Sunday, March 30, 2014

Card Of The Week March 30

Opening Night Eiichi Koyano of the Fighters hit a bases loaded single in the bottom of the twelfth inning to beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-5.  I just recently discovered (via NPB Tracker) that Pacific League TV has a highlights page which allows me to add the video of the hit:

Here's Koyano's 2004 BBM Fighters card (#F53):

Thursday, March 27, 2014

All Future And No Past

This has nothing to do with baseball cards but it's Opening Day in Japan and I thought it might be fun to put together a consensus of pre-season picks by people who know much more than I do about NPB.

Jason Coskrey John Gibson Jim Allen Beisbol Japanes Tsuyoshi Oshita Masaru Uno Takahiro Tokutsu Susumu Otomo Yukinaga Maeda Hideki Asai
Central 1 Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants Giants
2 Carp Carp Carp Carp Carp Carp Tigers Carp Carp Dragons
3 Tigers Baystars Swallows Dragons Tigers Dragons Carp Dragons Baystars Tigers
4 Swallows Tigers Tigers Baystars Dragons Tigers Baystars Tigers Tigers Swallows
5 Baystars Dragons Baystars Tigers Baystars Baystars Dragons Baystars Dragons Baystars
6 Dragons Swallows Dragons Swallows Swallows Swallows Swallows Swallows Swallows Carp
Pacific 1 Hawks Hawks Hawks Hawks Hawks Hawks Hawks Hawks Hawks Eagles
2 Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Eagles Marines Fighters Marines Hawks
3 Marines Lions Marines Fighters Marines Marines Eagles Lions Eagles Buffaloes
4 Lions Marines Buffaloes Marines Lions Buffaloes Lions Eagles Lions Marines
5 Buffaloes Buffaloes Lions Lions Buffaloes Lions Buffaloes Buffaloes Fighters Lions
6 Fighters Fighters Fighters Buffaloes Fighters Fighters Fighters Marines Buffaloes Fighters

Taking the average predicted finish for each team give the following crowd-sourced prediction:

Central League:
Giants 1
Carp 2.5
Tigers 3.6
Dragons 4.2
Baystars 4.4
Swallows 5.3

Pacific League:
Hawks 1.1
Eagles 2.3
Marines 3.4
Lions 4.2
Buffaloes 4.8
Fighters 5.2

And in case you're wondering about the title of the post, it's the name of the best song about Opening Day ever by the Baseball Project:

Sources: Jason Coskrey, John Gibson's Central League and Pacific League picks, Beisbol Japanes, and the Tokyo Sports predictions from Yakyu Baka. Jim Allen's picks came from last week's Japan Baseball Weekly podcast.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2014 BBM Eagles 10th Year Memorial

The Tohoku Rakuten Eagles came into existence in 2005 as a replacement for the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes, who had "merged" with the Orix Blue Wave to become the Orix Buffaloes (they were not really merged - Orix assimilated the Buffaloes into their collective).  That means that 2014 is the tenth season for the Eagles and BBM has produced another anniversary set for the occasion.

As you might expect, the Eagles are the last NPB team to get an Anniversary set from BBM - this is probably the first anniversary worth noting for them.  I'm a little amused that they got a 90 card, pack based set when Orix only got a 55 card box set for their 20th Anniversary in 2009 (BBM has released a larger set for their 25th Anniversary).

The first 74 cards in the set are devoted to OB Eagles.  As usual, "OB" in this case means both retired players as well as former players still active in either NPB or somewhere else.  Some of the players included are Takeshi Yamasaki, Akinori Iwamura, Hisashi Iwakuma, Norihiro Nakamura, Jose Fernanadez, Kazuo Fukumori and Fernando Seguignol.  One notable inclusion is Keiichi Yabu, who briefly played for the Eagles in 2010 (basically 11 games between August 10 and September 4) after playing in North America for five years after leaving Hanshin following the 2004 season.  This appears to be the only BBM card depicting Yabu with the Eagles (the only other Japanese card showing him with the Eagles was a 2010 Owners League card).  Off hand there's no one obvious missing although there are some questionable inclusions - Hironori Fujisaki for one, who never appeared in a BBM flagship set after his rookie year of 1999 (with Kintetsu) and only made 26 appearances with the ichi-gun Eagles over a three year stretch with an ERA of 6.14.  Katsunori Nomura, the poster boy for nepotism in NPB (he is Katsuya Nomura's step-son) is another questionable inclusion.

