I'd been seeing these oddball cards from the Helmar Brewing Company on eBay lately, featuring portraits of Japanese players from the 30's, 40's and 50's, but other than checking out their website, I really hadn't looked into them too much. Luckily, Bill Ellis has, and he was kind enough to write up an essay on them and send it to me:
The Japanese Player Helmar Brewing Baseball Cards
In 2005, Helmar Brewing Company, Pleasant Ridge, Michigan produced a set of sports cards called the “Famous Athletes Series”. The set contains original artwork depicting mostly classic American baseball players, but also baseball players from the Negro Leagues and the Japanese Leagues, as well as boxers. The cards are about 2 ¾ inch high by 1 5/8 inch wide, in the style of the old tobacco cards, but on much thicker cardboard (about 1/16 inch thick). The set included 7 cards of classic Japanese players and managers:
● Kaoru Betto
● Sadayoshi Fujimoto
● (Tsuguo) Goto
● Tetsuharu Kawakami
● Tokuji Iida
● Jiro Noguchi
● 4-player card: Aota, Chiba, Kawakami, Noguchi
The cards, and the back of one card, are shown. The design and artwork on the cards is attractive, but not very accurate. I referred to “The History of Uniform”, 2005, for uniform illustrations, and to the online Japan Baseball Daily Data Warehouse for teams, years, and positions.
The uniform worn by Betto, who was a Hall of Fame slugging outfielder for the Osaka Tigers during 1948-49, shows a red “O” on the cap (used only in 1936-40 and 1953-57) that should be black or blue; the leggings are missing the two yellow bands; and the red piping on the sleeves never existed.
Fujimoto was the manager of the Pacific team (which became the Robins, then the Whales, and now the BayStars) in the Japanese Baseball League in 1946. His Hall of Fame managing career included nine league championships. His cap is missing the “P”.
The Goto card (which must be Tsuguo, though his first name is not given), says Chunichi Dragons but shows him in the unique alternate Osaka Tigers uniform of 1948-49. He wore, as shown, uniform #8 as center fielder for the Tigers from 1948 to 1957, and never played for the Dragons.
Tokuji Iida was a star first baseman for the Nankai Hawks during 1947-1956. His name is misspelled on the card as “Lida”. He is shown in a pinstripe uniform, but the 1948-1949 Hawks uniform actually had pairs of pinstripes, a dark blue cap, and red- and blue-striped socks.
Tetsuharu Kawakami was a superstar first baseman for the Yomiuri Giants during 1938-1942 and 1946-1958. His uniform on the Helmar card appears to be the only one that is correct for the period when he played.
Jiro Noguchi was a star pitcher for the Hankyu Braves, of the Japanese Baseball League and then the Pacific League, during 1946-53. The uniform is right, but the red brim on the cap should be dark blue.
The four-player card shows them in Yomiuri Giants uniforms that are close, but not correct for any years. The caps are right for 1947-1950, but the orange stripes were on the 1950 shirts that had “GIANTS” in orange, not black.
Including Japan baseball stars in the Helmar Famous Athletes Series was a nice touch, and justified by the quality of these players, but a little more research by the card artists was needed. I am not tempted to acquire the other card series issued by Helmar: Series 2 (2007), or Series 3 (2008).
Thanks for the information, Bill. I've seen some of the later cards on eBay - instead of being patterned on the 1910 T206 tobacco set, some of them are based on the 1933 Goudey design. There are some nice looking cards out there, but they might also have the accuracy issues that Bill has pointed out here.
I had never thought about having a guest blogger before, but it's not a bad idea at all. If anyone else wants to write an essay on a relevant topic, let me know.