Monday, February 27, 2012

The Shirt

One of my all time favorite movies is The Big Lebowski.  There's a scene in the movie where The Dude (Jeff Bridges) is wearing a shirt showing a baseball player along with a couple Japanese characters.  Jeff Bridges apparently really likes this shirt as he's worn it in a least two other movies:

The baseball player in question is Kaoru Betto, "The Gentleman Of Baseball".  Betto played for the Osaka Tigers (1948-49) and Mainichi Orions (1950-57) and was one of the first power hitters in Japan.  He managed the Orions for a number of years in the 50's (including while he was still playing) and later managed the Buffaloes, the Carp and the Whales.  (He also attended Keio University from 1940-46, spending some time in the Navy during the war.)  Here's a couple cards from his career:

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big Six #021

1948(?) Unknown Bromide

1952 Yamakatsu JBR-28

1979 TCMA #50
I think that the characters on the shirt translate to something like "Strongly Influential" but I'm just getting that from looking around on the web.  What I'd really like to know is - what's the deal with the shirt originally?  Why did someone somewhere originally decide to put a picture of Betto on a shirt?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Card Of The Week February 26

Former Lion GG Satoh has signed to play in Italy this year with Fortitudo Bologna.  (I'm a little amused at the fact that the article on the team's website shows a card of him from the 2008 Seibu 30th Anniversary set - hmm, wonder where they got the scan from?)  It's been a bit of a decline for Sato the past few years.  He was the #1 Vote Getter for the 2008 All Star games, but after a very productive three season from 2007-09, he only appeared in 53 games for the ichi-gun Lions in 2010 and didn't make an appearance at all with the big team in 2011.

Here's his rookie card, from the 2004 BBM 1st Version set (#61):

Oddly enough, despite being his Japanese rookie card, this isn't the first card he ever had.  It turns out that he signed with the Phillies out of college and spent 2001-03 in their minor league system.  He appears in the 2001 and 2002 Batavia Muck Dogs sets and the 2003 Lakewood Blue Claws set.  I don't have any of these sets (I stopped collecting minor league sets after 2001) but I was able to find a scan of one of his cards (2002) from an auction on eBay:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yasuhiko Kawamura

Former Chunichi Dragons pitcher Yasuhiko Kawamura has passed away at age 71.

1964 Morinaga Standup

2006 BBM Dragons 70th Anniversary Autograph

2011 BBM Dragons 75th Anniversary #23

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bad News

Just discovered today that Gary Garland will be shutting down the Japan Baseball Daily website.  Thankfully, he's not shutting it down immediately - he's going to stop updating it following this season and take it off line at the end of the 2013 season.

Japan Baseball Daily has been an invaluable resource to me and many others and it will be a sad day when it goes dark.  If I haven't said it publicly before (and even if I have) thank you, Gary, for all the work you've done on your site.  Both you and it will be sorely missed.

I wonder if it would be possible for some place like Baseball-Reference to import Gary's data.  It would really be a shame for it all to go away.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

2012 BBM "Strongest Generation" set

The first set issued by BBM each year is their "Historic Collection" set.  This year's edition is entitled "Strongest Generation" (or something like that).

Typically in the past, the "Historic Collection" sets haven't really had any subsets - just a 144 card set split between 72 cards for OB players and 72 cards for active players.  This year's set is a little different.  BBM decided to highlight particular years - either debut year, draft year or year of birth for players.  Each highlighted year is its own subset.  There are six cards for players who debuted in 1958, 15 cards for players born in 1947, 12 cards for players drafted in 1968, nine cards for those born in 1955, nine for ones born in 1965, six for players born in 1967, 12 for those drafted in 1989, 12 for those born in 1973, 24 for those born in 1980, 24 for those drafted in 2005 and (finally) 15 for those born in 1988.  Despite these subsets, the set still follows the established tradition of there being 72 cards for OB players and 72 cards for active players (and the 72 cards for the active players breaks down to 6 cards per team as usual also).

A quick aside here - the NBP draft is held in the fall every year (or at least it has lately, I don't know if it has for its entire history).  Since the draft is for players entering pro ball the following season, it's always labelled with that year, not the actual calendar year it has occurred in.  So for example, the draft that just took place four months ago in 2011 was the 2012 draft.  For the purposes of this set, however, BBM is treating the drafts by their calendar year, so the 1968, 1989 and 2005 "Draft Pick" subsets are for what are commonly referred to as the 1969, 1990 and 2006 drafts.

