In 2000, there was a promotion held in Japan to elect the best player of the 20th Century for each of the nine field positions - a Century Best Nine. BBM issued two sets in conjunction with this promotion - the 484 card 20th Century Best Nine set issued in 2000 which featured four cards for each of the 120 players on the ballot and the nine card Century Best Nine insert set issued with the 2001 Preview set that featured the winning team. I'm not normally much of a collector of insert cards, but I found this one very appealing and decided that I wanted to complete it. It took 10 years, but last month I finally found the last card I needed on eBay.
As with All Star game line ups, since the fans were doing the voting, some of the winners are probably not as deserving as others. In fact, the list contains four players who were active at the time (3 of whom are still active), which seems rather unlikely. Rob Fitts sells a group of cards he calls the "All Century Team" - he's made four corrections to the team. So in Eleven Points style, I'm going to list the nine players here in order of how deserving I think they are.
1. Sadaharu Oh - 1B: This is a no brainer.
2. Shigeo Nagashima - 3B: I suppose someone could make a case for Sachio Kinugasa, but this is pretty much a no brainer also.
3. Isao Haromoto - OF: 500 homers, only guy with 3000 hits...how could he possibly not be on the team?
4. Hiromitsu Ochiai - 2B: 500 homers, a couple Triple Crowns, another no brainer
5. Ichiro - OF: This is the first guy that Rob left off his team. He picked Koji Yamamoto and Yutaka Fukumoto rather than Ichiro and Hideki Matsui. I have to say that in this case, I don't agree. I think this is the one active player who really did deserve to be on this list.
6. Hideki Matsui - OF: Now in this particular case, I will agree with Rob (although it may just be that I want to bump a Giant and future Yankee). Not sure which of Yamamoto or Fukumoto I would replace him with - Yamamoto had 536 home runs but Fukumoto had 1065 stolen bases. You have to go to the fourth significant digit to get a difference in career batting average (Fukumoto batted .2907, Yamamoto .2904). I guess I'd personally give the nod to Fukumoto because I'm partial to base stealers but Yamamoto is a good choice as well.
7. Kazuo Matsui - SS: Rob actually left him on the team, but I'm not so sure. Especially since by the end of 2000, Little Matsui had only played about five and a half seasons in ichi-gun and not shown much power yet. Problem is that I'm not sure who a better choice is. Maybe Yoshio Yoshida?
8. Yutaka Enatsu - P: OK, Enatsu is an interesting choice. He did the Dennis Eckersley thing before Dennis Eckersley - after being a top starter for the first 10 years of his career, Nankai converted him into a closer which he excelled at for much of the remainder of his career. He ended up with over 200 wins. Problem is - Masaichi Kaneda (Rob's choice) won 400 games in his career, the first 15 of which were spent with a really lousy Kokutetsu Swallows team. I don't see really how you could pick Enatsu over Kaneda.
9. Atsuya Furuta - C: OK, much as I like Atsuya Furuta, his selection over Katsuya Nomura is a joke. Nomura hit 658 home runs, second highest in Japan. He played for 26 years. Furuta is easily the catcher of the 90's, but Nomura was (arguably) the catcher of the 50's, 60s and 70's. This is a reverse no brainer.
I will point out, however, that both Nomura and Kaneda are notorious for not appearing in OB sets (in fact Kaneda is not in the 20th Century Best 9 set - he has cards in the set but the picture is blank). So I suppose it's possible that they were selected but choose not to have cards made...but that doesn't seem real likely.