Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Rookie Story

I was intrigued by something that Larry Fuhrmann had told me a while back regarding how card companies treated rookies before BBM came along so I decided to do a little research.  Larry had said that the card companies (Calbee in particular) pretty much refused to print cards of rookie players as they felt they needed to "earn their stripes".  One of the things that Larry insisted that BBM do when they started publishing cards was to include rookies.

Larry had pointed out Hideo Nomo as a prime example of Calbee refusing to print cards of rookies.  Nomo was the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 1990, going 18-8 with 287 strikeouts but Calbee did not include a card for him in the 1990 set.  Calbee's 1990 set was issued in four series and it looks like the last series is made up entirely of players from the two 1990 Nippon Series teams so it's not like the player selection was set in stone before the season started.  I did a little looking around at some of the "hot rookies" of the 1980's and confirmed that Larry was correct about Calbee - Tatsunori Hara, Masumi Kuwata and Kazuhiro Kiyohara's first Calbee cards came the year after their debut season.  Hara and Kiyohara had Takara cards in their rookie seasons as did Nomo.

I got curious then about the early BBM sets.  I've always found it curious that while the 1993 BBM set contains the rookie cards of both Hideki Matsui and Ichiro Suzuki, only Matsui is labelled by BBM as a rookie (i.e. the word "Rookie" appears on the front of the card).  So I started looking into which cards were labelled "Rookie" in the first few BBM sets.

What I found was not particularly surprising once I started thinking about it.  In the 1991 BBM set, there are by my count 30 players that are labelled as "Rookie".  All 30 players were drafted in the fall 1990 draft.  Six teams (Blue Wave, Buffaloes, Carp, Fighters, Swallows and Whales) have their top three draft picks represented in the set.  The Giants, Hawks, Orions and Tigers had just their top two picks included while the Dragons had their first, second and fifth picks included and the Lions had only their second round pick included.

1991 BBM #259
The 1992 BBM set contained 35 rookie cards - the top three picks for each team from the fall 1991 draft with the exception of the Lions who only included their top two picks.  The Lions fell into line for the 1993 set as all twelve teams had their top three picks from the fall 1992 draft included (for a total of 36 rookie cards).

So why is Matsui's 1993 card labelled a rookie card but Ichiro's isn't?  Matsui was taken with the Giants first pick in the 1992 draft but Ichiro was taken in the fourth round of the 1991 draft.  (This actually brings up a whole new category of "lost cards" - guys from the 1990-1992 drafts who did not appear in the 1991-1993 BBM sets.  Right off the top of my head there would be 1991 cards of Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, Arihito Muramatsu and Takanori Suzuki and 1992 cards of Ichiro, Norihiro Nakamura, Tomoaki Kanemoto, Shinjiro Hiyama and Daisuke Miura (Ichiro, Nakamura, Kanemoto and Hiyama were all fourth round picks that year - what an incredible round!).  This would be a great addition to the next BBM Classic set.)

For the 1994 set, BBM included cards of all the players taken in the fall 1993 draft and they've pretty much included all the players from the previous fall's draft in every flagship set (at least the 1st Version ones) since then.  One implication of this is that BBM now rarely has a rookie card for a player that is not labelled as such.

1 comment:

Ryan G said...

And that's what 2016 BBM Historic Collection - or at least a future OB-focused set - will now be called: Rookie Story...

Unsurprisingly, most Japanese card stores assign premiums to cards labeled "Rookie" regardless of the player's ability. The guy could have had 1 hit in 97 at bats with 47 errors in the field, but his rookie still has a higher price than regular veterans' cards from the set.

Even today in Japanese business society, new employees are at the absolute bottom rung of the ladder, and there is a large amount of reported hazing going on. My school-age students refer to older members of their clubs and sports teams as "sempai" which basically means mentor.

And I'm sure there are a lot of sports teams which play their senior members and make better underclassmen ride the bench.

On the other hand, there are too many rookies. I actually like MLB's RC rule. Granted, NPB doesn't have as extensive a draft or farm system. And I like the idea of the team sets BBM issues because it provides an opportunity for every player on the roster to get a card.