Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Sports Card Magazine #106

The latest issue of Sports Card Magazine (#106) hit the newsstands in Japan last Saturday.  It's the usual mixed bag of articles and ads that are of limited appeal to non-Japanese readers.  The issue has a full color listing of all the BBM cards for Tomoyuki Sugano (around 54 in only a year and a half) along with nice full color ads for a bunch of new BBM releases, including 2nd Version, Giants, Dragons, 90's All Star Memories, 80th Anniversary Batters Edition, and the new team box sets for the Fighters, Lions, Tigers, and Hawks (2 different ones).  There's also ads for the new Dancing Heroine set (Mai), a box set for the Hawks cheerleaders (the Honeys) called "Honeys Flash!!" and a J-League set.  There's an actual article on the 80th Anniversary Batters Edition set in the "newsprint" section of the magazine (so it's in black and white).  There are checklists for a bunch of the new releases, including the 2nd Version set which will be out next week.  One thing I learned from the magazine is that the "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards in the 2nd Version set will be numbered separately from the rest of the set.  I'm assuming that they are still considered part of the base set but I don't know that for sure.

SCM rotates the checklist/price guides that appear in every issue.  This month's issue has non-BBM baseball issues - Calbees from 1973 on (with the exception of the 1977-79 issues) as well as Lotte, Tomy, Kanebo, Future Bee, Broccoli, Upper Deck and Epoch/OB Club as well as a couple issues I don't recognize off hand (someone did a Randy Bass set in 2000?).

The "Best Item Of This Month" is the BBM Pitchers Spirits Of Carp set and the "Best Card Of This Month" is the Daichi Ohsera autograph card from that set.  The Rookie cards on the "Hot List" are (in order) Daichi Ohsera (2014 BBM 1st Version), Allen Kuri (2014 BBM 1st Version), Yuki Matsui (2014 BBM 1st Version), Seiji Kobayashi (2014 BBM 1st Version), Masahiro Tanaka (2007 BBM 1st Version), Daichi Ohsera (2014 Calbee), Yuki Matsui (2014 Calbee), Daiki Tohmei (2014 BBM 1st Version), Tomoya Mori(2014 BBM 1st Version) and Yuta Yoshida (2014 BBM 1st Version).  Ohsera is well represented in the top 10 Autograph & Memorabilia cards at #1 (2014 BBM Carp), #3 (2014 BBM Carp with Takeru Imamura) and #4 (the aforementioned "Best Card" from the Spirits Of Carp set).  Masahiro Tanaka shows up twice on the list (#5 from the 2007 BBM Eagles set and #7 from the 2013 Genesis set) as does Shohei Ohtani (#6 and #9 which I think are both from the 2014 BBM Fighters set).  The remaining three cards are Yuki Matsui (#2 from the 2014 BBM Eagles set), football player Keisuke Honda (#8, don't know the set) and Tomoe Nonoyama (#10 from the 2014 BBM Dancing Heroine Hana set).

Of course, the best part of SCM is the baseball cards.  Once again there are twelve.  Six of them are the latest Cosmic Cross cards.  The other six are all bonus cards for the 2nd Version set.  Three of them are late signing foreign players - Rhiner Cruz and Zach Lutz from the Eagles, and Joey Butler from the Buffaloes.  The others are (I think) former Ikusei players who made their ichi-gun teams this year - Abner Abreu of the Lions, Yuya Iida of the Hawks and Kohei Mantani of the Baystars.

SCM #266 (2nd Version #697)

SCM #267 (2nd Version #698)

SCM #268 (2nd Version #699)

SCM #269 (2nd Version #700)

SCM #270(2nd Version #701)

SCM #271 (2nd Version #702)

I'm a little disappointed that they didn't have a card of Yulieski Gurriel but it's still pretty cool having bonus cards in the set.

UPDATE: YakyuBaka posted a list of all the player moves from the beginning of the season until today (the "Trade And New Contract" deadline).  The cut-off for BBM's 2nd Version set is usually around May 20.  The three new foreign players (Cruz, Lutz and Butler) all signed after that so none of them would have been expected to make 2nd Version.  Abreu's upgrade from ikusei status also came after that date but the other two players could have been included in the set (but weren't, not even in the 1st Version Update).

