Monday, November 29, 2021

Daisuke Yamai

With the 2021 Nippon Series in the books it's time to get serious about doing posts about players who've announced their retirements.  I've got a list of about 15 or so players so far and it wouldn't surprise me if the list gets larger either because someone new announces they're retiring or someone already announced it but I haven't heard about it.  I thought I'd start off this round with long time Dragons pitcher Daisuke Yamai.

Daisuke Yamai spent a couple years playing for Kawai Musical Instruments in the corporate leagues after graduating from Nara Sangyo University and therefore was already 23 years old when the Dragons took him in the sixth round of the 2001 draft.  He kicked around between the ichi- and ni-gun squads for a couple of seasons due in part to injuries.  A shoulder injury sidelined him the entire 2006 season.  He got his big break in 2007 when manager Hiromitsu Ochiai had him replace Masahiro Yamamoto in the starting rotation mid-season - he went 6-4 the rest of the season and really poured it on in September, going 4-1 with an ERA of 3.00 to help the Dragons secure a second place finish and a spot in the first ever Central League playoffs.  He was named Player Of The Month for that September run.  

What happened next is Yamai's biggest claim to fame.  The Dragons swept both the Tigers in the First Stage of the Climax Series and the Giants in the Final Stage to meet the Fighters in the Nippon Series for the second straight year.  Yamai didn't pitch at all in the Climax Series or in the first four games of the Series.  With the Dragons up three games to one, Ochiai named him as the starter for Game Five in Nagoya.  All Yamai did was pitch eight perfect inning to get the Dragons three outs away from their first Nippon Series title in 53 years.  Unfortunately the Dragons had only managed to score one run during the game against Yu Darvish so Ochiai ultimately decided to have closer Hitoki Iwase pitch the ninth.  Iwase got the three outs needed to complete the perfect game and win the Series for the Dragons.  

If this were a movie, the shared perfect game would have been the start of a brilliant pitching career but unfortunately this wasn't a movie.  Yamai continued to be plagued by injuries over the remainder of his career.  When healthy he was capable of pitching well.  He got a no-hitter of his own in 2013 against the Baystars (who admittedly were dreadful but nobody else no-hit them that year).  His best season was undoubtedly 2014 when he went 13-5 with a 3.27 ERA, leading the Central League in wins and making the All Star team for the only time in his career.  In addition to 2007, he also appeared in the 2004, 2010 and 2011 Nippon Series with the Dragons.

His first baseball card was #148 from the 2002 BBM 1st Version set.  His first Calbee card wasn't until 2005 (#N-4 from the Nippon Series subset in Series One and regular card #120 in Series Two).  His inability to stick with the top team caused him to not have a lot of baseball cards - by my count he only appeared in 13 of the 40 BBM flagship sets (1st or 2nd Version sets) over the past 20 years and one of those was on a team checklist card rather than a "regular" player card.  Similarly it looks like he only had four(!) "regular" Calbee player cards over the years although he appears on another six subset cards (the afore mentioned "Nippon Series" card, a couple checklists, a "Title Holder" card, a "Star" card and a "Wins Leader" card).  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2002 BBM 1st Version #148

2005 Dragons "Official Card"

2007 BBM Nippon Series #S08

2010 BBM 2nd Version #791

2011 BBM Dragons #D18

2014 BBM 1st Version #249

2015 Calbee #070

2018 BBM Fusion #025

2021 BBM Dragons #D15

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Card Of The Week November 28

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows wrapped up the 2021 Nippon Series Championship with a 2-1 12-inning victory over the Orix Buffaloes in Kobe yesterday.  It was the Swallows first championship since 2001 and broke an eight year Central League losing streak in the Nippon Series - the last CL team to win the championship was the Giants in 2012.  It was the only extra inning game of the season in Japan and capped a very exciting Series.

BBM did box sets for the Nippon Series from 1991 to 2012 which included cards for all the players who appeared in each Series along with cards featuring the winners of the MVP, Fighting Spirit and Outstanding Player awards.  As I've done every year since 2014 (I didn't learn BBM wasn't doing a set for the 2013 cards until a month or so after the Series ended), here are cards of all the award winners:

Series MVP Yuhei Nakamura (2018 Meito Central League Home Run Popcicles #32)

"Fighting Spirit" Yoshinobu Yamamoto (2021 Calbee #IL-06)

"Outstanding Player" Keiji Takahashi (2020 BBM 1st Version #307)

"Outstanding Player" Domingo Santana (2021 BBM Swallows #S63)

"Outstanding Player" Yutaro Sugimoto (2018 BBM Fusion #053)

Additionally the 2021 Korean Series wrapped up about a week and a half ago with the KT Wiz sweeping the Doosan Bears to win their first ever championship.  Park Kyung-soo was named MVP of the Series and here's his 2015 Superstar Baseball Season Two card (#SBC1502-127-N):

Friday, November 26, 2021

But Of Course!

