Wednesday, August 27, 2008

2008 BBM 2nd Version

I got this year's BBM 2nd Version set in the mail from Rob Fitts the other day.

I think BBM has been trying to figure out what purpose the 2nd Version set serves ever since they started making them in 2002. The first three sets (2002-04) were roughly the same size as the 1st Version sets. The biggest difference in the sets was that 1st Version had the League Leader subset and 2nd Version didn't. The next three sets (2005-07) were smaller than the 1st Version sets. Instead of 35-40 player cards per team, they only had 9-15. They also contained update subsets - cards in the format of the 1st Version set with either players who were traded during the season or players who didn't have cards in the 1st Version set. Because of that, those 2nd Version sets didn't stand on their own. They were more an addendum to the 1st Version sets.

This year's set has broken away from that somewhat. There's no 1st Version update subset, so the set stands on its own. The set contains 252 cards. There are 180 player cards, which breaks down to 15 per team. As usual, BBM has gotten some really good pictures for the cards. Here's a sampling:

Of the 180 players pictured, 21 of them did not appear in the 1st Version set. Here's the list - Susumu Kawaii (Dragons), Kazuki Yoshimi (Dragons), Yuya Hasegawa (Hawks), Yusuke Kosai (Hawks), Jeremy Powell (Hawks), Aarom Baldris (Tigers), Minoru Iwata (Tigers), Masato Akamatsu (Carp), Soichiro Amaya (Carp), Eric Junge (Buffaloes), Satoshi Komatsu (Buffaloes), Ramon Ortiz (Buffaloes), Shogo Yamamoto (Buffaloes), Katsumi Yamashita (Eagles), Kazuhiro Hatakeyama (Swallows), Keizo Kawashima (Swallows), Kyohei Muranaka (Swallows), Takehiko Oshimoto (Swallows), Tomoya Inzen (Giants), Yoshiyuki Kamei (Giants), and Hayato Sakamoto (Giants).

(Notice that the Chang-Yong Lim is wearing a throwback Yakult Atoms uniform. There's a couple cards showing Atoms uniforms.)

The set also features the usual team checklists with the usual silly pictures:

Hmm, didn't realize that Toshihisa Nishi could shoot a spacium ray.

There are four 12 card subsets (1 player from each team) - Title Wars (stars), Breaking Now (breakout players), Pick Up Rookies (self explanatory), and Power Of Veteran (older players). Not everyone appearing in the subsets has a card in the regular player cards - Kimiyasu Kudoh in the Power Of Veteran's set for example.

One of the subsets that has been a constant for the 2nd Version set since 2004 has been the First Pitch subset which shows retired players and celebrities throwing out the first pitch at games. While this mercifully didn't get commemorated, the subset does include a collection of sumo wrestlers, models, musicians and golfers, among others. Because of this subset, a gold winning Olympian does appear in the BBM set:

For the most part, I like the set. The biggest issue I have is that the player selection was kind of odd. I'm not sure why if you've only got 15 players per team you'd have cards of Kazuhiro Kiyohara or Sho Nakata, neither of whom had appeared in a ichigun game as of when the cards went to press. The other issue is that some of the players have pictures that are very similar to their 1st Version cards. Even the Swallows team checklist shows the Swallows mascot, just like the 1st Version checklist does. But these are minor quibbles.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Card Of The Week August 24

So that didn't go the way anyone expected, did it? While I'm disappointed in the results for both the US and Japan, I'm impressed with South Korea coming from nowhere to win the Gold. I caught the last inning of the game this morning and it was very exciting. To celebrate, I thought this 2000 Teleca Korean card of Lee Seung-Yeop (who homered in the first inning of the Gold Medal game) and Sadaharu Oh should be Card Of The Week:

I have to say that I'm not entirely sure what the story is with this card. Teleca did produce cards in Korea in 1999 and 2000. I got this card on eBay from Thomas St. John, who's a journalist in South Korea (or at least was in 2000 or so) and was the South Korean correspondent for Baseball America. St. John has the photo credit on the back of the card. I suppose it could have been an insert for the 2000 regular set or Teleca could have done a set for the Korea-Japan Super Game (I'm guessing the 1999 champs of NPB and Korea played a game or series of games, kind of an ancestor to the Asia Series. Except that the Hanhwa Eagles won the KBO in 1999, not the Samsung Lions). What's odd is that the back is completely in English (I don't have any other Teleca cards that have English on their back - except for a Chin-Feng Chen Taiwanese National Team card that I also bought from St. John and have the same questions about) and it has no card number.