And looking at the ad in SCM for 2nd Version, I just now noticed that Yulieski Gourriel is included in the 1st Version update subset, so the deadline is more like June 2nd this year.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Card Of The Week July 27

There was a wild play in the bottom of the eighth in yesterday's Tigers-Carp game.  With the score tied at 5 each, the Carp had runners on second and third with one out.  Ryosuke Kikuchi was the batter and on the third pitch of the at bat (the first was a swinging foul and the second was a pitch out), he laid down a beautiful squeeze bunt.  The runner on third (Masato Akamatsu) scored without a throw and when Mauro Gomez, the Tigers 1st baseman threw to first in an unsuccessful attempt to put Kikuchi out, Shogo Kimura (the runner on second who was already at third when Gomez reached the ball) broke for the plate.  He just beat the throw to score the second run of the inning.  The 7-5 score held up (despite the Tigers loading the bases in the top of the ninth) for a Carp victory.

The only video I could find (well, I didn't find it - Reddit NPB tweeted the link) is of the entire bottom of the eighth.  The squeeze play happens are 7:30 in the clip:

While it was an amazing play, it does highlight the NPB managerial philosophy of "bunt early and bunt often".  Carp manager Kenjiro Nomura actually attempted to bunt in three straight at bats - the first resulted in a walk by Kimura who was obviously squaring to bunt, the second was a successful sacrifice by Shota Dohbayashi to move Akamatsu and Kimura up and the third was the squeeze play.

Here's a 2012 card of Kikuchi from the Front Runner/Hiroshima Athlete Magazine Carp Starting Lineup set (#16):

Thursday, July 24, 2014

1988 IFT Round Menko

I am not generally a fan of round menko and I'm also not generally a fan of cards that show caricatures of players rather than pictures.  So I was kind of surprised at myself that I ended up kind of liking an odd little set from 1988, the IFT Round Menko set catalogued in Engel as JRM 29.

I'd seen these cards being offered on Ebay and I just kind of ignored them.  But I bought some Calbee cards from the same seller and he included a handful of them as a bonus.  I looked them up for the first time then and realized that Engel had given them a scarcity rating of "R5", the most scarce rating he has.  It indicates that only "3 or fewer copies are known of most cards".  I still wasn't sure I was that interested in them but when the seller put the complete 30 card set up for sale at $30 (with free shipping from Japan), I was intrigued.  When he put them on sale for $27, I decided to go for it.

And I'm actually glad I did.  I get a kick out of the cartoon drawings of the players.  The cards are small, less than an inch and a half in diameter.  The drawings of the players do not include the team logos.  Of the 30 players in the set, there's only one gaijin player (Carlos Ponce).  With the exception of a handful of players from the Seibu Lions (Koji Akiyama, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Hiromichi Ishige, Taigen Kaku), all of the players in the set are from the Central League.  Most of the big names from the time are in the set - Hiromitsu Ochiai, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Tatsunori Hara, Norihiro Komada, Masumi Kuwata, Takehiro Ikeyama among others.

Engel mentions that there's a metallic parallel issue for the set.  Most of the cards I got in the complete set are actually the parallel issues.  Some of them have gold foil on them and some have silver - I don't know if there are two different parallels or just the one.

Here's some examples:

Regular and Silver Parallels of Meishi Ro of the Giants

Koji Akiyama

Katsumi Hirosawa

Masumi Kuwata

Hiromitsu Ochiai
I think it's kind of funny that the caricature of Ochiai looks more like he does now than how he looked in 1988.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Alfredo Despaigne

The latest Cuban import to Japan is Alfredo Despaigne, who will likely make his debut with the Chiba Lotte Marines in the next week or so.  Despaigne actually started this season playing for Piratas de Campeche of the Mexican League but he was suspended for life from the league after it was discovered he was using a fake Domincan passport.  (Interestingly he is not the first Campeche player to move to the Pacific League this year - John Bowker started the season there before joining the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.)