It's kind of an odd set.  It includes a lot of big names for OB players (Koji Yamamoto, Hiromitsu Kadota, Hisashi Yamada, Atsuya Furuta, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Yukio Tanaka, Yutaka Fukumoto, Keishi Suzuki, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Masumi Kuwata) and a lot of the younger NBP stars and prospects (both Yuki Saitohs, Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda, Hirokazu Sawamura) as well as some of the more established stars (Shuichi Murata, Michihiro Ogasawara, Tsuyoshi Wada), but because of the years being featured there's naturally going to be stars left out of the set (no Sadaharu Oh or Yu Darvish for example).  What is odd is that like the Legend Of The Tokyo Big Six set, there's no card for Shigeo Nagashima, despite the fact that he debuted in 1958.  I was also kind of surprised to see that despite the fact that the "Matsuzaka Generation" was one of the highlighted birth years, Daisuke Matsuzaka was not included in the set either (I don't think any of the Japanese players who played in MLB in 2011 were included in the set - Ichiro was born in 1973 so he's another notable exclusion).

I have to say that I find the cards a little ugly this year.  The design seems to crowd the photos a lot and makes them look a tad claustrophobic.  You can take a look at all of them at Jambalaya and see for yourself.  Here's a couple sample cards:


Card Of The Week February 19

A couple of weeks ago when I did the write up on Norichika Aoki, I mentioned that I didn't have either his 2004 BBM Rookie Edition card or his 2004 BBM 1st Version rookie card.  Through the wonders of eBay, I have rectified that problem:

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #61

2004 BBM 1st Version #308

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Historic College sets

Last fall, BBM issued two separate OB sets for university leagues. One celebrated the 80th Anniversary of the Tohto University Baseball League while the other was for the Tokyo Big Six league (although apparently not for any specific celebration).

The Tohto University Baseball League was founded in 1930.  I'm guessing that they shut down for a year or so during the war which is why they are celebrating their 80th Anniversary in either 2011 or 2012.  BBM's set is a 99 card pack based set featuring 45 cards of alumni that are former NBP players and 45 cards of alumni that are active NBP players.  There is also a nine card "Great Records" subset showing players who have set some sort of record in the league (it's not entirely clear to a non-Japanese reader like myself exactly what the records are).

There are 21 teams in the league, but only a handful of them are represented in the set.  Here's a breakdown of the number of cards for each included team in the OB and active portions of the set:

Aoyama Gakuin111

Players featured in the set include Norihiro Akahoshi, Shingo Takatsu, Hiromichi Ishige, Kenjiro Nomura, Hisanori Takahashi and Hiroki Kuroda in the former NBP subset and Tadahito Iguchi, Hiroki Kokubo, Nobuhiro Matsuda, Shinnosuke Abe and Hirokazu Sawamura in the active subset.  There's a card of Ochiai - but it's Eiji Ochiai of Nihon rather than Hiromitsu Ochiai of Toyo.  Other than Ochiai, the biggest name I see missing from the players is Hall of Famer Takehiko Bessho, who attended Nihon (but I'm not clear if he actually played for them) around 1941.  The earliest player in the set is Chou's Yoshio Anabuki, who played for them from 1952 to 1955 before joining Nankai.

There's a lot of black and white photos in the set - pretty much anyone before the late 1970's-early 1980's  in in black and white.

I really like the card design - very sparse and simple.  Here's some sample cards but you can look at all of them over at Jambalaya:






The Tokyo Big Six League was founded in 1925, although the universities in the league were playing against each other earlier than that (the Waseda-Keio rivalry started in 1903).

BBM's Legend Of The Tokyo Big Six set is a 108 card pack based set featuring 81 cards of OB alumni, 18 cards of active in NBP alumni and a nine card "Legendary Record" subset.  Like the Tohto set, it's not entirely clear what the Records being commemorated are.  Unlike the Tohto set, some of the players in the subset do not have "regular" cards in the rest of the set.

Here's a breakdown of the cards by team - Waseda is certainly well represented in the active subset:


There's an amazing collection of players included in the set.  The set has Koji Yamamoto, Koichi Tabuchi, Kaoro Betto, Seiichi Hoshino, Kenshin Kawakami, Shigeru Sugishita, Tatsuro Hirooka, Satoru Komiyama, Akinobu Okada, Kenichi Yazawa, Norichika Aoki, Atsunori Inaba, Yoshinobu Takahashi and Tsuyoshi Wada.  There are even guys from the 1920's and 1930's included in the set - Osamu Mihara, Shigeru Mizuhara, Tadashi Wakabayashi, and Hisanori Karita among others.  Some of the older photos aren't very good, but some of them are very clear.

