Sunday, January 30, 2011

Australian Baseball League

I have been meaning to get to this for the last couple months, but it's been kind of crazy. The Australian Baseball League returned this year after about 10 years. Two Japanese teams, the Yomiuri Giants and the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, sent 10 players between them to play in the league. One of them, Yoshiyuki Kamei of the Melbourne Aces (and the Giants) had a phenomenal season, hitting .438/.500/.859 (batting/OBP/slugging) in 16 games (roughly half the season). There were a couple other former NBP players active in the league, including Chris Oxspring and Koo Dae-Sung of the Sydney Blue Sox.

As an aside, it looks like NBP teams are starting to look at ways to get more players involved in winter baseball leagues throughout the world. Since the folding of the second incarnation of the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League two years ago, Japanese teams have sent players to a number of leagues. In 2009, they sent five pitchers to the Arizona Fall League. This past winter, in addition to the Australian teams, they sent players to Puerto Rico and Venezuela. NBP Tracker has a nice roundup on who went where and what the NBP teams are thinking about here (with redundant comments by me - really need to read stuff carefully before commenting...).

As far as I can tell, there are no baseball cards for the new league. However, there were baseball cards for the earlier incarnation of the league that ran from 1989 to 1999 and I thought I'd devote the rest of the post to them.

The original Australian Baseball League debuted in 1989 with eight teams. The first baseball cards for the league came out during this season (1989-90) and were team sets for the Sydney Metros and the Perth Heat produced by a company called Futera. And by team set, I mean that they were very similar in size and design to the minor league card team sets that were being produced at the time. Here's an example card of Karl Hardman of the Metros:

The following season, Futera again issued cards in team sets, this time for all eight teams in the league. Each set contained 15-20 cards for a total of 148 for the complete set. (And these are the only Australian cards I know of that I don't have.)

It doesn't appear that any cards were produced for the 1991-92 season. The next card set that I know of was a 50 card set for the 1992-93 season. What I don't know about this set is if it was sold as a complete set or if there were packs of cards available. Here's Dave Nilsson's card from the set (#15):

Futera's next set for the 1993-94 season was the largest so far - 110 regular cards plus 21 possible insert cards. This set was issued in packs of nine cards and beyond the regular player cards, it included cards for the previous season's award winners and champion (the Melbourne Monarchs). Here's the card of Jay Powell of the Perth Heat (#66):

Futera continued the same pattern for the 1994-95 season - another 110 card pack based set with 18 additional insert cards. In addition to the regular player cards, it included subsets for "ABL Veterans" and the postseason ABL All Star team (equivalent to the Best 9). Here's Paul Loduca's card from the set (#52):

For the 1995-96 season Futera once again issued a 110 card pack based set (with 18 insert cards). The set contained subsets for the previous season's award winners (including the All Stars) and the playoffs (with the Waverly Reds defeating the Perth Heat). Here's Kelly Wunsch's card (#34):

As far as I can tell, the 1995-96 season was the last one that Futera (or anyone else) did cards for the ABL. The league lasted until the 1998-99 season, then was sold to Dave Nilsson for $5 million. He converted the league into the International Baseball League of Australia which operated (I think) for two seasons - 2000-01 and 2001-02 - before folding. Again, as far as I can tell, there were no cards done for the IBL.

I'm not sure how many players from the league went on to play in Japan. (As far as I can tell, Jeff Williams never played in the league.) From this list of MLB players who played in Australia, the only one off hand that I know played in Japan was Eric Ludwick. Few of the more prominent players on the list appear in any of the Futera sets - none of Vernon Wells, Kevin Millwood or Gary Mathews, Jr are in any of the sets. Probably the biggest names in the Futera sets are John Jaha, Troy O'Leary, Paul Loduca, Greg Jelks and Homer Bush.

Card Of The Week January 30

I was kind of amused the other day to read that Marc Kroon was changing what kind of Giant he was - he's leaving the Yomiuri Giants to return to the States and join the San Francisco variety. Here's his 2008 BBM 2nd Version card (#542):

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Card Of The Week January 23

I mentioned in my write up of the BBM 20th Anniversary set that the "Great Records & Highlights" subset included cards for everyone who reached 2000 hits in the past 20 years except for Norihiro Komada. That's not completely true - the card for Tomoaki Kanemoto is commemorating his consecutive innings played streak (I think) instead of his reaching 2000 hits, and there may have been someone who reached 2000 hits in the 90's that I missed. But it is true that there's no card commemorating Komada in the subset. BBM did, however, see fit to commemorate the event in their 2001 set (#525):