Despaigne has had a pretty impressive career in Cuba, setting the single season home run record for Serie Nacional a few years back with 36 (breaking the record held jointly by Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes).  He played on the Cuban World Baseball Classic team in both 2009 and 2013 and well as their 2008 Olympic team.  He doesn't have many cards, however.  Jason has listed 17 cards over at Sports Card Forum's Inventory Manager but 14 of those are parallels.  He had a card in the 2009 Bowman Chrome WBC set (along with 11 parallels) and the 2013 Topps Tribute WBC set (along with three parallels).  He also appeared in the 2009 Konami WBC Heroes set in Japan.

2009 Bowman Chrome WBC #BCW50

2009 Konami WBC Heroes #W09R059

2013 Topps Tribute WBC #87
I'm not sure if Despaigne will have any cards in Japan this year.  It's way too late for him to show up in BBM's 2nd Version and the Marines' team set's been out for a month or so.  Calbee Series Three is probably the best possibility as that won't be released until mid-September (probably).

In addition to Despaigne, there's a fourth Cuban player coming to Japan shortly as well.  The Giants signed pitcher Hector Mendoza last week.  Mendoza is only 20 and did not play in last year's WBC.  His likelihood of getting a card this year is roughly the same as Despaigne's.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Card Of The Week July 20

During the first inning of yesterday's All Star game at Koshien, Fighters pitcher (and outfielder) Shohei Ohtani matched the all time NPB pitch speed record (held by Marc Kroon, then of the Baystars I think) of 162 kph (about 100 1/2 mph) twice.  Here's a video of the first time he did it - it's the second pitch in the video.  The first one was only 161 kph.

I find the NPB All Star games to be a lot more fun than the MLB one.  I think for the most part the players are pretty loose and just having a good time.  For example, in yesterday's game, Sho Nakata hit a ball to left that he thought was a home run but it stayed in the ballpark.  When he stopped at second on what turned out to be a double instead, he started doing pushups.  I don't think such a thing would have happened at the MLB game which has become a Very Serious Event in the last few years, because, you know, it means something.

A couple months back, Greg Dunn asked me if BBM had ever issued a card showing Ohtani both pitching and batting on the front.  At the time I didn't think they had but I later discovered (and obtained) this card from last year's BBM Young FIghters set (#YF01):

Friday, July 18, 2014

Calbee All Stars From 1975 And 1976

With the All Star break currently in full swing in Japan, I thought it might be fun to show some cards that commemorated earlier All Star games.  The huge (1472 cards!) 1975/76 Calbee set had two subsets or card series dedicated to All Star games.  According to Ryan's research, cards 1-36 in the set were dedicated to the 1975 All Star games, while cards 861-932 were for "All Star Game Participants" for the 1976 games.  I'm assuming that the pictures on these cards were taken during the respective All Star games but I probably don't have enough of either series to know for sure.

Most of the cards that I have are for the 1975 games and it looks like most of those are for Game 1, which was played on July 19 at Koshien.  The first card from this game is actually the first card in the 1975/76 set.  The picture must have been taken during pregame infield practice as you can see Shigeo Nagashima on the right hitting grounders.  The three players to his left are (from left to right) catchers Tatsuhiko Kimata of the Dragons, Koichi Tabuchi of the Tigers and Akihiko Ohya of the Swallows.  You can see the lower halves of the Pacific League players warming up at the top of the photo.

1975/76 Calbee #1

These next two cards show Tsutomu Wakamatsu of the Swallows and Sachio Kinugasa of the Carp batting respectively.  Katsuya Nomura of the Hawks is the catcher for the Pacific League.  Kinugasa hit two home runs in this game so it's possible that this photo is of him hitting one of them.

1975/76 Calbee #5

1975/76 Calbee #8

Kinugasa's teammate Koji Yamamoto also hit two home runs in this game.  This next card shows him scoring after one of them.  My best guess is that it was a three run homer that scored Wakamatsu (the #1 on the furthest left) and Taira Fujita (#6 on the right).  Sadaharu Oh is the other #1 in the picture and he was batting after Yamamoto (you can see he has a bat in his hand).  Once again, Nomura is the catcher (behind Wakamatsu).

