Wednesday, February 1, 2023

First 2023 Sets

It's February 1st, training camps have opened in Japan and it's time to talk about the first 2023 baseball cards sets that have been announced.  So without further ado...

- BBM's first baseball card set for the year actually looks back at last year.  It's a box set called "Munetaka Murakami Shin-ka" and commemorates Murakami's awesome 2022 season.  There are 58 cards in the box - a 57 card base set plus one "special insert card".  There's a base set card for each of Murakami's 56 home runs last year along with a card celebrating him winning the Triple Crown.  The "special insert card" is possibly a foil signed parallel card, a 3-D card, a jersey card or an autographed card.  BBM is only making 4000 of the boxes and they have an MSRP of 5500 yen (around $43).  I'll be curious what the unopened boxes go for on the secondary market as it looks like the sets are already sold out, at least at Discount Niki and Mint-Web.  The set will be released in early February.

- Rookie Edition, BBM's annual draft pick set, will be out later in the month.  This is a pack-based set containing 138 cards in its base set.  126 of those cards are for the players taken in last October's draft along with a 12 card "New Face" subset featuring young players from each team.  There are three insert sets - "Starting Point" (12 cards featuring a player from each team as a rookie), "Close Relationship" (6 cards each featuring two draftees who have some "relationship" such as having been high school teammates_ and "Rookie Of The Year" (2 cards featuring last year's Rookies Of The Year Taisei (Ota) and Yoshinobu Mizukami).  There are autographed cards available although autographs of the draftees are only available through exchange cards.  This set will contain the first cards for most of the draftees except for the players included in Panini's 2019 and 2020 USA Baseball Stars & Stripes sets, the Dragons and Swallows draftees who were featured on Epoch One cards last year and Gosuke Katoh.

- BBM's annual set for retiring players will be out in late February.  Once again the set will not only include baseball players but retiring athletes in other sports including sumo, track & field, boxing, soccer and softball among others.  The set is sold as a 41 card box set.  Each box will include the entire 39 card base set, one of 15 possible "Cheers!" insert cards (with parallel versions available) and one autographed card.  The set includes baseball players like Kosuke Fukudome, Yoshio Itoi, Tetsuya Utsumi, Chihiro Kaneko, Atsushi Nohmi and Tomotaka Sakaguchi.

- BBM has also announced that their initial flagship set for 2023 - 1st Version - will be out in late April.  The set appears to be following the same pattern it has since 2015, at least in how the base set breaks down.  There's the usual 324 player/manager cards (27 for each team), the 12 team checklist cards and the 36 "Cross Something" cards that will be continued in the 2nd Version set later in the year - this year the Something is "Moon".  That makes a total of 372 cards in the base set.  Nine cards for each team have several different facsimile autograph parallels.  There are also parallel versions for 69 of the rookie cards (or all the rookie cards).  There are three varieties of short printed photo variants - each team has a card with a rare "secret" version, a card with a rarer "ultra secret" version and a card with an even rarer "super ultra secret" version (and they could all possibly be variants for the same player).  There are two non-premium insert sets - "Future Stardom" (12 cards - one per team) and "Japonism" (12 cards - one per team and each a member of Samurai Japan) - and three serially numbered premium insert sets - "Amazing" (24 cards - two per team), "Cross Foil Signing" (6 cards - all members of the Giants) and "3D Cross Moon" (12 cards - one per team as you probably guessed).  Some of the insert sets will probably have parallel versions but I don't see anything about them yet.  There are memorabilia cards available for four different players although the only one actually named in Yoshinobu Yamamoto.  There will also of course be autographed cards available. 

- "216 Co., Ltd." (aka "Hits" and "TIC") will be releasing what appears to be their annual "mini shikishi" card set for the Hawks on April 1st.  There's 40 oversized cards available - 20 "normal" and 20 "special with foil autograph".  There's 20 players listed so everyone has a "normal" and a "special" card.  There are also autographed cards available.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Tomotaka Sakaguchi

Another player who hung up his shoes at the end of the 2022 season was Tomotaka Sakaguchi of the Swallows.  Sakaguchi was taken in the the first round of the 2002 draft out of Kobe Kokusaidai Fuzoku High School by the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes.  He played in eight games with the ichi-gun Buffaloes over the next two years and as a result is the last former Kintetsu player still active in NPB*.