It's kind of funny - the first baseball card set I collected as a kid was the 1975 Topps set. The set included a "Record Breaker" card for Al Kaline who had reached 3000 hits towards the end of the 1974 season. He retired at the end of the season, so the "Record Breaker" card was his only card in the 1975 Topps set - he didn't have a "regular" card. The 2001 BBM set was the first Japanese set I collected - this "Memorial Record" card of Komada was his only card in the set as he had retired following the 2000 season. Seems kind of symmetrical to me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2010 BBM Nippon Series

Once again, BBM completes their card line for the year with the annual Nippon Series box set. This year's set features a whopping 71 cards including all the players (and managers) from the Champion Chiba Lotte Marines and the Chunichi Dragons. There's also a card depicting the victorious Marines (#S71 shown above), a card for the Series MVP ((Toshiaki Imae), one for the Fighting Spirit award winner (Kazuhiro Wada), and cards for each of the Outstanding Player award winners (Tatsuya Uchi, Ikuhiro Kiyota, Yohei Oshima).

I think this is the largest Nippon Series set ever as a couple extra inning games in the Series forced each team to got deep into their benches. There are 32 Marines depicted, including a number (Takuya Furuya, Kei Hosoya, Takumi Kohbe, Ryusuke Minami, Shunichi Nemoto, Yoshifumi Okada and Hayden Penn) who did not appear in either the 1st or 2nd Version sets. There are 33 Dragons which included three guys who didn't appear in the 1st or 2nd Version sets - Naomichi Donoue, Takehiro Donoue and Yuichi Hisamoto.

The set design is nice and BBM did their usual good job of picking photos for the cards. Every picture is from the actual Series. Here's some example cards of Motonobu Tanishige(#S49), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (#S19), Kazuya Fuukura (#S21) and Tony Blanco (#S55):

2011 Hall Of Fame Class

Last week, the Japanese Baseball Hall Of Fame unveiled their 2011 inductees, former Orion, Dragon, Giant and Fighter slugger and current Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai and former Nankai Hawks pitcher Mutsuo Minagawa.

I've featured cards of Ochiai in a number of posts, as he is one of my favorite players. Following his retirement as a player in 1998, BBM included a 5 card "Ochiai Special" subset, featuring one card of him with each of his four teams as well as a card of him in a suit. Here's the plain clothes card of him (#548):

I don't have many cards of Minagawa. He doesn't show up in many of the BBM OB sets other than the 2008 Hawks 70th Anniversary set, although he's in one of the recent Epoch All Japan Baseball Foundation sets. Here's his card from the 2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball set (#096):

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2010 BBM Premium Malts

Another set from last fall that I'm just now getting around to talking about is the 2010 BBM Premium Malts set. This is a 54 card box set (53 player cards plus one memorabilia card) featuring the players who were involved in the annual Premium Malts old timers game last summer. Some of the bigger names involved (and included in the set) are Eiji Bandoh, Suguru Egawa, Norihiro Komada, Masumi Kuwata, Randy Bass, Yutaka Enatsu, Isao Harimoto, Osamu Higashio, Shinji Sasaoka, and Koji Yamamoto. The late Keiji Ohsawa appears in the set, as the game was held about three months prior to his death in October. Here's some sample cards of Osamu Higashio (#06), Randy Bass (#11), Shinji Hata (#43) and Shigeki Sano (#52):

It's not a bad little set and I like this year's design better than last year's. I'm not sure that I'm going to need a third one of these, however.

2011 BBM Rookie Edition

BBM announced recently that this year's Rookie Edition set would be released in February. For those who aren't familiar with it, the annual "Rookie Edition" set is a draft pick set featuring the players selected in last falls draft. The set will have 109 cards - 97 for the newly drafted players and 12 for active players (one per team). There's two insert sets - a 24 card "Next Generation" set featuring active players (2 per team I assume) and a two card "Rookie Of The Year" set. There are also possible autograph cards for OB players (of former Tokyo Big 6 players?) and parallel signature versions of the draft pick cards. And yes, Yuki Saitoh is in the set, so it'll be selling like hotcakes.

(Which reminds me - Deanna confirmed what I suspected - now that Yuki Saitoh has graduated, BBM will no longer be doing the Tokyo Big 6 sets.)

Card Of The Week January 16

Thought I'd show one more card from the 2010 BBM 20th Anniversary set. Some of the cards of the active Giants show them wearing these kind of strange uniforms. I think they were some sort of fan designed uniform for a handful of games last summer. Here's Shun Tohno's card (#109):

Friday, January 14, 2011

2010 BBM 20th Anniversary Set

Still catching up on some BBM sets from last fall...