1975/76 Calbee #11
Game 2 was played in Nagoya Stadium, the then-home of the Dragons, on July 20.  I only have one card worth showing from this game.  It shows the Pacific League players lined up for the pre-game ceremonies.

1975/76 Calbee #17
Meiji Jingu Stadium was the venue for Game 3 which was played on July 22.  Once again I really only have one card worth showing - this card shows Koichi Tabuchi hitting (with Nomura once again visible behind him).  Tabuchi went 0-3 in the game so whatever he did here was an out.

1975/76 Calbee #34
I've only got one really good card from the 1976 games.  This one is from Game 3 (played on July 20 at Osaka Stadium, then-home of the Nankai Hawks) and for a change shows a Pacific League batter - Bobby Marcano of the Hankyu Braves with Tabuchi catching behind him.  Marcano went 1-3 in the game with two strikeouts but it's really impossible to make any assumptions about this photo given that he hasn't swung at the ball yet.

1975/76 Calbee #883
I do have a couple other cards from both the 1975 and 1976 series but they only show one picture on the card so the there's nothing to really distinguish the card from a non-All Star card of the player.  Here's an example of one them - Yutaka Enatsu pitching in Game 3 of the 1976 All Star series:

1975/76 Calbee #901

UPDATE: Got some stuff in the mail today that included one additional card for Game 2 in 1975 - this one shows Senichi Hoshino (#20) walking towards Shigeo Nagashima.  I think that maybe this is a pregame shot but I really have no idea:

1975/76 Calbee #18

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Card Of The Week July 13

Last week was an auspicious week for two former Fukuoka Daiei/Softbank Hawk pitchers.  On Wednesday, Tsuyoshi Wada of the Chicago Cubs made his first major league appearance.  Wada had left the Hawks and Japan following the 2011 season and signed with the Baltimore Orioles, but Tommy John surgery needed during his first spring with the O's effectively prevented him from pitching in the majors for them during his two year contract.  He joined the Cubs this spring and had been pitching at their AAA team in Iowa until he was called up for the spot start on Wednesday in the second game of a day/night double header against the Reds.  He went five innings and gave up five hits, one walk and one unearned run while striking out three.

On Saturday night in Tokyo, Toshiya Sugiuchi of the Yomiuri Giants became the 22nd player in Japanese baseball history to record 2000 strikeouts.  He was also the fastest pitcher to reach the milestone, getting there in 1930 2/3 innings.  Sugiuchi had also departed the Hawks after the 2011 season, but he stayed in Japan and signed with the Giants.  (Sugiuchi's 2011-12 seasons paralleled Kimiyasu Kudoh's 1999-2000 seasons - both players won a championship with the Hawks in the first of the two seasons, then left the Hawks for the Giants and won a championship with Yomiuri in the second season).

Here's a card of the two of them with Hayato Terahara back when the three of them were young pitchers with the Hawks (2003 BBM Hawks #097):

Wada's on the left (#21), Sugiuchi is in back and Terahara is on the right (#20).  It's kind of funny how things work out - Terahara was actually the one who was hyped as the big prospect back in the 2002-03 time frame but he's mostly had a mediocre career, especially compared to the other two, who have two Pacific League MVPs and a Sawamura award between them.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Junzo Sekine

The rosters for the two NPB All Star games were announced last week and Shohei Ohtani of the Fighters made the team as a pitcher.  This is his second All Star selection as he had made the team last year as an outfielder.

Ohtani is the second player to make All Star teams as both a pitcher and a position player*.  The first was Junzo Sekine, who played for Kintetsu in the 1950's.

I will caveat this by saying that while Sekine and Ohtani were the only players who were SELECTED to the team as both a pitcher and a position player, they aren't the only ones to play both positions in All Star games.  Lions pitcher Kimiyasu Kudoh played outfield in one of the 1990 games after an injury left the PL short position players in an extra inning game and Ichiro famously pitched to one batter in one of the 1996 games.

