Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Flying Dutchman

Following the 1988 season, Toronto Blue Jay first baseman Cecil Fielder was sold by the team to the Hanshin Tigers. Fielder had been only a part time player for the Jays as he was blocked at first base by Fred McGriff. With a chance to play regularly for the first time with Hanshin, Fielder had a great season, hitting .302 with 38 home runs in 106 games. His season was cut short in September by a broken pinky. The following January, he signed a contract with the Detroit Tigers and proceeded to hit 51 home runs during the 1990 season, being the first batter to reach 50 home runs since George Foster in 1977. All of a sudden, Japanese cards of Fielder became a (relatively) hot item.

1989 was two years before BBM started doing cards, but Calbee and Takara were going strong. There are actually six cards of Fielder in the 1989 Calbee set and one of him in the Takara Tigers team set. 1989 was also the first of the two years that Lotte issued a 120 card set and Fielder is included in that set also (his name is actually misspelled "Fieldar" on the card). And that's pretty much it for licensed Japanese cards of Fielder. Or is it?

Gary Engel's "Japanese Baseball Card Checklist and Price Guide" has this sentence at the end of the description of the 1990 Lotte set: "It is claimed that a few Cecil Fielder #117 cards were printed, but they are not part of the regular set, as they must have been withdrawn very quickly." To be completely honest, I was highly doubtful that such a card actually existed. While it happened some with the bromide and menko cards in the 1950's and 60's, it would be highly unusual for a card company to issue a set in 1990 featuring a card of a player who played in Japan in 1989 but not in 1990. Unlike US cards where the current year's cards frequently show players on their team from the previous year, Japanese cards tend to be a lot more up to date. So I really didn't think this card was real.

Then I got a comment from someone to this post claiming that they had found the card in a box of old cards. I was still skeptical - the commenter said that the card was #117 and his name was misspelled Fieldar on the back. I pointed out that his 1989 card was also #117 and was known to have a misspelled name, so they most likely had the 1989 card, but I took the person up on her offer to send me a scan of the card.

And I'm glad I did, because guess what? It sure as hell looks like a 1990 Lotte card:

If it's a fake, it's a really good one. The year of his birth is listed as a Showa era year (38 as opposed to 1963), just like all the other Lotte cards. I'm not sure why his middle name is listed, but I have a 1989 Lotte card of Willie Upshaw that also lists him with his middle name, so it may just be something Lotte did for some gaijin players (although not all). I can't read the text, so I don't know if it makes any sense, but again, if it's a fake, it was done by someone who really knew what they were doing. And really, if you had counterfeiting skills that good, wouldn't you be concentrating on something a little less obscure? So I'm inclined to think it's real, although the person who sent me the scan was going to send it to Rob Fitts also, so I'll be real interested in what Rob has to say.

One last thing that I picked up in reviewing some of Fielder's online information - he had actually signed a two year deal with Hanshin prior to the 1989 season that included a clause allowing him to get out of the contract if he got offered a major league deal. He didn't sign with Detroit until mid-January of 1990, so maybe Lotte was working on the set with the assumption that he was going to play for Hanshin in 1990 (since he was under contract), then had to hurriedly pull the card when he returned to the States.

Sources for this post include Baseball-Reference's stats and bullpen pages for him as well as his write up on Japan Baseball Daily.


Fuji said...

Wow... If that thing is real... sounds like you sure have a very special card.

NPB Card Guy said...

Just to clarify - I don't have the card. The woman who contacted me has it and sent a scan. But, yes, she has a very special card.

Deanna said...

Well, I CAN read it and it makes perfect sense to me. The part next to the 44 at the top says something to the effect of "He injured his pinky finger throwing a bat on a strikeout. Unfortunately that meant he had to quit playing while he still had a shot at the home run title."

The part above the English words Central League just says his history -- born in the USA, went to Nevada State? was on the Blue Jays and then Hanshin.

Does that help at all?

NPB Card Guy said...

Thanks for translation, Deanna. Fielder went to University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). And according to Japan Baseball Daily, he "broke a pinky finger when he tried to do a little bat flip trick against the dirt after striking out". So that's all accurate.

Samiams said...

Thank you for posting the story!

If it hadn't been for your earlier post, I wouldn't have known anything about my find. It's very apparent that you put a lot of time, research and effort into your blog.

Samiams said...

PS - Rob did send me an email stating that the card is the 1990 Lotte card.

Samiams said...

After looking at the scans again, I noticed that his middle name is misspelled too. Grant/Glant.

Jason said...

Wow, what an embarrassing way to end one's season! Very cool to actually see the Wagner of Japan, though. We need to start a myth about Fielder's objection to chewing gum and how he would only support issuing cards with tobacco products, hence the recall :)

I don't suppose there's any chance this woman has a 1994 Chiba Lotte Marines menko card (is that redundant? menko card?) of Hensley Meulens, is there?