Here's a couple of the OB player cards:



The next three cards in the set are devoted to the three mascots of the Eagles - Clutch, Clutchena and Mr Carrasco:

There is a four card subset containing the four managers the team has had - Yasushi Tao, Katsuya Nomura, Marty Brown and Senichi Hoshino.  I find it interesting that after not appearing in any OB sets for years, Nomura has now appeared in three sets in the past year.  I wonder why he's doing them now.

The final subset is devoted to the 2013 team.  It's a "Best 9" so there's only nine cards - Ginji (Akaminai), Kazuya Fujita, Ryo Hijirisawa, Andruw Jones, Kazuo Matsui, Casey McGehee, Takero Okajima, Motohiro Shima and Masahiro Tanaka.  This is probably the biggest quibble I have with the set - it's short shrifting the 2013 team by leaving off Takeshi Saito, Takehiro Norimoto, Manabu Mima, Darrell Rasner, Kenny Ray and any number of other key players from last year's championship team.

Which leads to my other bone to pick with this set - there's no historic highlights.  I get the feeling that BBM had already laid this set out before the team won the Series last year as there doesn't appear to be any mention of it (although since I still can't read Japanese, I don't know for sure the backs don't say something about it).  Seriously if BBM could come up with "highlights" for the last 20 years of the Baystars, they could have come up with some for the Eagles (2013 championship, 2009 playoff run).  As I've said before, I feel like BBM is really trying to ignore the fact that the Eagles won the Nippon Series last year - no Nippon Series set, not "Championship" Leader card in 1st Version and no mention in the 10th Anniversary set.  Perhaps they had a lot of money riding on the Giants?

As usual, Ryan beat me to posting about the set and you can see all the cards at Jambalaya.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

2014 BBM Dragons Legend

The latest team to be "honored" by BBM with a Legends set is the Dragons.  The theme of this set is the Senichi Hoshino managerial era from 1987 to 2001.  That's actually two separate managerial stints for Hoshino - Morimichi Takagi ran the team from 1992 to 1995 (as well as 1981 to 1986 and 2012 to 2013).

As I discussed with Ryan in the comments of his post on the set, this is kind of an odd era to highlight for the Dragons.  The highlights of this time period were that they won the Central League in 1988 and 1999, but lost in the Nippon Series both times.  But given that this was a team that hadn't won a Nippon Series since 1954 and had only made two in those 30+ years (1974 and 1982), this may have been the "Golden Age" for the Dragons until the past 10 years.

At 81 cards, this set is smaller than the two previous Legend sets (Giants and Tigers).  It uses the same basic card design, although the background color is blue rather than the beige of the Giants and the gray of the Tigers.

The set went to press after the Dragons announced their manager and coaching staff for 2014 back in October.  The first 14 cards in the set are labelled "2014 Dragons Headquarters" and feature cards of player/manager Motonobu Tanishige and the rest of the 2014 coaching staff from when they were players with the Dragons (regardless of whether or not that was between 1987 and 2001).


The bulk of the set is made up of cards of Dragons players from the featured time frame.  There are 58 player cards (including Hoshino and Takagi).  Most of the major stars from this time period are in the set, including several who are still currently active - Kosuke Fukudome, Kenshin Kawakami, Shigeki Noguchi, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Masaru Uno, Hitoki Iwase, Hirokazu Ibata, Massahiro Yamamoto and Takeshi Yamasaki.  There's a heavy dose of gaijin players included also - Alonzo Powell, Gary Rajsich, Leo Gomez, Genji Kaku and Jong Beom Lee as well as what I believe is the first Japanese card ever of Vance Law (who played 122 games with Chunichi in 1990).  The biggest name missing is Hiromichi Ochiai, who as GM of the team could have been included in the "Headquarters" subset as well.  Ochiai has not appeared on a baseball card since being dismissed as Dragons manager in 2011.






The final nine cards in the set are devoted to Dragons team leaders.  These are all time team leaders, not just for the Hoshino era.  This strikes me as something that belongs in an Anniversary set more than a Legends set but I'm guessing that BBM wants an opportunity to get a couple older players in the set so they can have an excuse to include an autograph card of the player.  And so 88 year old Shigeru Sugishita, who last threw a pitch for the Dragons in 1958, eleven years before Hoshino joined the team as a pitcher, is included in the set for being second in victories (behind Masahiro Yamamoto).