Sekine attended Hosei University just after the war.  He pitched a 12 inning complete game loss to the San Francisco Seals in their tour of Japan in 1949.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #048

He joined the then Kintetsu Pearls in their inaugural at the request of their manager, Shozo Fujita.  Fujita had been Sekine's coach at Hosei.  He went 65-94 over the next eight seasons for a mostly lousy Kintetsu team (they finished 7th in the then seven team Pacific League from 1950-1953 and never finished higher than fourth during that time.  That fourth place finish in 1954 was the only time the team was over .500 until 1963).  He made the All Star team as a pitcher in 1953.

~1956 Bromide (might be JBR 42)
I'm not quite sure but I think an injury forced him off the mound after the 1956 season.  Although he made two pitching appearances in 1957, he played 120 games in the outfield.  He remained with Kintetsu through their name changes in 1958 (to "Buffalo" - singular) and 1962 (to "Buffaloes" - plural) until 1965 when he joined the Giants for the first season of their V9 run.  He made the All Star team as an outfielder four times between 1959 and 1963, missing out only in 1961.  He retired after that season.

1959 Marusan JCM 12a

1962 Doyusha JCM 55

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #086
Sekine is the only player in the "modern" two league system to have recorded 50 wins and 1000 base hits.  The only other player to do so, Michio Nishizawa, racked up his wins in the pre-1950 one league system.

Following his playing days, Sekine was a coach for the Carp (1970) and Giants (1975-76).  He also managed for six seasons in the 1980's - three with the Whales (1982-1984) and Swallows (1987-89).  He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2003.

2008 BBM Yokohama 30th Anniversary #03

2009 Epoch All Japan Baseball Foundation #33

Gary Garland's Japan Baseball Daily website may be gone, but you can still see it at the Wayback Machine Internet Archive and so I was able to use it to research this post.  I also used Sekine's page on the Japanese version of Wikipedia.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Card Of The Week July 6

Last Tuesday, the Fighters took a 5-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth against the Lions out at Seibu Dome.  That lead turned out not to be safe, however, as the Lions rallied in the bottom of the ninth.  After scoring a run on three singles (and a ground out), Shogo Saitoh sttepped in against Michael Crotta:

It was the first home run of Saitoh's career.  To add insult to injury, the ball landed in the middle of the Fighter's cheering section.  (I've been asked a couple of times if the Fighters fans threw the ball back onto the field - I don't know if they do that in Japan but I suspect not.)

This had been a pretty well hyped game as it pitted Yusei Kikuchi of the Lions against Shohei Ohtani o the Fighters (in his final pitching appearance as a teenager).  Neither pitcher factored in the decision although both pitched pretty well - Yusei gave up 1 run over six innings while Ohtani struck out 12, walked one and gave up two runs (only one earned) over seven innings.

Here's a card of Saitoh from the 2012 BBM Lions set (#L81) that celebrates his first career hit:

Thursday, July 3, 2014

More Late-80's Calbee Laziness

A few months back I had a discussion with Sean that lead to a post about some 1988 Calbee cards that appeared to feature pictures taken from a TV screen,  (He later did a post about a Bill Gullickson card from that set that also appeared to feature a picture taken from a TV screen.)  I recently picked up a bunch of Calbee cards from the 1980's from Ebay and as I was putting them away, I noticed that I had a couple cards from 1987 that also appeared to be photographs of TV screens:

1987 Calbee #377 Hiromitsu Ochiai

1987 Calbee #378 Carlos Ponce
The Calbee Collector's web page for 1987 shows a couple cards that he suspects as having TV images - one is the Ochiai card above and the other is card #376 of Suguru Egawa.  Since these three cards are in sequence, I'm kind of curious what the other cards around them look like.

Calbee's late-80's laziness does not appear to be limited to not wanting to send photographers to the ballpark.  Check out these two 1989 cards of Yukihiro Nishizaki of the Fighters:

1989 Calbee #157

1989 Calbee #217
You can almost hear the editor in Calbee's office going "Don't worry about it.  We'll just crop the photo differently.  No one will ever notice..."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Report From Lancaster

When we last saw Shunsuke Watanabe, formerly of the Chiba Lotte Marines, he was in spring training with the Red Sox.  He ended up getting released by the Red Sox before the end of spring training but he landed a roster spot with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League.

