Monday, September 28, 2009

Yet more WBC and 2010 is coming soon

Some new stuff I discovered today:

- Topps has issued yet another World Baseball Classic insert set. The latest flavor of Bowman contains a 40 card WBC insert set. The set is numbered from 21 to 60, so it's a continuation of the earlier 20 card Bowman insert set. The set contains ten Japanese players - Norichika Aoki, Hisashi Iwakuma, Shuichi Murata, Masahiro Tanaka, Kyuji Fujikawa, Michihiro Ogasawara, Takahiro Mahara, Hiroyuki Nakajima, Toshiya Sugiuchi, and Shunsuke Watanabe (who's labeled as being on the Chinese team in the checklist). I think these are the only WBC cards for Fujikawa, Mahara and Sugiuchi.

- BBM's website today listed this year's Rookie Premium set. This is a 50 card boxed set featuring rookies from this season. There are 48 "regular cards" - 36 "regular" (3 per team) and 12 "subset" (1 per team). The set also includes two insert cards - parallels, photo or memorabilia cards. It will hit the stores in late October. Typically, this set has a design similar to the "Touch The Game" sets, so if you like that sort of thing this set should be right up your alley.

- BBM also listed their first set for 2010 today - the latest in the annual "Historic Collection" sets - the "Memory Makers - Instant Of Glitter" set. It looks like it's the standard "Historic Collection" set - 144 cards consisting of 72 OB players and 72 active players, plus the usual collection of inserts. I'm not quite sure I understand the theme - the Babel Fish translation is pretty vague - but I'm sure it will be clear when the set goes live in late November.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Card Of The Week September 27

In his 18 year career (9 years in Japan, 9 years in the US), Ichiro Suzuki had never been thrown out of a game. Until last night.

Here's his 1999 BBM card (#452):

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shozo Doi

Former Giants infielder and Orix Blue Wave manager Shozo Doi has passed away at age 67. Doi made his debut with the Giants in 1965, which was the first year of the V9 Giants. His team won the Nippon Series for each of the first nine years of his 14 year career. Doi is more notable for being Ichiro Suzuki's first NPB manager - the one who famously said that Ichiro would never hit with that batting stance. He managed Orix from 1991 to 1993. He was later a coach with the Giants.

Some cards:

1997 BBM Giants (V9 subset) #G93:

1978 NST #172:

1991 BBM #74:

1997 BBM Giants #G3:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

2009 BBM All Stars

I used to really like BBM's All Star sets.

When I was learning about Japanese baseball, those sets helped me learn who some of the better and popular players were in the league. They also helped fill in my collection for some of the years where it's a bit thin (like 1998).

But I think now that a combination of the fact that I'm getting a lot more cards now than I used to and the fact that I've haven't liked the design of the cards much in recent years (with the notable exception of 2007) are making me reconsider if I want to keep getting this set.

Now admittedly, this is simply my personal preference, but I think the nicest looking cards are ones with border-less, full bleed photos and a minimum of text (name, team, position, etc) in an unobtrusive manner. So take a gander at a couple of "regular" cards from this year's BBM All Star set (#A59 & #A58):

So we've got an odd orange-ish border around the edge (it's blue-ish on the Pacific League cards) that for some reason is thicker on the bottom. There's the words "2009 All Star Cards" running down one side of the card. If the player was selected by the fan voting, there's a "Fan Selected" thing in the middle of the picture. If it's the first time the player was selected, there's a "1st Time All Star" thing in the picture. And if, like Masato Akamatsu here, the player was both selected by the fans AND a first time All Star, he gets both things cluttering up his picture.

Oh, and if you're going to have the player's team "flag" in one of the upper corners, you don't need to list it again under the player's name. I just feel the front of the cards are way too busy.

Anyway, some details about the set. Like always, it's a 65 card box set. There are 28 cards for each of the two all star teams, three cards for the managers and coaches for each team (Hisanobu Watanabe, Masataka Nashida and Daijiro Ohishi for the Pacific League, Tatsunori Hara, Hiromichi Ochiai and Akinobu Mayumi for the Central League), two cards for the MVPs for last year's All Star games (Takeshi Yamasaki - card #A64 pictured below - and Masahiro Araki) and one card for the player who got the most votes from the fans - Atsunori Inaba.

To wrap up on a positive note, I guess the one thing I can say about this set is that I like it better than last year's set.

2009 Lions Classic

Got some sets in the mail last week, but I haven't had a chance to write about them until now (and then only because I'm home from work due to car repairs). First up is the BBM Lions Classic set. As I mentioned before, the Lions Classic is a series of home games for the Saitama Seibu Lions in which they wear throwback uniforms. Last year, the uniforms were for the 1960's Nishitetsu Lions. This year, the throwback theme is the 1980's Seibu Lions teams.