If you can't tell, I'm feeling kind of "meh" about this set.  As a Dragons fan, I really want to like it but it really suffers in comparison to the 70th and 75th Anniversary sets that BBM's done previously (although neither of those sets included Hoshino which may have been part of the attraction for this set to BBM).  I'll be interested in seeing if BBM continues the Legend series and what team will be next.

All the cards in this set can be seen here.

Card Of The Week March 23

Ryan had a couple of interesting posts about 1970's Calbee this past week which made me go take a look at the cards I had from those years.  I wanted to see if I had cards from each series of the 1975/76 Calbee set that he listed.  Turns out I do not.

But while looking through that binder, I ran into this little beauty from the 1980 set:

1980 Calbee #246

This sequence shows Masashi Takenouchi of the Tigers stealing home against the Giants.  Looks like he was safe.

I'm pretty sure the catcher is Kazuhiro Yamakura.  I was doing a little research on it and I was a bit stymied by the fact that both the Japanese Baseball Database and Baseball Reference claim that Yamakura never played catcher (not surprising they agree as I think the Baseball Reference data came from Japanese Baseball Database).  Kazuhiro and I respectfully disagree:

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #033
Both sources also only list 27 games played by Giants catchers in 1980 so obviously something's not quite right.

I don't say this to make fun of either data source - they are great references and this is just a minor issue.  I know only too well from my own card database how easy it is to input something incorrectly.

2014 BBM Brilliant Teenagers

When is a historic set not an historic set?  How about when it contains more active players than retired players.  For the past 10 years or so, each of BBM's annual "Historic Collection" sets have contained 144 cards in the base set that are evenly divided between active players and OB players.  (For the purposes of these sets, "active" players are players who played in NPB the year before the cover date on the cards and "OB" players are either retired or active in some other league than NPB.)  The 2014 edition, entitled "Brilliant Teenagers" is a little heavy on the active players, however, as it has 83 of them as opposed to 61 OB players.

The theme of this year's set is players who debuted in NPB as teenagers.  All the pictures appear to be from a time in which the player was a teenager (so for example the card of Motonobu Tanishige of the Dragons shows him with the Whales in the late 1980's) so the cards are at least historic in that sense.

It's kind of an odd collection of players.  On the one hand, you've got a number of Hall Of Famers and Meikyukai players (or guys towards the end of that spectrum) - Tsuneo Horiuchi, Hideki Matsui, Kazuo Matsui, Yutaka Enatsu, Masayuki Kakefu, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, Takuro Ishii (as a pitcher!), Manabu Kitabeppu, Akira Etoh, Tomonori Maeda, Kenji Johjima, Yukio Tanaka, Tsutomu Itoh, Kimiyasu Kudoh,  Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Keishi Suzuki.  The active players include a number of big stars like Masahiro Tanaka, Kenta Maeda, Seiichi Uchikawa and Sho Nakata, super-veterans like Masahiro Yamamoto, Norihiro Nakamura, Daisuke Miura and Tanishige as well as a couple players from the 2013 rookie class - Shohei Ohtani and Shintaro Fujinami.  There's also a couple players currently playing in North America - Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroyuki Nakajima.  On the other hand, there are a number of guys included who had very short careers - Kento Tsujimoto (three years at the ichi-gun level), Tomoya Kawaguchi (three years), Hiroyuki Miura (three years), Shoji Matsumoto (32 games over six seasons) and Kazunori Tanaka (five years and shown in a Shonan Searex - ni-gun team for the Baystars - uniform).  I'm not sure why they were significant enough to be included.  Miura and Matsumoto are appearing on BBM cards for the first time ever - they were the top two picks for the Hankyu Braves in the 1978 draft.

Now that we've covered who's in the set, who's not that should be?  For starters, anyone who debuted in the pre-draft era (before 1965).  BBM apparently decided to make this another Draft Story so the oldest players in the set are Horiuchi and Enatsu.  This leaves out any number of legends who debuted as teenagers including Sadaharu Oh, Katsuya Nomura, Sachio Kinugasa, Tetsuharu Kawakami and Masaichi Kaneda (who debuted with the Swallows in 1950 at age 16!).  Of the draft era players, the omission of Choji Murata stands out (as usual) and Ichiro, Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka all would have been appropriate to have included.