Well, regardless of where the card really came from, it's a pretty cool card.

2008 BBM All Stars

I got this year's BBM All Star set in the mail the other day from YakyuShop. The box set contains 56 player cards, 6 cards for the coaching staff, 2 cards for the MVP's of last year's games (Shinnosuke Abe and Alex Ramirez) and a card for this year's vote leader (G.G. Sato).

As I was afraid of, this year's set is pretty ugly (well, I think so anyway). Each card has the player's picture with no background at all. There's a wide white border on the player and coach cards along with a smaller gold border. In tiny print on the bottom of the card, they list all the names of teams in NPB. I'm really not sure what the point of that was. The MVP cards are gold embossed, which again seems somewhat pointless.

So I'm pretty disappointed with the set. At least this year they didn't mispell Tyrone Woods's name.

Here's some examples from the set:

From top to bottom, that's Tyrone Woods (Tyrone with an 'e'!) (#A19), Koji Akiyama (#A34) (why has Akiyama coached the last two years instead of Sadaharu Oh? Is it Oh's health?), Shinnosuke Abe's MVP card (#65) and G.G. Sato's "No. 1 Vote Getter" card (#63).

Kazuhiro Kiyohara

When I first started collecting Japanese cards, I didn't know much about Japanese baseball or who any of the cards were of. (It can be argued that I have not come far from that point.) There were a couple of names that I kept seeing over and over though that started sinking in. It seemed like anytime I bought a lot of singles or got a BBM All Star set, I would get yet another card of one or more of these guys. I came to be a fan of these players, even though I didn't know a whole lot about them. The players were Atsuya Furuta, Koji Akiyama and Kazuhiro Kiyohara. The last remaining active player of this group, Kiyohara, last week announced that he'll be retiring at the end of the season.

As I've learned more about Japanese baseball, I've learned that there's a lot of mixed opinions on Kiyohara and I'm not sure if he were someone that I watched on a regular basis if I would still be a fan of his. Perhaps I would - I tend to be contrary sometimes in players that I like and end up defending the likes of Milton Bradley and Albert Belle, at least as ballplayers.

Be that as it may, I thought a retrospective of Kiyohara would be appropriate:

He was Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 1986. Here's his rookie card from Calbee (#225):

1989 Calbee #50:

1992 Calbee #51:

1994 Tomy #82:

In 1997, Kiyohara left the Lions for the Giants, who released Hiromitsu Ochiai to make room for him. 1997 BBM #290:

2000 BBM #414:

He played in 10 Japan Series in his 23 year career. He hit .301 with 15 homers in 60 games. He won an "Outstanding Player" Award in the 1986, 1988, and 2002 Series's and the "Fighting Spirit" award in the 1993 and 1994 Series's. Here's his 2002 BBM Nippon Series card (#S15), his final Series:

On April 29, 2005, he became the eighth player in NPB history to reach 500 home runs. He is currently fifth in history, behind Sadaharu Oh, Katsuya Nomura, Hiromitsu Kadota and Koji Yamamoto. Here's the 2005 BBM 2nd Version card (#826) commemorating his 500th home run:

In 2006, he left the Giants and signed with Orix. He missed a lot of time due to injuries, but when healthy, was still elected to All Star teams. He was named to an All Star team 19 times in 23 seasons. He was named MVP of an All Star game 7 times, in 1986, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, and 2000. Here's his final BBM All Star card, from the 2006 set (#A15):

He was also named to the Pacific League Best 9 teams in 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Touch The Game & Tokyo Big 6 sets

New stuff coming from BBM. Their high-end set, Touch The Game, will be coming out in late September. The regular set is about 132 cards, along with a bunch of parallels, inserts and memorabilia cards. (Personally, I'll be giving this set a miss because I never like the design and I don't feel like spending that much money. But your mileage may vary.)

As a follow-up to last spring's Tokyo Big Six collegiate set, BBM is coming out with an "Autumn Version" box set for the Tokyo Big Six baseball teams. This set will be out September 13 and will only contain 36 cards (as opposed to the 60 in the earlier set) plus a random insert card.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Card Of The Week August 17

In case you missed it, Deanna Rubin had an interview with Hiram Bocachica of the Lions last week. Here's his 2008 BBM 1st Version card:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Minor League Cards

Back in the 1980's and 1990's, some Japanese teams had working agreements with some US major league teams and the occasional independent minor league teams. (In this case, I mean a team that plays in an affiliated minor league like the California or Carolina league but has no major league affiliation. These teams have become extinct in the past 15 years or so.) These working agreements would usually include the Japanese teams sending players to play in the minors in the US. (I assume that there was a well understood agreement in place to prevent the Murakami incident from being repeated.)

As it happened, many of the minor league teams that the Japanese players appeared on had baseball card sets. I've been looking through my own collection of minor league cards and checklists to see what I can find. has a partial list of players. If I get a chance, I'd like to update the list and make a couple of corrections (the Masahiro Yamamoto that's listed as being with San Jose in 1988 is not the Masahiro Yamamoto who plays for the Dragons).

San Jose had a working agreement with the Seibu Lions during the 1980's. It looks to me like they originally signed the agreement when San Jose was independent and it continued for a few years after they got a working agreement with the San Francisco Giants. Ken Suzuki was with the 1988 team. Here's his card from the ProCards team set:

Also in 1988, the Miami Marlins had an agreement with the Yomiuri Giants. Masao Kida made his first of three stints in the US with the team that year. Here's his card from the Star team set:

It turns out that there were two Masahiro Yamamoto's playing in the US in 1988. The one with San Jose briefly appeared with the Lions in the early 1990's. The one with Vero Beach (the Dodgers must have had something going with the Dragons) is the one who just got his 200th win. Here's his card from the Star team set:

Yamamoto actually pitched well enough that year to make the Florida State League All Star team. Jason Presley has that card in this gallery, along with some other Japanese players from his minor league sets.

The Hawks had an agreement with the Salinas Spurs of the California League for a couple of years in the early 1990's. In 1990 at least, this included not only providing players but also the manager. Here's the Cal League card of Hide Koga, the first (and possibly only) Japanese manager in US professional baseball:

I think the "study abroad" program petered out in the early 1990's. While US teams still have agreements with NPB teams, it doesn't appear that players come to the US from Japan to play in the minors anymore. However, there is one place where US and Japanese prospects still play together - the Hawaiian Winter League.

The Hawaiian Winter League (HWB) lasted for 5 seasons from 1993 to 1997. It was revived in 2006. In its first incarnation, the league featured NPB players like Ichiro, Kazuo Matsui and Nobuhiko Matsunaka. The only baseball cards for the league were put out for the 1996 season. (In case someone wants to take issue with that statement due to a couple cards that are supposedly from the 1993 season, I'll qualify that statement as "The only team sets that were for sale that were actually available in the year they were produced were for the 1996 season".)

There were four teams that year and each team set had a Japanese player who would go on to greater things. The Maui Stingrays had Kenji Johjima, but I no longer have that set, so I can't show you that card. The Hilo Stars had Tsuyoshi Shinjyo and I still have that card:

Hideki Okajima was a Honolulu Shark:

Atsunori Inaba was a West Oahu Canefire:

There are cards for the teams in the HWB from the last few years. Since I stopped collecting minor league cards, I don't know who's in them. It may take a few years for any Japanese stars to appear out of them (although Joba Chamberlain is in one of the sets).

2008 Calbee Series 3

Calbee's website has added a checklist for this years third series. I don't see a release date, but I would assume it will be out soon.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Card Of The Week August 10

In honor of his role as coach of the Japanese Olympic Baseball team, here's a card of Senichi Hoshino:

BBM 1st Version #408

Masahiro Yamamoto

Last week, Masa Yamamoto of the Dragons got his 200th career win. You can read some more about it here.