I had missed this at first but Topps has announced a SECOND NPB set to be released next month and, of course, it's a Topps Chrome set!  It looks similar to their previously announced NPB set in that the base set will have around 240 cards (based on their statement that there will be "about 20 players of each team") and there will be serially numbered parallel cards, insert cards and serially numbered parallel insert cards.  Boxes of the Topps Chrome set will contain 24 packs and each pack will contain 14 cards, same as the non-Chrome set.  The Chrome boxes will be a little more expensive, of course, as they are priced at 15,840 yen (~$140), about 2640 yen or $23 more than the boxes of the non-Chrome cards.  What I don't know yet is if the checklist for both sets will be the same or if there will be different photos used for some or all of the cards in the set.

A couple other items about the Topps NPB sets:

- Topps' Japan site will not ship internationally but I've heard suggestions that boxes will be available on Amazon's Japanese site from sellers who WILL ship to the US so it may be possible to order boxes without using a third person proxy

- Both sets have appeared on Discount Niki's website which implies that Japanese card dealers will be able to sell the boxes which should increase their availability.

- Each card in the non-Chrome set will have seven different parallels - "Gold Rainbox Foil", "Rainbow Foil" (#'d to 150), "Vintage Stock" (#'d to 99), "Blue Foil" (#'d to 50), "Orange Foil" (#'d to 25), "Red Foil" (#'d to 5) and "RayFoil" (1 of 1).

- The non-Chrome set has two insert sets - "1986 Topps Baseball" and "2021 NPB Team Programs".  I don't know how big either set is although I assume the "Team Programs" one is 12 cards.  I'm intrigued by the idea of Topps doing NPB cards in old Topps MLB designs.  Each insert card has four possible parallels - "Gold Foil" (#'to 50), "Red Foil" (#'d to 5) and "RayFoil" (1 of 1).

- I have no idea yet if the Chrome set will have the same parallels and inserts as the non-Chrome set.

Both sets are scheduled to be out in early December.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Hello 2022!

I wanted to do a quick post about the first 2022 set that's been announced but I need to talk just a little more about 2021 sets first.  I have good news and bad news.  The bad news is it really doesn't look like Calbee's going to be doing a Samurai Japan set this year.  In retrospect I suppose that it shouldn't be a surprise - in past years Calbee's Samurai Japan sets have been released in November/December and covered the Samurai Japan roster(s) for events from July of the previous year to June of the current year.  For example, the set released in November of 2016 had cards for players on the Premier 12 team from November of 2015 and the friendlies against Taiwan in March of 2016.  Since the Olympics this year were in August, they wouldn't be in a set from this year.  Hopefully Calbee will still have the rights to do a Samurai Japan set NEXT year which would include the Olympic team as well as whoever plays in the recently announced friendlies against Taiwan next March.  On the downside it won't include anyone who goes to MLB next season so don't expect a card of Seiya Suzuki.

The good news is that there ARE cards of an Olympic baseball team this year - the Korean team!  SCC issued their second set of the season earlier this month called KBO Golden Premium.  The base set contains 212 cards which includes a 22 card Korean National Team subset.  The remaining 190 cards are split between 100 "rare" cards, 45 "etching" cards and 45 "holo" cards - I assume it all works out to 19 cards per team but I don't know that for sure.  It looks like 180 of the 190 players in the set have an autographed card and there are also jersey and/or patch cards.  Boxes can be found on GMarket for between $60 and $80 and are guaranteed to include one autograph and one jersey or patch card.  Dan of Korean Cardboard has details along with promo images in this tweet.  As far as I know, these are the first cards EVER for a Korean Olympic Baseball Team and only the second Korean National Team cards ever produced by a Korean company (and first since the 1999 Teleca Premium "Korea Dream Team" insert set).