The cards themselves are pretty attractive.  Most of the pictures are in color and there's a good balance of action vs candid shots.  The occasional horizontally formatted card looks nice as well.  The set is organized by team - 12 cards per team with Kintetsu and Rakuten being combined.

Here are some example cards:









All the cards can be seen at Jambalaya and Ryan did a post on the set as well.

I had debated using the Horiuchi card since Ryan showed it on his post but I like the card too much not to include it.  I think it and the Yukio Tanaka card are my two favorites from the set.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Owners League Pack Busting

I'm not a big collector of either the Konami or Bandai game cards but I had an opportunity to pick up a couple packs of Bandai's Owners League cards in the last few months so I grabbed them just to see what they looked like.

The first pack I got was back in January.  It was from last year's set - I think it was Series 1.  Until I actually opened the packs, I did not know how many cards were in the pack.  It turns out there were three:

I'd say the most interesting thing in this pack was the card on the far right - it's a "Legend" card of Takenori Emoto.  But the two regular cards are attractive even if the players aren't particularly notable.

The other packs I picked up were two from 2012.  These were also from Series 1 and each contained three cards apiece:

Another uninspiring group of players but the cards themselves aren't too bad.  I like the larger photo from the 2013 cards a little more than the 2012s.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Card Of The Week March 16

Last week I did a post on how Choji Murata was the first Japanese pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery under the knife of the late Dr Frank Jobe.   Greg Dunn left a comment asking if maybe Masaharu Mitsui might have been the first instead of Murata.  I had never heard of Mitsui, so I started doing some research.

Mitsui was taken in the second round of the 1973 draft by Lotte and was the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 1974 (the year Lotte won the Nippon Series).  According to his Japanese Wikipedia page, he hurt his arm in the late 1970's and was operated on by Jobe.  That page does not say what kind of injury it was or what type of surgery Jobe did (or at least the Google translation doesn't say) but the page for Tommy John surgery lists him as the first Japanese recipient.

Press reports when Jobe died indicated that Murata was the first Japanese pitcher to undergo the surgery.  Robert Whiting devoted the better part of a chapter to Murata's experience but after reviewing the book again last week, I see that at no point did he ever explicitly say that Murata was the first to have the surgery.  Whiting related the story in the context of how Japanese baseball's culture at the time made it difficult for Murata to seek medical attention for his arm.

The two players experienced very different outcomes from the surgery.  Murata famously pitched for another seven seasons.  Mitsui only appeared in eight games over two seasons after the surgery before retiring in 1982 at age 28, the year before Murata went under the knife.

So ultimately I'm not sure of who the first was, but it looks like it certainly could have been Mitsui.

Mitsui has very few baseball cards.  The only card that was produced during his career was from the 1975 NST set.  He only has two other cards - one from the 2008 BBM Lotte 40th Anniversary set and one from last year's Epoch Rookie Of The Year set.  Here's the BBM card (#25):

2013 Front Runner Trading Card Box Sets

The final group of items from the box of goodies Ryan sent me a few weeks ago were a group of five box sets from last year that were produced by Front Runner Trading Cards (aka Frontier International, not that there's anything useful from a card collecting standpoint at that website).

Front Runner appears to be relatively new as a card maker.  Their first set was the Hiroshima Athlete Magazine Starting Lineup set in 2012.  Last year they released seven sets in all.  They did another set with Hiroshima Athlete Magazine entitled Carp Stars And Legends, three sets with the Lions, Baystars and Buffaloes entitled (somewhat misleadingly) Rookie And Young Stars and three sets with the Buffaloes, Baystars and Carp titled Season Summary.  Jason has speculated that Front Runner acts kind of like Multi-Ad does with minor league team sets in the US - they are contacted directly by teams to get their card sets produced.

All the sets done by Front Runner so far have been boxed sets containing 25-27 base cards and one autographed card.  As a result, the face value of the sets are generally 8400 yen (roughly $84).  As usual, the ones Ryan picked up for me were opened and the autographed cards removed so he was able to get them for 500 yen or less.

The only two sets that I do not have (yet) are the Lions and Buffaloes Rookie And Young Stars sets (Ryan did a post on the Buffaloes set).  Here some details about the other five sets:

The Carp Stars And Legends set contained 27 cards in the base set.  These were broken into a couple subsets - 19 "regular" cards featuring members of the 2013 Carp, 7 "Legends" cards featuring famous OB Carp and a "Carp Heritage" card featuring Shota Dobayashi and Kenjiro Nomura.  The oddest thing to me about this set is that if you're going to have "Legend" Carp players, I would expect to see Koji Yamamoto and Sachio Kinugasa.  Neither of them are included in the set.  The OB players are Manabu Kitabeppu, Takeshi Koba, Kenjiro Nomura, Koichi Ogata, Yutaka Ohno, Shinji Sasaoka and Mitsuo Tatsukawa.  This set was the second set that Front Runner and the Carp did with Hiroshima Athlete Magazine.



I have to say that I'd been stumped by the symbol on the "Rookie And Young Stars" set for much longer than I should have been.  It was hard to tell if the symbol was "14 Stars", "RL Stars", "RY Stars" or something else.  I think both Jason and Ryan kind of independently realized that it was "RY Stars" as in "Rookie and Young Stars".  D'oh!

The set name is a little misleading as there are players included in each of the three sets that are not rookies or young stars.  The Baystars set, for example, includes Daisuke Miura, Norihiro Nakamura and Alex Ramirez, all of whom started last season at an age of 38 or more.

There are 26 base cards in the Baystars set, spread out in seven(!) subsets, an amazing number for such a small set.  There is a 1 card subset for manager Kiyoshi Nakahara, a three card "Stars" subset, a five card "Hometown Stars" subset, a three card "Young Stars" subset, a two card "Legendary Stars" subset, a five card "World Stars" subset and a seven card "Rookies" subset.  The cards for each subset except the Nakahata and the "Rookies" subset feature the player picture superimposed over different (for each subset) backgrounds.  For example, the "Hometown Stars" cards use a picture of Yokohama as the background while the "World Stars" use the flag of the country that the player is from as a background.  The "World Stars" are Tony Blanco (Mexican flag), Nyjer Morgan (USA), Alex Ramirez (Venezuela), Jorge Sosa (Mexico) and Enyelbert Soto (Venezuela).  The two "Legendary Stars" (I suppose they suppressed the urge to label this subset "Old Stars") were Daisuke Yamashita and Yutaka Takagi, who played for the team back when it was called the Yokohama Taiyo Whales.







The three Season Summary sets are apparently attempts to chronicle the season for each team.  Almost all the player cards have a date on the back that indicates when whatever accomplishment by the player is being commemorated.  Not being able to read Japanese (still), I don't know what many of the events are, although I know that one of the Norihiro Nakamura cards from the Baystars set is for him getting his 2000th hit on May 5 last year.  The front of each card shows a close up picture of the player while the back shows the full picture.

Baystars #16

Baystars #16 back
Some of the backs have a horizontal format instead of vertical.  The card of Tomonori Maeda of the Carp shows his retirement do-age on the back rather than the front picture:

Carp #18

Carp #18 back

The Carp and Buffaloes sets have 25 cards each while the Baystars set has 27.  There are multiple cards for several players in each set - for example, Norihiro Nakamura has three cards in the Baystars set, Yoshio Itoi has three cards in the Buffaloes set and Kenta Maeda has four cards in the Carp set.  The biggest omission that I can see is the Alex Ramirez is not in the Baystars set despite the fact that his 2000th hit last April was one of the highlights of the season (and I think that Alex Ramirez has an autographed card in the set although I can't find where I saw that online again).  The Buffaloes set includes a card of Alessandro Maestri who only appeared on an Owners League card and the BBM Buffaloes set last year.  It also includes several players wearing Orix Blue Wave uniforms from some "Turn-Back-The-Clock" games last year.  The Baystars set includes three cards of players from the 1998 Championship team (Daisuke Miura, Takeo Kawamura and Takanori Suzuki) which I'm guessing is for the 15th Anniversary of the team's sole Nippon Series championship in Yokohama.  The Carp set includes five cards that are not associated with any particular date - I'm not sure what the deal is with them.  There's also two cards of pitchers (Kenta Maeda and Yusuke Nomura) batting in the Carp set (and a card of pitcher Hikaru Itoh in the Buffaloes set wearing a batting helmet).

Buffaloes #22

Buffaloes #03

Baystars #25

Carp #03
Ryan did a write up on the Baystars Season Summary back in January.

Front Runner is releasing card in 2014 as well.  The Lions Rookies And Young Stars set was just released last week and I think that the Carp and Buffaloes versions will be out next week with a Baystars set coming out in April.