The Lions Classic set is a box set containing 27 cards - 13 cards of OB players from the 1980's (well, not completely OB as Kimiyasu Kudoh is in the set!), 13 cards of current Lions players in their throwback uniforms, and an insert card. I got an opened box (as usual), so I can't comment on the insert card.

The OB players included don't really have any surprises - Koji Akiyama, Hiromichi Ishige, Tsutomu Itoh, Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Kudoh are pretty obvious choices. The cards for the OB players have white, faded background that I don't like much, but maybe that's just me. Here's the card for current Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe, back when he was a pitcher (card #11):

The cards for the current Lions players are borderless photos with a minimum of decoration, which I like a lot better. Here's the Takeya Nakamura card (#17):

If you're a Lions fan, this is probably a set worth picking up. Otherwise, probably not.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Card Of The Week September 20

The BayStars this week announced that they would not have a spot on the team next year for 46 year old pitcher Kimiyasu Kudoh. Since Kudoh is the last remaining NPB player who is older than me (Jamie Moyer and Randy Johnson are the only MLB players left older than me), I'm hoping he catches on with someone. Here's his 2005 Konami Baseball Heroes (Old Black Edition) card (#B05B010):

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1993 Hawaiian Winter League Cards Update

OK, just to correct something I said here, I have just now seen on eBay a 1993 Honolulu Sharks card of "Ben Agbayani". So that's now four cards that I've ever seen from these theoretical 1993 Hawaiian Winter League team sets.

The card has a gold autograph on it but I don't know if it's a facsimile autograph or a real autograph. So I don't know if the card was some sort of insert in the set or if it was autographed after the fact.

I'm not any less suspicious just because there's another card. As I said before, "caveat emptor".

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

1993 Hawaiian Winter League Cards

In 1993, a new winter baseball league started in Hawaii. One of the unique things about this league called the Hawaiian Winter League was that it not only had prospects from Major League Baseball playing in it, it also had prospects from both Japan and Korea. In fact, the very first year, one of its teams, the Hilo Stars, won the pennant with a roster containing a bunch of players from the Orix Blue Wave, including Ichiro Suzuki and So Taguchi. The league lasted five seasons, folding after the 1997 season due to a lack of support from Major League Baseball. The league was revived in 2006 and lasted another three seasons, folding following last year (2008) due once again to a lack of support from Major League Baseball.

I've mentioned this league before when I had a post about Japanese players appearing in North American minor league baseball card sets. During much of the 1990's, I was a big time minor league baseball card collector and I always tried to get cards of winter league teams because they were so odd. I'd gotten some Puerto Rican sets from the late 80's, a couple odd ball Australian sets and all the Arizona Fall League prospect sets. I'd even picked up the Lime Rock Dominican Winter League set from the early 1990's. For some reason, I was never able to get any Venezuelan cards. I even had card sets from the short lived successors to the HWL - the Maryland Fall League and the California Fall League. So each year I was looking for Hawaiian Winter League cards. The only year that there were cards for sale was the 1996 season. (Well, in the league's first incarnation - there have been cards for the 2006-08 seasons.)

Fast forward to 2001. Ichiro has signed with the Mariners and is taking the major leagues by storm. Imagine my surprise that someone has started selling 1993 Hilo Stars Ichiro Suzuki cards on eBay. Where did these come from and why have I never seen them before? I asked a friend of mine who's a major minor league card dealer about them - he's never seen them before either.

From what it looks like, there is a 1993 Hilo Stars team set that contains two cards of Ichiro Suzuki. They are card #1 and card #5 (his uniform number with Hilo) in the set. There are also rare "gold signature" inserts in the team sets for both cards. The website Collecting Ichiro lists these cards on one of their pages and has scans of them (as well as the 2001 "reprints" that also appeared that year). (Collecting Ichiro actually has a pretty impressive collection of Ichiro's Japanese cards and is worth checking out.)

Now, I'm not one to cast any aspersions around. But I wonder about a couple things:
  • Nobody saw these cards before 2001. I was looking. So were others. We never saw them.
  • Beyond the two Ichiro cards, the only other 1993 HWL card I've ever seen was of Jason Giambi who had been with the Kauai Emeralds. I don't remember exactly when in 2001 I saw this card (on eBay, posted by the same guy selling the Ichiro cards) but it was definitely after Giambi had been named MVP (since that was in 2000) and it may have conveniently been after Giambi had signed with the Yankees. So if there's a Hilo Stars team set containing two Ichiro cards, where's the rest of it? Or the rest of the Emeralds set?
  • It's difficult to gauge how much of a prospect Ichiro was considered in the fall of 1993. On the one hand, he'd had outstanding numbers in high school and he'd led his minor league (the Western League I think) in batting in his first year as a professional (1992). On the other hand, he was a fourth (and final) round draft pick in the fall of 1991, he'd hit .253 and .188 in the majors in 1992 and 1993 and his manager through the 1993 season, Shozo Doi, didn't believe that he would ever hit with the batting style he used. But we're to believe that the Hilo set not only contains TWO cards of him, there were also gold signature inserts also? OK, he was the HWL MVP that year, but really? Two cards of a guy who might be a huge star in Japan but no one had any reason to expect was going to someday come to the United States (remember that this is a year before Hideo Nomo signed with the Dodgers)?
I bring this up now because I noticed someone selling the cards on eBay again today. (They might always be selling them, I just happened to see it today.) I'm not saying they're not legitimate. I'm not saying that they're not worth the money. And I'm certainly not saying that I really believe that these cards were printed in 2001 in an unfortunately successful attempt to cash in on the Ichiro craze. I'm just saying "caveat emptor".

Monday, September 7, 2009

Card Of The Week September 6

In honor of Labor Day, here's a 2002 Calbee card (#006) of Atsuya Furuta, head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association (JPBPA) for the last seven years of his playing career (not including his two years as player-manager).

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the one and only (to date) player's strike in NPB. During the 2004 season, Kintetsu, the owner of the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, decided that they wanted out of the baseball business. Instead of selling to a company outside of baseball, they decided to sell the team to Orix and merge the Buffaloes with the Blue Wave. (Team mergers had been somewhat common during the earlier days of NPB, but it had been over 45 years since the last one.) Obviously, essentially dropping one team from the Pacific League and having an uneven number of teams would create a scheduling nightmare, so the owners started kicking around some ideas. One thought was to get two other teams to merge or to simply dissolve a team. Since this would leave only four teams in the Pacific League, the thought then was to put all ten remaining teams in a single league.

The JPBPA (under Furuta's leadership) naturally objected to the potential loss of 150+ jobs, especially when it was being done unilaterally by the league. They announced that the players would not play any weekend games in September, starting the weekend of September 18-19. As it turned out, they only needed that first weekend walkout for ownership to relent. A compromise was quickly reached, where it was agreed that the Orix-Kintetsu merger would be allowed to go through (resulting in the Orix Buffaloes) but an expansion team would be added to the Pacific League so that the existing two league system would be retained. This expansion team ended up being the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. (And yes, you could ask why Rakuten didn't simply buy the Buffaloes from Kintetsu and move them to Sendai. I don't have a good answer for that.)

My memory is a bit hazy, but I believe that this compromise also included an agreement on allowing interleague play. I could be wrong, but interleague play did start the following season.

(Beyond the Baseball Reference Bullpen pages linked above, I got some of the information for this from Baseball America's 2005 Alamanac.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

BBM declares pennant races over?

There's still a couple weeks left in the season, but apparently BBM has already decided that the Fighters and Giants are the league champions this year. How else can you explain the fact that descriptions of two boxed sets, one for each team, appeared on BBM's website today?

Both sets are 43 card box sets. The Fighters set is titled "Fighters Energy". It contains 18 "regular" player cards, a three card "Hit Maker" subset, a six card "highlight scene" subset, a three card "fighting pitchers" subset, a six card "hopeful players" subset and two three card sequences (I think). The Giants set is titled "Exciting Road" and contains a similar collection of cards - 18 "regular" player cards, a nine card "uniform number" subset, a six card "highlight scene" subset, a three card "hopeful players" subset and a six card "swinging players" subset. Both sets also feature one insert/memorabilia/autograph card and will be in stores in early October, just in time for the Climax Series.

Before the leagues instituted the current playoff system, BBM typically produced a box set for each league champion when it became more or less obvious who it was going to be. They've experimented with a couple ideas for sets since the Climax Series began (2004's Pacific League Playoff set featuring all three playoff teams; the various small box sets for individual playoff teams since then) including not producing anything at all last year. Of course, it's possible that they might produce sets for the other teams in the playoffs this year once they've been determined.

BBM's website also listed a new box set dedicated to Masaichi Kaneda today. It's a 35 card set, with 34 "regular" cards plus one possible autograph/photo card (34 was Kaneda's number with the Swallows and the Giants - it's retired by Yomiuri).

I'm a bit confused by a couple of things. First, the website says the set was released at the end of June, but this is the first it's been mentioned on-line. (I suspect that that might be the real release date since the website actually has sample cards on it.) Secondly, the set is referred to as "BBM Legend Series 3". I'm not sure what sets were "BBM Legend Series 1" or "BBM Legend Series 2" or if there actually were sets called that.