* Kazuki Kondoh, who played for Kintetsu in 2002-04, was a player-coach for the Kagawa Olive Guyners of the Shikoku Island League last season.  He also retired at the end of the season so there are now no former Kintetsu players still active.

Sakaguchi ended up on the Orix Buffaloes when the dust of the Kintetsu-Orix merger/Rakuten Eagles birth mess settled.  He spent most of the next three years on the farm (with a stint in the Hawaiian Winter League with the West Oahu CaneFires in the fall of 2006) but became a regular on the top team in 2008.  He had three straight seasons hitting .300 (or close to it) from 2009 to 2011 but he went into a slump at the beginning of the 2012 and then hurt his shoulder.  He had a strained back that cost him some playing time the next year but he was healthy enough to play in 122 games in 2014 although he only hit .235.  Injuries again cut into his playing time in 2015.  At the end of the season, Orix offered him a contract with a significant pay cut.  Sakaguchi refused it and became a free agent.  

He joined the Swallows for the 2016 season and experienced a bit of a career renaissance, getting into a career high 141 games and hitting .295.  He followed that with two solid seasons, hitting .317 in 2018, his highest average since he had hit .318 in 2009.  He missed much of the 2019 season with injuries but bounced back with a healthy season in 2020 although his average dipped to .246.  Injuries again cost him playing time in 2021 although he was healthy enough to play in the Nippon Series that year, winning a championship for the only time in his career.  He spent most of last year on the farm and announced his retirement at the end of September.  He'll be a coach for the Fire Country Salamanders of the independent Kyushu Asia League.

Sakaguchi made two All Star teams (2011 & 2018) and won four Golden Gloves (2008-11).  He led the Pacific League in hits in 2011 and triples in 2010 and 2011.  

His first cards are from the 2003 BBM Rookie Edition (#55) and 1st Version (#241) sets.  He appeared in at least one of BBM's flagship sets (1st or 2nd Version) every year from 2008 to 2021.  His first Calbee card wasn't until the 2008 Series Two set (#191).  He also appears in the 2006 West Oahu CaneFires team set.  Here's some of his cards:

2003 BBM Rookie Edition #55

2003 BBM 1st Version #241

2006 BBM Buffaloes #Bs65

2008 Calbee #191

2011 BBM 2nd Version #542

2011 BBM All Stars #A33

2012 BBM 1st Version #337

2013 Calbee #151

2015 Calbee #041

2019 BBM 1st Version #208

2020 BBM Fusion #GR24

2022 BBM Swallows History 1950-2022 #90


Monday, January 30, 2023

Topps Now Samurai Japan Team Set

Topps Japan had a a 30 card Topps Now Samurai Japan team set up for sale between the middle of December and the middle of January.  I had ordered my set around New Year's and was pleasantly surprised that it shipped much fast than the Topps Now Samurai Japan cards they had sold in November - I got the cards today, right around two weeks after the cards stopped being for sale as opposed to about month after the November ones had stopped being for sale.  And that includes the week that the set sat in customs in New York.

The cards Topps sold in November were for 15 members of the Samurai Japan team that played a couple of friendly matches against Team Australia (and two warm up games against the Fighters and Giants).  This team set contains all 28 players from that squad along with manager Hideki Kuriyama and a cover card.  The photos were (obviously) all taken during those four games in November.  Here's some sample cards:

#SJ-17

#SJ-18

#SJ-28

#SJ-1

#SJ-10

#SJ-23

#SJ-29

Topps is still committed to putting the least amount of effort into the backs of their Japanese cards as all the player cards have identical backs (except for the card number and the name and position of the player).  They list the dates of all four games but, oddly enough, not the scores.  Here's the back of Koji Chikamoto's card as an example:


The cover card lists all four games on the front (again without giving the scores) and has the entire team roster (including the coaching staff) on the back:



