I started seriously collecting Japanese baseball cards in the fall of 2000. One of my first sources for cards was the online store YakyuShop.com (which has been gone now for a number of years). I used to buy a lot of unopened packs from them, especially packs from a set BBM had just released that fall - the 20th Century Best 9 set*. I decided early on that I would attempt to complete this set. Not only that, I wouldn't be satisfied with the base set, I wanted the master set, or at least the base set plus the two insert sets.
*I'm actually not positive what this set should be called. Engel refers to it as the "20th Century Best 9" set so that's what I'm calling it here. But those words don't appear on the packaging at all (at least not in English). I've got the set in my database simply as "20th Century" and the packaging implies that the set is called "20th Century - The Best Players".
Little did I realize that the set was going to take me 14 years to complete! Actually, I don't know how long it will take me to complete because I'm still short one insert card. But with the help of Ryan (the most recent in a line of several people who have helped me out), I have finally completed the base set (to go along with an insert set I had completed a few years back via my first ever order with kuboTEN). So I think it is finally time to do a post about this set, which is probably my favorite historic set ever.
According to Engel, in 2000 someone (probably NPB itself) had a fan vote to determine the Best 9 team for the 20th Century (similar to the MLB All Century Team although the NPB team would feature only one player per position). BBM released this set in conjunction with the vote featuring (I assume) all 120 players on the ballot. But BBM did not do a simple 120 card set - each player on the ballot would have four cards in the set for a whopping 480 card set! In fact, the base set contains 484 cards as there are four unnumbered checklist cards as well.
The 120 players featured in the set are an amazing collection of the greatest players in NPB up to 2000. The big names that you would expect are all in the set - Oh, Nagashima, Katsuya Nomura, Masaichi Kaneda (kind of - more about that in a minute), Sachio Kinugasa, Tetsuharu Kawakami, Tsutomu Wakamatsu, Kazuhisa Inao, Isao Harimoto, Koji Yamamoto, Hiromitsu Kadota, Yutaka Enatsu and Hiromitsu Ochiai. There are a large number of players from before 1950, including players who played both pre-war and during the war, guys like Eiji Sawamura, Masaru Kageura (first cards ever for Kageura I think), Victor Starffin, Jiro Noguchi and Tadashi "Bozo" Wakabayashi. Foreign players are well represented including Wally Yonamine, Warren Cromartie (kind of), Leron Lee, Ralph Bryant and Boomer Wells. Harris McGalliard (real name was Andrew McGalliard and he played in Japan under the name "Bucky Harris"), an American who played a for a couple teams for a few years in the 1930's (he was MVP of the 1937 Fall season), is included in the set - I think these are the only four baseball cards of him ever made. There's also a large number of players who were active in 2000 (including two that were still active in 2014) in the set - Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui, Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Koji Yamamoto, Akira Etoh, Hiroki Kokubo, Tuffy Rhodes, Bobby Rose and Tsutomu Itoh among others. Two other players who were active in MLB in 2000 are included in the set - Hideo Nomo (kind of) and Kazuhiro Sasaki.
The fronts of all the cards use the same design but the backs differ. Cards 1-120 have a biography of the player on the back. Cards 121-240 have the player's career stats. Cards 241-360 have a summary of awards and statistical titles for the player. Cards 361-480 have a summary of the uniform numbers that the player wore. Here are the backs of all four Sadaharu Oh cards as an example:
Here's a bunch of example cards:
I mentioned above that Masaichi Kaneda, Warren Cromartie and Hideo Nomo were "kind of" in the set. All three of them have cards, but BBM was not able to actually get the rights to use their pictures in the set. So 12 of the cards look something like this:
48 of the cards in the set (all featuring black and white photos) had a parallel version. The parallel cards featured a sepia toned photo and a gold embossed bar in place of the black bar on the bottom of the front of the card. The backs were also sepia toned rather than the original colors.
The other insert set is called "The Scene" and it features eight significant moments in Japanese baseball history up to that point - Yutaka Enatsu striking out nine PL batters in one of the 1971 All Star games (in which the Central League had a combined no hitter against the Pacific League), Shigeo Nagashima's retirement in 1974, Sadaharu Oh passing Henry Aaron in 1977 (the one card I still don't have), Isao Harimoto reaching 3000 hits in 1980, Keishi Suzuki getting his 300th win in 1984, Yutaka Fukumoto getting his 1000th stolen base in 1984, Sachio Kinugasa's consecutive game streak passing Lou Gehrig's in 1987 and Ichiro becoming the first player to get 200 hits in an NPB season in 1994.
I want to thank everyone who has helped me put this set together over the years - YakyuShop, Rob Fitts, Jason, Sean, Ryan and Mint Ikebukuro. I also used Gary Engel's "Japanese Baseball Cards Checklist And Price Guide" in writing this post.