The set includes a number of players who for whatever reason did not go on to have major careers in NBP - there's a couple guys who I think became TV announcers of some sort (Satoshi Kamishige and Kansuke Ohkoshi).  There's also a trio of little known Hall Of Famers - Tokichiro Ishii, Saburo Miyatake and Minoru Yamashita were all enshrined for their performances in college and contributions to the amateur game more than anything they did in professional baseball.  And there are three guys included in the set who have actually appeared in the Tokyo Big Six sets BBM has done in recent years - Waseda alums Yuya Fukui, Tatsuya Ohishi and (of course) Yuki Saitoh.

I was stunned, however, to see that Shigeo Nagashima was not in the set.  (His son, Kazushige, who went to his father's alma mater Rikkio University is in the set.)  There's also a handful of pre-war Hall Of Famers like Katsuo Tanaka who aren't in the set either.

Like the Tohto set, most of the cards showing players from before the late 1970's are in black and white. Once again, you can see the entire set at Jambalaya, but here's some sample cards:









Sunday, February 12, 2012

Card Of The Week February 12

Just finished reading Rob Fitts' new book "Banzai Babe Ruth" (which was released in late January instead of the previously announced data of March 1st).  Very interesting book - I read it in less than a week (which is quick for me) as it was difficult to put down.

One of the many tidbits that I learned while reading the book was about Victor Starrfin, one of the more interesting guys in NBP history.  Starrfin was born in Russia in 1916 and his father was an officer in the czar's Imperial Guard.  After fighting on the losing side of the Russian Revolution, the Starrfin family eventually escaped from Russia to Hokkaido.  Once settled in Japan, Starffin began playing baseball in school and by the time of the 1934 US tour he was one of the top high school players in the country.

Because the Japanese team had been unable to defeat the American team during the tour there was mounting pressure on the tour's organizers to recruit Starffin for the team.  Since the Department Of Education had decreed that any amateur player who played in games against professionals would then be ineligible to play in high school or college, Starrfin's joining the team would make him give up his dreams of leading his team to Koshien in 1935 and then playing for Waseda.  So understandably, he decided to decline the invitation to join.

The organizers reacted by sending a gangster to Hokkaido to look for Starffin (ostensibly to attempt to buy his agreement).  Fans of his school team ended up hiding the family from the gangster.  What finally worked, however, was that the organizers used influence in the government to begin the deportation process for Starrfin's father who was in prison for murdering his mistress.  Since the deportation would be a death sentence for his father, Victor finally agreed to join the All Nippon team.

The postscript to this story is that after all this trouble to get Starffin to join the team - threatening his father's life and forcing him to give up his future plans, Starffin only appeared in one game in the tour - in Omiya on November 29, 1934.  He pitched one inning, striking out one and walking two.

Starrin would go on to an outstanding career in professional baseball in Japan, becoming the first pitcher to reach 300 wins in a career that would last until 1955.   Here's a card of him from the 2004 BBM Golden Arms set (#001), showing him in the uniform of a somewhat obscure team called Pacific in 1946 - this team would become the Robins in 1947 and eventually merge with the Whales in 1952:

2012 BBM 1st Version

BBM officially released information about this year's 1st Version set on Friday and I'm disappointed.  At 443 cards, the regular set is only 25 cards larger than last year's set (which was the smallest 1st Version set ever).  Once again, there will only be 27 player and manager cards per team (for a total of 324 cards), 34 statistical leader cards, 19 Best 9 cards (actually, last year's set only had 18 Best 9 cards since there was no 2010 CL Best 9 1st baseman), 18 Golden Glove cards and 12 team checklist cards.  Instead of the annual Rookie/Future Star subset (12 cards last year called "Recommended Hope 2011"), this years set features a 36 card (3 per team) "Cross Blaze" subset that I think is another crossover subset that will be continued in other sets (like the "Cross Stream" subset in the 2010 sets).  There are also three 12 card insert sets (1 card per team) called "Leading Player", "Rookie" and "Lightning".  There will be memorabilia cards available and signature versions of the "Cross Blaze" cards along with parallel versions of a third of the regular player cards as well as the Best 9, Golden Glove, "Cross Blaze" and insert cards.

The design of the regular player cards looks very similar to last year's design.  And, as I had feared, BBM has dropped the number of cards per pack from 8 to 6, making it that much harder and more expensive to complete a set.