BBM released a 252 card 20th Anniversary set in September. The set contains four subsets - 108 cards (9 per team) OB players (active after 1991 obviously), 108 (also 9 per team) active players, 9 cards for "Great Field Managers" and 27 cards for "Great Records & Highlights".

The OB players include nine players who are still active but played in the US in 2010: Kosuke Fukudome, Kenshin Kawakami, Kei Igawa, Hiroki Kuroda, Ryota Igarashi, Akinori Iwamura, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui and Koji Uehara, plus Shingo Takatsu who I think was playing in Korea. (As an aside - I'd really like to know how BBM arrives at which MLB players get in the sets. Ichiro appeared in last year's Orix 20th Anniversary set and Daisuke Matsuzaka was in the recent Lions 60th Anniversary set, but neither appears here. Why?) The current players are about who you'd expect for each team. The bad thing about breaking the players up this way is that there's no "regular" card for Takuro Ishii - he's not OB so he doesn't show up with the OB Baystars and he's not a major enough player for the active Carp. Kimiyasu Kudoh falls into a similar situation.

Here's a couple sample cards for Kazuhiro Sasaki (#030) and Kenji Johjima (#120):

I think the photo on Sasaki's card is from the 1998 Nippon Series (given that there are Lions in the background).

One of the cool things about the set is that the back of each card features the player's rookie card. As you might expect, the 1991 set is represented quite a bit in the OB subset, but it looks to me that each one of all 20 possible years appear on at least one card, including 2009 (Tony Blanco) and 2010 (Masato Nakazawa). (I think there are only 1st Version sets represented for 2002-2010.) Here's the back of Kenji Johjima's card showing his 1995 rookie card:

The nine card "Great Field Managers" subset features Sadaharu Oh, Shigeru Nagashima, Hiroshi Gondoh, Tatsunori Hara, Senichi Hoshino, Masataka Nashida, Hiromitsu Ochiai, Akira Ohgi and Tsutomu Wakamatsu. I was curious how many of the 19 Nippon Series Championships from 1991 to 2009 (the set came out prior to the 2010 Series) were won by this group of managers. I think it's 10 - two each by Oh (99,03), Nagashima (94,00), Hara (02,09) and one each by Ohgi (96), Gondoh (98), Wakamatsu (01), and Ochiai (07). Hoshino and Nashida have never won one. The remaining nine championships were won by Trey Hillman (06), Bobby Valentine (05), Tsutomo Itoh (04), Hisanobu Watanabe (08), Masaaki Mori (91 & 92) and Katsuya Nomura (93, 95, and 97). Nomura is the most glaring omission here, but he hasn't shown up in an OB set for a while now. Here's the Wakamatsu card (#222):

The "Great Records & Highlights" subset has kind of an odd breakdown of events. You'd think that given 27 cards to cover a 20 year stretch in baseball history that the events covered would be more or less evenly distributed. You'd be wrong. For the first 10 years covered, there's only seven cards, leaving 20 to cover from 2001 to 2010. I can't say I know enough to know what's missing, but I do think it's odd that it seems that everyone who reached 2000 hits since 1991 (Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Atsuya Furuta, Kenjiro Nomura, Takuro Ishii, Yukio Tanaka, and Tomonori Maeda) got cards commemorating it in this subset except Norihiro Komada. And while Hiromi Makihara's perfect game in 1994 shows up, the Daisuke Yamai/Hitoki Iwase one to clinch the 2007 Nippon Series championship (first one for Chunichi since 1954) doesn't. But Satoru Komiyama's retirement ceremony does. Just kind of a weird mix. This is how BBM slipped a couple guys in (like Ishii and Kudoh) who didn't have "regular" cards in the set. Here's Takuro Ishii's card (#244):

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Card Of The Week January 2

I've been meaning to get a post done for the new Australian Baseball League for a month or so now but I just haven't gotten around to it. Both the Giants and the Hawks sent a handful of players to play in the league, but I think they all came home just before Christmas. The biggest name of the Japanese players is Yoshiyuki Kamei of the Giants who was on Japan's World Baseball Classic team in 2009. At the point that he left, he was leading the league with a ridiculous .438/.500/.839 line (although he no longer has enough plate appearances to qualify for these categories) along with 7 home runs and 25 RBIs (still best in the league although it looks like his Melbourne Aces teammate Andrew Russell is about to pass him).

Here's Kamei's 2005 BBM Giants card (#G060):