And finally, the first announced baseball card set for 2022 is BBM's annual ultra high-end Glory set, due out in late December (but with a "cover date" of 2022).  The details of the set seem similar to those of last year's set.  Each six card box retails for 18,000 yen or $160-ish and is guaranteed to include "two or more premium inserts including one or more autographs".  The base set has 36 cards of active players - I'm assuming six cards per team but I don't know that for sure.  There's a parallel version of some sort for each base card.  There are two insert sets - "MIYABI" which has 36 cards (I assume the same 36 players as the base set) and "Glorious 3D" which has 12.  The "MIYABI" cards are numbered to 50 (and there's a parallel version with a smaller print run) while the "Glorious 3D" cards are numbered to 25.  There are a wide variety of memorabilia cards including jersey, "super patch" and "grip end".  There are also memorabilia cards featuring jersey swatches from two, three or four players.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Card Of The Week November 21

This year's Nippon Series kicked off this weekend with two games in Osaka and they were both very memorable.  Game One yesterday was one for the ages as Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Buffaloes and Yasunobu Okugawa of the Swallows faced off in a game that was scoreless through the first five innings.  The Swallows pushed a run across in the top of the sixth but pinch hitter Steven Moya hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh to tie it back up.  Munetaka Murakami hit a two run home run in the top of the eighth to put the Swallows back in the lead but the Buffaloes rallied in the bottom of the ninth with two run game tying single by Yuma Mune and a game winning walk off double from Masataka Yoshida.  

Today's game was another pitchers duel.  Buffaloes starter Hiroya Miyagi was perfect through five before allowing a hit in the top of the sixth and eventually giving up a run in the eighth.  The Swallows scored a second run off Orix's bullpen in the ninth.  The Swallows starter Keiji Takahashi ended up throwing a complete game shutout for the 2-0 victory.  

After splitting the first two games, the two teams will now head to Tokyo for the next three games on Tuesday through Thursday. 

Here are cards of Yoshida and Takahashi:

2017 BBM 1st Version #152

2021 BBM Swallows #S23

Bonus card - Takahashi is married to former AKB48 singer Tomomi Itano who appeared on a "Ceremonial First Pitch" card from the 2017 BBM Fusion set (#FP16):

Saturday, November 20, 2021

RIP Takeshi Koba

Hall of Famer and former Hiroshima Toyo Carp manager Takeshi Koba passed away last week at age 85.  Koba started playing baseball in post-war Kumamoto and played in the 1953 Koshien tournament with Seiseiko High School.  He went on to Senshu University but had to drop out when his father died in an accident.  He took a job with Nittetsu Futase and played for their corporate league baseball team.  He joined the Carp in 1958 and spent 12 seasons playing in Hiroshima.  His best season as a player was probably 1963 when he battled Shigeo Nagashima for the Central League batting title until late in the season when a pitch from Whales pitcher Gentaro Shimada broke his jaw and put him in the hospital.  He finished the season with a .339 average, second in the league behind Nagashima's .341.  It was the only season that he hit over .300.  He was a three time All Star, won a Best 9 award in 1963 and led the Central League in steals in 1964 and 1968.  He was traded to the Nankai Hawks prior to the 1970 season and retired as a player after 1971.

He coached for Nankai for a couple seasons before returning to Hiroshima as a coach in 1974.  When Joe Lutz, the first Westerner to manage in Japan, resigned early in the 1975 season, Koba stepped in as manager.  He led the team to their first ever Central League pennant that season.  The Carp were beaten by the Hankyu Braves in the Nippon Series that year but Koba would lead the team for another 10 seasons, winning three more CL pennants and three Nippon Series championships, beating the Kintetsu Buffaloes in 1979 and 1980 and Hankyu in 1984.  He is the only manager to win a Nippon Series championship with the Carp.  After sitting out the 1986 season he returned to the dugout as the manager of the Yokohama Taiyo Whales.  He managed the Whales for three seasons but never got out of the lower half of the standings.  After leaving the Whales he did some TV announcing and was baseball director of Tokyo International University.  He also unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Hiroshima in 2002.

Here are some cards of Koba as a player...

2009 BBM Carp 60th Anniversary #113

2015 BBM Carp Legends #77

2020 BBM Carp History 1950-2020 #10

...and as manager:

1975/76 Nippon-Ham

1979 TCMA #33

2009 Epoch All Japan Baseball Foundation 15th Anniversary #27

2011 Epoch OB Club Managers #19

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Ohtani MVP

Tonight Shohei Ohtani was announced as the unanimous winner of this year's AL MVP Award.  I want to point out that this is the SECOND MVP award that Ohtani has won - he was the Pacific League MVP in 2016.  Ohtani becomes the second player to be MVP in both MLB and NPB - Ichiro was the first with PL MVPs in 1994, 1995 and 1996 and an AL MVP in 2001.

Here's the 2017 Calbee "Title Holder" card (#T-01) celebrating Ohtani's 2016 MVP Award: