Monday, December 2, 2013

NPB Ex-Patriots In Non-BBM Sets

I did a lot of research for the post on NPB Ex-Patriots appearing in BBM sets but I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't do quite enough research.  If I had, I wouldn't have claimed that Calbee had never featured MLB players in their sets.  It turns out that they have but it only happened a couple of times.  Of course, what really makes it embarrassing to me is that I wrote about one of those times just two weeks ago!

The reason I missed the Calbee cards is that I don't have any of them in my collection.  My Calbee collection is a little sparse through much of the aughts and I did my research based on my personal collection database because it was easier than thumbing through Engel looking for cards.  Plus I knew that Calbee had not done a Title Holder card for Yu Darvish in 2012 or Best 9 cards for Kenuke Tanaka and Hiroyuki Nakajima in 2013.  So I extrapolated from these two recent data points to assume that Calbee had never featured MLB players in their sets.

Calbee's a bit easier to deal with because with a couple of exceptions, they really don't do much in the way of OB cards.  There were subsets in both the 2002 and 2012 sets to celebrate their 30th and 40th Anniversaries respectively but none of the players featured in these subsets were playing abroad at the time.  So really the only things to be concerned about were the Title Holder or Best 9 subsets, which Calbee will include in their sets in an inconsistent fashion.  What I did to research this was go to's Inventory Manager and for each player look to see if he had a Calbee card in the first year he played in MLB.

To be fair to me, I wasn't really that far off.  It turns out that Calbee has only featured an MLB player on two occasions.  In 2001, they included a special 1 card subset called "Ichiro Rookie Reprint" which featured a reprint of one of Ichiro Suzuki's first Calbee cards from the 1994 Hokkaido set.  And in 2003, they actually had five cards of Hideki Matsui - a Best 9 card and four Title Holder cards (one of which was reprinted in the 2013 Calbee Series Three set).

As I mentioned above, Calbee is inconsistent with the Title Holder and Best 9 subsets.  They don't necessarily appear every year.  So is it really fair of me to say that they didn't include anyone other than these two?  Maybe it just worked out that they never happened to have had one of those subsets at the same time an ex-patriot should have appeared in it?

Nope - it's totally fair for me to call them on it.  Calbee did Best 9 subsets in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2013.  They've been a lot more consistent with the Title Holders subset, having done it every year since 2001 except 2004.  The Best 9 subset in 2001 should have included Ichiro and Tsuyoshi Shinjo - it did not.  The subset only contained 16 cards instead of the 19 it should have - like BBM, Calbee was unable to sign up Bobby Rose.  The Title Holder subset should have included Ichiro as well but did not.  (Rose didn't make it in the set either).  The 2005 Best 9 subset does not have Tadahito Iguchi and (as mentioned before) the 2013 one is missing Kensuke Tanaka and Hiroyuki Nakajima (as well as Tony Blanco and Yoshio Itoi).  Kazuo Matsui lead the PL in hits in 2003, Kei Igawa lead the CL in strikeouts in 2006, Tsuyoshi Nishioka lead the PL in average and hits in 2010 and Yu Darvish lead the PL in strikeouts in 2011 but none were included in the following year's Title Holder subsets.  (Shingo Takatsu and Yasuhiro Yabuta were also excluded from Title Holder subsets but it is not unreasonable to guess that the categories that they lead their league in - Save Points for Takatsu and Hold Points for Yabuta - may not have been ones that Calbee would commemorate, even if BBM did.)

I do find it very strange that BBM would feature Ichiro on a special subset card, but not on a Best 9 or Title Holder card.  It's possible that Calbee came to terms with Ichiro after the First Series (which included both the Best 9 and Title Holder subsets) which allowed them to put the rookie reprint card into the Second Series.

Speaking of weird ways of treating Ichiro in 2001, let's talk briefly about the Upper Deck sets that year.  Upper Deck did four sets in Japan in 2000 and 2001 - two each in each year.  They did a Victory set in each year that include some "Stat Leader" cards - a card showing both league leaders in a particular category,  In 2000, the categories were Batting Average, Home Runs, RBIs, Stolen Bases, Wins and ERA.  In 2001, the Batting Average card was replaced by a Strikeout leader card.  Why?  Because Ichiro lead the PL in batting average in 2000.

But the weird-ness was yet to come.  In 2001 Upper Deck published a beautiful set with 120 cards in the base set and a number of insert sets.  One of the insert sets was labelled Best 9, which lead you to think it was for the 2000 Best 9 Award winners (which would have included Ichiro, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and Bobby Rose).  What Upper Deck did is replaced the missing players with other players.  The insert set features Toshihisa Nishi instead of Rose and Yoshinobu Takahashi instead of Shinjo.  They didn't replace Ichiro so much as simply quietly remove him - the insert set features 18 cards instead of the expected 19 (9 for the CL, 10 for the PL including the DH).  At least Upper Deck didn't label the cards "2000 Best 9" as that would have been incorrect.  So what's weird about this is that Ichiro and Shinjo ARE IN ANOTHER INSERT SET IN THE SET!  There was a Stars Of Japan insert set that included the two in their MLB uniforms.  So somehow, Upper Deck had the rights to produce cards in Japan for Ichiro and Shinjo in their MLB uniforms but not their NPB uniforms.

I believe that I have completely beaten this topic into the dirt now, but to wrap up - BBM fairly consistently features former NPB players who are active in North America in their sets but Calbee (with a couple exceptions for Ichiro and Hideki Matsui) really doesn't.  Upper Deck didn't either during their short stint publishing cards in Japan.  I will leave it to someone else to research Konami and Bandai as I'm not familiar with the kinds of subsets that they have and what could reasonably be expected of them.

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