Up to the 2003 1st Version set, packs always had 10 cards, and generally there were 30 to a box, so a box contained 300 cards.  The packs for the 2003 2nd Version set only had nine cards - 270 cards in a box and every 1st and 2nd Version set since then has had 8 cards in a pack - 240 to a box.  Now there will only be 180 cards in a box - almost half of what the pre 2003 boxes had.  By doing this, they've managed to keep the price of a pack to roughly 200-210 yen.

The set will be out in mid-April.

Friday, February 10, 2012

2011 BBM Lions Classic Set

Since 2008, the Saitama Seibu Lions have had a handful of games each year dubbed "Lions Classic" games, where the team wears "Turn-Back-The-Clock" uniforms. Each season has featured a different era - 2008 was the 1950's Nishitestsu Lions, 2009 was the 1980's Seibu Lions, 2010 was the 1970's Taiheiyo Club Lions and 2011 was the 1951 Nishitetsu Lions.  BBM issued small box sets in 2008 and 2009 featuring cards of OB players from the featured era along with cards of the active players wearing the retro uniforms.  BBM included a subset in the Lions 60th Anniversary set for the 2010 Lions Classic games.

For 2011, BBM decided to create a whole new 99 card set celebrating all four years of Lions Classic games.  The set has eight different subsets - one subset including OB players from the featured era from each of the four seasons and one subset including active players wearing retro uniforms from each of the four seasons.  There are 9 active and 9 OB cards for the 2011 Classic, 9 active and 9 OB cards for the 2010 Classic, 12 active and 15 OB cards for the 2009 Classic and 12 active and 12 OB cards for the 2008 Classic.  There's also a 12 card subset featuring an active and an OB player.

As you might expect from a set with 42 cards of active players from the past four seasons, several players have multiple cards.  Takumi Kuriyama, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Takeya Nakamura and Hideaki Wakui appear in all four active subsets as well as the 12 card combination subset.  Many other players (including some of the OB players) appear in multiple subsets as well.

I like the fact that some of the OB players (like Yasuhiro Fukami and Takeshi Hibino) have not previous appeared in any of the recent Lions OB sets.  I don't like the fact that the photos on the combination subset cards are the same as the photos in the rest of the set - maybe BBM has done so many Lions OB sets recently that they've run out of photos.

Here's some sample cards (as always, you can see all of them here):










2011 BBM Marines 20th Anniversary Set

I'm a couple months late on these sets but I just got them in last week, so better late than never.

Last season, the Marines celebrated the 20th Anniversary of their move across Tokyo Bay from Kawasaki to Chiba. BBM issued a 99 card pack based set in early September to commemorate this. The set leads off with a seven card "Marines History" subset, followed by 28 cards for the 2011 Marines team. Next is a five card subset featuring the five former managers of the Marines (Akira Ejiri, Akihito Kondoh, Bobby Valentine, Soroku Kagisawa and (the other) Koji Yamamoto). Next is 45 cards of OB Marines players.  The set wraps up with a five card "Career Leader" subset and a nine card "Title Holder" subset - the latter one featuring Marines players who lead the league in something (or won an award) in a single season.

The 28 current Marines includes the manager (Norifumi Mishimura) and six guys who didn't make the 2011 BBM 1st or 2nd Version set (as Marines) - Jose Castillo, Makoto Imaoka, Naoki Matoba, Tadahiro Ogino, Yuta Ohmine and Tomohisa Ohtani.

The 45 OB players (as usual) includes both retired players and active former Marines - including Saburo, who was traded from the Marines to the Giants mid-season last year.  Other players in the subset are Benny Agbayani, Frank Bolick, Julio Franco, Koichi Hori, Hideki Irabu, Masahide Kobayashi, Satoru Komiyama, Tomohiro Kuroki, Seung Yuo Lee, Nate Minchey, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Brian Sikorski, and Brian Warren.  There's no one obvious to me that is missing, but I certainly could have missed someone.

Here's some sample cards (you can see all of them here):







Sunday, February 5, 2012

Card Of The Week February 5

Ebbets Field Flannels this week unveiled a couple of new hat and t-shirt designs related to NBP teams.  There's a 1940 Tokyo Giants hat, a 1966 Sankei Atoms hat and a 1963 Taiyo Whales t-shirt.  I thought this week I'd show someone wearing the logo that's on the Whales t-shirt - Haruyasu Nakajima from the 2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball set (#058):

Does anyone know what the symbol on the sleeve of the Whales t-shirt is?  I had wondered if it somehow indicated something about Kawasaki because they stopped having the symbol on the uniform when they moved to Yokohama in 1978, but it was on pre-1955 uniforms as well and I don't think the Whales were in Kawasaki prior to 1955.