Here's the list of players in the set - Koji Chikamoto, Sosuke Genda, Shota Imanaga, Shuta Ishikawa, Hiromi Itoh, Takuya Kai, Kensuke Kondoh, Shugo Maki, Hiroya Miyagi, Tomoya Mori, Daisuke Moriura, Munetaka Murakami, Yuhei Nakamura, Takumu Nakano, Ryoma, Nishikawa, Kazuma Okamoto, Taisei Ota, Roki Sasaki, Teruaki Sato, Yasutaka Shiomi, Ukyo Shuto, Hiroto Takahashi, Keiji Takahashi, Shosei Togo, Tetsuto Yamada, Soichiro Yamazaki, Kaito Yoza and Atsuki Yuasa.  19 of these players are on the announced Samurai Japan roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic.  The Topps Now cards in November were for Imanaga, Itoh, Kondoh, Maki, Mori, Murakami (2 cards), Okamoto, Ota, Sasaki, Sato, Shiomi, Shuto, Togo, Yamada and Yamazaki.

I like the set (I'm a sucker for National Team sets) which is good since it cost me around $90 including shipping from Japan.  I'm just a little concerned with how expensive cards for the upcoming WBC are going to be if not only Topps does most of their cards as Topps Now cards (like they did in 2017) but also issues Topps Now cards in Japan as well.  I guess we'll know for sure in a little over five weeks.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Kenji Akashi

Long time Hawks utility player Kenji Akashi announced his retirement at the end of last season.  Akashi was a fourth round pick of the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks in the 2003 NPB draft.  He's the last active position player from when Daiei owned the team (Tsuyoshi Wada's the last active player).

Akashi was kind of the Hawks version of Kenshi Sugiya - a player who could never stay healthy or productive enough the hold a regular position.  He only played in more than 100 games with the top team three times in his 19 year career - 2012, 2015 and 2017.  He played well enough in 2012 to make the All Star team for the only time in his career.  His role as super-sub came in handy in the post-season though and he got to play in seven Nippon Series (2011, 2014-15, 2017-20) and of course was on the winning side every time.  He won an "Outstanding Player" award for the 2015 Series.

Akashi made headlines in 2019 when he hit a walk-off home run against the Orix Buffaloes and did a back-flip when he reached home plate.  He did it as a tribute to former manager Koji Akiyama who had done it a couple of times in the Nippon Series when he played for the Lions.  

Akashi's first baseball cards are from the 2004 BBM Rookie Edition (#3) and 1st Version (#27) sets.  His first Calbee card wasn't until 2012 Series Three (#149).  He only had two other Calbee cards - #53 in 2013 Series One and #172 in 2015 Series Three.  Here's a small selection of his cards:

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #3

2004 BBM 1st Version #27

2006 BBM Hawks #H050

2011 BBM Nippon Series #S16

2012 BBM All Stars #A34

2013 Calbee #053

2018 BBM Hawks 80th Anniversary #52

2019 Epoch One #157

2022 Epoch NPB #345

I can not believe that the Epoch One card commemorating his backflip only had a print run of 40.  Seems way too low.

Card Of The Week January 29

Hirokazu Sawamura is returning to Japan after two years with the Boston Red Sox.  He signed a deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines so he rejoining the last NPB team he was with - although he was only with them for about two months in 2020 after previously being with the Yomiuri Giants.  Here's a "Giants Winning Game Card" commemorating Sawamura's start in Game Two of the 2012 in which he threw eight scoreless innings en route to the Giants' 1-0 victory:



Thursday, January 26, 2023

Atsushi Nohmi

Another player who retired at the end of last season was Atsushi Nohmi.

Nohmi had made a name for himself at Tottori Jōhoku High School when he pitched a perfect game during the Spring Prefecture Tournament in his third year.  Instead of going pro when he graduated though, he instead joined Osaka Gas of the corporate leagues and played for them for five years.  He was 25 years old when the Tigers took him in the "free acquistion frame" of the 2004 NPB draft (a way for teams to essentially come to pre-draft agreement with a player).

Nohmi made his ichi-gun debut in 2005 but spent much of the next few years bouncing between the farm team and the top team as well as bouncing between being a starter and a reliever.  Injuries to other pitchers forced him into the starting rotation in 2009 and he responded with a breakout season, going 13-9 with a 2.62 ERA and 154 strikeouts.  A foot injury in 2010 limited him to just 12 games (although he did go 8-0) but he bounced back in 2011 with a 12-9 record along with a 2.52 ERA and 186 strikeouts.  

