oh, and I did check - none of these guys made the Pilot's baseball card set that year. Rats.

Mighty Atom

In case anyone didn't believe me the other day about why the Tokyo Yakult Swallows were once known as the Atoms, here's some proof. If you look carefully at this card of Shiro Takegami (#058 from the 2002 BBM All Time Heroes set), you'll notice Mighty Atom (Astro Boy) on his sleeve:

(This is actually the uniform of the Sankei Atoms.)

Last year, when the Swallows wore "Turn Back The Clock" uniforms for the Yakult Atoms, Mighty Atom again appeared on the sleeve. None of the cards showing the Atoms uniforms from last year's BBM 2nd Version set show it real well (especially since the Yakult uniforms had him appearing in an oval instead of just right on the sleeve like Sankei did). You can make it out on Shinya Miyamoto's card though (#618):

Just a little Astro Boy trivia with the new movie coming out shortly.

Card Of The Week October 11

Despite leading the Golden Eagles to the post-season for the first time in their five year history, the word out of Sendai is that Katsuya Nomura is out as Rakuten's manager after the season ends. Here's his 2008 BBM 1st Version card (#325):

Friday, October 9, 2009

New BBM Carp Anniversary Set

Well, I've been waiting all year for an Orix 20th Anniversary set from BBM, but I haven't seen one yet. Today, however, BBM released information about a Hiroshima Carp 60th Anniversary set. This is a pack based set that will be released in November. Following the pattern of every other recent Anniversary set, it has 99 regular cards broken into a six card "Carp History" subset, 66 cards of former players (both OB and active, former Carp - I'd expect to see both Hiroki Kuroda and Akira Etoh for example), 18 cards for the 2009 team and a nine card "Team Record" subset. There'll also be a nine card "Best 9" insert set and the usual autographed inserts.

This set will be the ninth team Anniversary set that BBM has done since 2004 (and the sixth in the last two years). The only teams left without an Anniversary set are Orix, the Fighters and the Golden Eagles.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami announced that he would be retiring after the end of the season. Tatsunami has been a fixture for Chunichi since his rookie of the year winning debut in 1988. He's a member of the Meikyukai, an 11 time All Star and a 5 time Gold Glove winner (at three different positions). He has the record for most career doubles in NPB. His entry at Baseball Reference's bullpen says that he is a player "who does everything well...but has no trademark skill to make him stand out from the crowd". The Dragons have only gone to eight Nippon Series in their history - he's been part of five of those teams (with the possibility of another this year).

Here's an assortment of cards from across his career:

Starting from the top is the 1988 Takara Dragons card, 1989 Mermaid Data (#3), 1994 BBM (#296), 2001 Upper Deck (#55), 2002 Calbee "Sayonora Home Run" (#SH-6), 2007 BBM Nippon Series (#S17) and 2009 BBM 1st Version (#306).

Yakult 40th Anniversary

OK, back to the sets I got a few weeks ago...

The team that is now known as the Tokyo Yakult Swallows has an interesting history. It was born in 1950 as the Kokutetsu Swallows. In 1965, Kokutetsu sold the team to Sankei. The sale occurred during the season. As a result, the team that started the year as the Kokutetsu Swallows finished the year as the Sankei Swallows. Following that season, Sankei changed the name of the team to the Sankei Atoms, attempting to cash in on the popularity of the TV show Mighty Atom (aka Astro Boy). (The Atoms away uniforms from 1966 to 1970 featured Mighty Atom on their left sleeves.) In late 1968, Sankei sold the team to the Yakult company who fielded the team in 1969 as the Yakult Atoms. In 1974, the team changed their name back to the Swallows and in 2006 they added "Tokyo", despite the face that they had played in Tokyo since their beginning. The Swallows won their first Nippon Series in 1978 (in their first ever appearance) and had subsequent victories in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 2001 (along with a loss to the Lions in the 1992 Series).

So to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Yakult's ownership of the Atoms/Swallows, BBM has released a 99 card anniversary set. This set follows the pattern that BBM has established over the last year - there's a six card "Victories" subset showing the five Nippon Series championships plus the 1992 Central League championship, a 61 card subset of former players, 26 cards for the 2009 team and a six card "Team Records Holder" subset.

As is customary, the former players include OB players (Tsutomo Wakamatsu, Atsuya Furuta, Katsuo Ohsugi, Takehiro Ikeyama, Tom O'Malley) as well as active players with other teams, be it NPB (Alex Ramirex, Kazuhisa Ishii), MLB (Akinori Iwamura) or other (Shingo Takatsu). Didn't see any really obvious players missing - might have been cool to have included Bob Horner, but he only spent one year in Japan. No cards of former managers were included (unless they played for the Swallows like Wakamatsu and Furuta), so the absence of Katsuya Nomura (who managed the team to three championships in the 1990's) isn't surprising (or unexpected, since he wasn't in the Hawks, Lions or Lotte anniversary sets either).

I guess my only disappointment with the set is that the only card showing someone in an Atoms uniform is Wakamatsu's. I think it would have been entertaining to have had a few others.

Here's some example cards. That's the "Victories" subset card for the 1997 Championship (#05); the former player cards for Tsutomu Wakamatsu (#52), Toru Sugiura (#53), Katsuo Ohsugi (#39), and Shingo Takatsu (#25); the 2009 Swallows card for manager Shigeru Takada (#68); and the "Team Records Holder" card for Keishi Asano (#95):