Lancaster, PA, is only about an hour's drive for me from my home in Maryland, so I was determined to get up there for a game and see if I could see him.  A variety of issues, however, delayed me from getting there until the Sunday of last weekend.  But that turned out to actually be a great game to see him at.

Watanabe started the season working out of the Barnstormers bullpen but moved into the starting rotation in mid to late May.  I had originally planned on going to last Saturday night's game but after checking the box scores of the last week or so's games, I realized that Watanabe would be starting on Sunday so I changed my plans.

Watanabe is the not the only ex-NPB player on the Barnstormer's roster.  Former Yakult Swallow farmhand Yusuke Kajimoto is the starting second baseman for the team and former Carp Fred Lewis was the starting left fielder until he went down with an injury a little while back.

My first surprise was when I arrived at the ballpark and took a look at the starting lineup that was posted just inside the main gate - Lewis was back from his injury.

The Barnstormers bullpen is in the right field corner.  The chairs for the pitchers are level with the front row of the stands but the area where the pitchers warm up is next to an area where the stands rise up to become a party pavilion.  I was able to stand up there while Watanabe was warming up and take this sequence of pictures using my camera's rapid shot sequence feature (or whatever it's called):

I had taken a couple baseball cards out with me to see if I could get them signed.  I didn't really expect to be able to get Watanabe's since he'd be preparing for the game and sure enough, I didn't.  I called out to him at one point when he was standing waiting for his catcher to come out but if he heard me, he ignored me.

I was able to get Yusuke Kajimoto's autograph on his 2002 BBM 1st Version card (his rookie card):

I got the autograph by using all the Japanese that I felt comfortable saying - I called out "Sumimasen Kajimoto-san" to him and held up the card.  He came over and signed it (with my Sharpie) and then I said "Arigato".  I almost called out "gambare" to Watanabe but I wasn't confident that I knew how to say it correctly.

My second surprise was when the teams lined up for the national anthem - Tomochika Tsuboi, formerly with the Tigers, Fighters and Buffaloes and San Rafael Pacifics, was on the team.  I had seen some comments on Facebook that hinted that he was somehow associated with the team but he wasn't actually activated on the roster until last week.

Once the game started, Watanabe was outstanding.  He went 5 1/3 innings, striking out eight and walking none.  He only gave up two hits - a triple to the second hitter of the game and a single (just beyond the glove of Kajimoto, who from the one game I saw has the range of a statue) and hit two batters.  I'm pretty sure he has a pitch limit of 80 because there really wasn't any good reason for him being lifted in the top of the sixth otherwise.  With one out, he'd hit a batter and given up the dribbler by Kajimoto.  At the time, the Barnstormers were up 2-0.  They would add an additional run in the bottom of the seventh.

Unfortunately for Watanabe, the wheels came off the Lancaster bullpen in the top of the eighth when the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs exploded for six runs.  Suddenly nobody could throw any strikes which is a common problem in indy ball - if the pitchers could throw strikes consistently, they probably wouldn't be in indy ball.  The Blue Crabs bullpen showed problems of its own in the bottom of the ninth when Cole Garner tied the game with a two out three run homer (one of the players who scored was Tsuboi who had entered the game as a pinch runner).  The Barnstormers bullpen was unable to hold the line, however, and coughed up another six runs in the top of the tenth.  The final score was 12-6 with 15 of the 18 runs in the game being scored in the final three innings.  The box score and game summary can be found here.

One final Asian player entered the game for the Barnstormers in the top of the tenth - former Detroit Tigers pitcher and member of the 2009 Chinese Taipei World Baseball Classic team Fu-Te Ni.

I took pictures with both my Kodak camera (an EasyShare Z712 IS) and my iPhone.  You can probably tell which pictures I took with which camera.  The battery was going in the Kodak so I couldn't take as many pictures with it as I would have liked.  Here's a couple more - one of Watanabe on the mound and one of Kajimoto batting:

Hopefully I will get another chance to get up there this season.  I'll try to pick a game that Watanabe is not pitching so that maybe I'll be able to get an autograph.  I'll also make sure I have a Tsuboi card as well.  (I'm not a big autograph collector but if I get an opportunity, I like to take it.)