In honor of his achievement, I thought I'd do a little baseball card retrospective here:

From top to bottom, that's his 1990 Calbee rookie card (#64), 1994 BBM All Stars (#A16), 1994 Takara Dragons, 1999 BBM Nippon Series (#S40), 2002 BBM 1st Version (#127), and his 2007 BBM 1st Version "Record Achievers" subset card (#485).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Japanese National Team

As you might have heard, the Olympics are kicking off this Friday. This will be the final Olympics to feature baseball. Japan is sending a team made up of many players from NBP including Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki. Baseball America has an Olympic baseball preview here. Sports Illustrated predicts that Cuba will take the Gold with Japan taking the Silver and the US taking the Bronze. Personally, I think Japan should be the medal favorites, but I thought that in 2004 also and they ended up with the Bronze after being upset by Australia in the medal round.

I haven't heard anything about baseball cards for this year's team yet. I thought I'd do an overview of the cards available from previous Japan National Teams.

As far as I know, there are no cards for teams prior to the 2000 Olympics. 2000 was the first year that professionals were allowed to play in the Olympics. Japan sent a team that featured 8 players from NPB along with a bunch of players from the industrial leagues (including Norihiro Akahoshi who is now with the Tigers). In 2001, Calbee did a subset featuring the 8 NPB players from the team - So Taguchi, Fumihiro Suzuki, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Norihiro Nakamura, Yukio Tanaka, Masato Kawano, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tomohiro Kuroki). Here's the Taguchi card (#J-01):

The following year, Japan sent a team to the Baseball World Cup. This team included Shinnosuke Abe, Tadahito Iguchi and Yoshinobu Takahashi among others.

BBM put out a 47 card box set in late 2001 - early 2002 to commemorate this team. I can't show you any cards from this set since I only just discovered that this set exists. However, BBM also included a 16 card subset featuring members of this team in the 2002 BBM 1st Version set. Here's Shinnosuke Abe's card (#412):

The next National team that BBM commemorated in baseball cards was the one that participated in the 2003 Asian Baseball Championship, which functioned as a qualifier for the 2004 Olympics. This was the first Japanese baseball dream team, featuring Daisuke Matsuzaka, Koji Uehara, Hiroki Kuroda, Kenji Johjima, Michihiro Ogasawara, Kazuo Matsui, Tomohiro Nioka and Kosuke Fukudome. It was also managed by Shigeo Nagashima.

BBM produced a 36 card box set in late 2003/early 2004. Here's the Nioka (#19) and Nagashima (#01) cards from the set:

In addition, BBM added a 22 card insert set to the 2004 1st Version set featuring members of this team. Here's the Kosuke Fukudome card (#AJ22):

Surprisingly, there was no set for the 2004 Olympic team. I often wondered if it was because the team had such a disappointing finish. In fact, there hasn't been any cards for any Japanese National Teams for any of the international tournements since 2003, with the exception of the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

As I've mentioned previously, the WBC had really crappy baseball cards. Upper Deck's 50 card box set had only 5 guys from Japanese team (Toshiaki Imai, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Ichiro, Kazuhiro Wada and Shunsuke Watanabe). Here's the Matsunaka card (#30):

Upper Deck spread a bunch of insert cards (at least 3 different sets) throughout their 2006 sets. I've been trying to pick up some of these on Ebay, but I haven't been very successful. I've only managed to pick up the 30 card Inaugural Images set, which has 7 cards featuring 6 members of the team: Daisuke Matsuzaka (2 cards), Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Tomoya Satozaki, Ichiro and Koji Uehara. Here's the Uehara card (#II-17):

So starting next Wednesday, we'll see what happens. Hopefully, BBM or someone will put out a set of cards for what is possibly the last Japanese Olympic baseball team. And hopefully the cards for next year's WBC won't suck this time.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hawks 70th Anniversary Set

According to their website, BBM is coming out with a set to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Hawks. It's a pack based set containing 99 cards (6 team history, 66 OB players, 18 current players and 9 current players in "Turn Back The Clock" uniforms) and assorted inserts.

The set also commemorates the 20th Anniversary of the Hawks moving from Osaka to Fukuoka after the 1988 season when Daiei bought the team from Nankai. Daiei sold the team to Softbank after 2004.

The set will be released on August 23.

This will be the fourth 70th Anniversary team set BBM has produced, following the Giants in 2004, the Tigers in 2005 and the Dragons in 2006.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Card Of The Week August 3

As you've probably already heard, Ichiro got his 3000th hit last week. Here's his 1997 BBM card (#283):