He was a steady member of the Tigers rotation for the next six seasons but in 2018 he moved back in the bullpen.  He and the Tigers parted ways after the 2020 season and he signed a contract with the Orix Buffaloes.  He made 26 appearances out of the bullpen for Orix in 2021 but only made 5 in 2022.  He was actually a player-coach for the 2022 season.

Nohmi led the Central League in strikeouts in 2012 and made the All Star team in 2012 and 2013.  He pitched in losing efforts in the 2005, 2014 and 2021 Nippon Series but he did not make an appearance when the Buffaloes won the Series last year.  He was a member of the Japanese team for the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

His first baseball cards are from the 2005 BBM Rookie Edition (#58) and 1st Version (#402) sets.  He appeared in either or both of BBM's 1st and 2nd Version sets every year of his career.  His first Calbee card was in the 2006 set.  He spent the 2006-07 off-season pitching for the Waikiki BeachBoys of the Hawaiian Winter League and appears in their team set.  Here's a selection of his cards:

2005 BBM Rookie Edition #58

2005 BBM 1st Version #402

2005 BBM Nippon Series #27

2007 BBM 1st Version #256

2009 BBM 2nd Version #661

2011 Bandai Owners League 01 #113

2012 BBM All Stars #A48

2013 BBM 1st Version #347

2013 Topps Tribute WBC #39

2015 Calbee #137

2018 BBM 2nd Version #499

2021 BBM Tigers History 1935-2021 #69

2021 Calbee #105

2022 BBM 1st Version #169


Tuesday, January 24, 2023

RIP Hiromitsu Kadota

Terrible news out of Japan today - former Nankai Hawks slugger Hiromitsu Kadota has passed away at age 74.  Kadota had spent several years playing for Kuraray Okayama before being the second round pick of the Hawks in the 1969 draft.  He'd actually been drafted by the Hankyu Braves in the tenth round the previous year but he refused to sign since he'd been drafted so low.  He made his ichi-gun debut in 1970, became a regular in 1971 and quickly established himself as a star.  He remained a star for the team throughout the 70's and was pretty much the team's brightest spot in their lean years in the 80's.  He was Pacific League MVP at age 40 in 1988, the Hawks' final season in Osaka.  When the team was sold to Daiei, he refused to move with them to Fukuoka because his kids were in school.  He ended up joining the Braves - 20 years after they had drafted him although the team had just been sold to Orix by Hankyu.  He spent two seasons in Nishinomiya before he decided to rejoin the Hawks in Fukuoka.  He played for Daiei for two seasons before retiring at age 44 at the end of the 1992 season.  His retirement game was the final game played at Heiwadai Stadium as the Hawks would move into Fukuoka Dome for 1993.

Kadota finished his career with 567 home runs, third most in NPB history behind Sadaharu Oh and Katsuya Nomura.  He led the Pacific League in home runs three times (1981, 1983 & 1988), RBIs twice (1971 & 1988) and OBP three times (1981, 1987 & 1988).  Besides his MVP award he also won nine Best 9 awards (1971, 1976-77,  1981, 1983, 1988-89) and a Shoriki Award (1988) - he's the only DH to ever win this award.  He made the All Star team 14 times (1972, 1975-77, 1980-84, 1987-91) and was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 2006.  

Kadota was one of my favorite players so I hope you won't mind that I'm going to share a bunch of cards of his.

1973/74 Calbee #78

1973/74 Calbee #83

1977 Yamakatsu JY3

1978 Yamakatsu JY6

1981 Calbee #26

1983 Calbee #227

1984 Calbee #37

1985 Calbee #129

1986 Takara Hawks #60

1989 Lotte #40

1990 Lotte #40

1991 BBM #312

1992 Calbee #43

2022 Hawks History 1938-2022 #18

I love the fact that you can see that these cards illustrate the changes in his uniform number over the years - he wore #27 from 1970 to 1979, #44 from 1980 to 1982, #60 from 1983 to 1988, #78 in his two years with Orix in 1989 and 1990 and #53 in his last two years with Daiei in 1991 and 1992.