Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Guest Post - Graded NPB Rookie Cards

I was having an on-line conversation with reader David Saba regarding a couple things (including the alleged 1993 Hilo Stars Ichiro cards) and we got into a discussion about graded cards.  David collects "Gem Mint" graded Japanese rookie cards of Japanese MLB players.  I don't know a whole lot about graded cards - I've never been that interested in them - so David offered to write a "guest post" about what he collects and how he got into it:

NPB Card Guy was nice enough to let me share my collection with his readers, so here goes.

I collect NPB Rookie Cards of guys who have made the jump to MLB. Whenever possible, I try to acquire Gem Mint graded copies of each player on my wish list.

I’ve been an avid baseball card collector since I was a kid in the late-80s and my interest in Japanese baseball initiated along with thousands of other Americans – I got caught up in Nomomania.

When Hideo Nomo burst onto the scene in 1995, it blew my mind in so many different ways. His electric stuff, the windup, the foreign language, I was hooked. How could someone from a far away land just appear in MLB and dominate hitters? I needed to know more about this professional league across the world and if there were other talented players like Nomo in Japan.

Gradually, NPB players made the move to MLB over the years and I followed their careers. When I found out these players had NPB cards, that was it, I just had to get my hands on those cards. Ebay was essential, but I’ve also acquired cards through private sales from other NPB card collectors. I’ve always collected MLB Rookie Cards, specifically MVP and CY Young Award winners. As I got older and could afford higher priced cards, I began to purchase graded Gem Mint copies for my collection. I decided to replicate this for my new NPB collection.

I like to set rules. When I decided to collect NPB Rookies of players who made the jump to MLB, I wanted my collection to only include accomplished MLB players, not just guys who made a brief appearance. For a player to appear on my wish list, they needed to meet one of the following requirements:

*Position players with at least 400 games played in MLB
*Pitchers with at least 200 innings pitched in MLB

With those parameters in place, my NPB Rookie Card wish list includes these 27 cards:

Ichiro Suzuki, 1993 BBM #239
Hideo Nomo, 1990 Takara Kintetsu Buffaloes #11 
Hiroki Kuroda, 1997 BBM #496 
Hideki Matsui, 1993 BBM #423 
Hisashi Iwakuma, 2000 BBM #388
Yu Darvish, 2005 BBM #116 
Koji Uehara, 1999 BBM #329 
Tomokazu Ohka, 1994 BBM #493
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, 1991 BBM #348
Takashi Saito, 1992 BBM #471
Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1999 BBM #413
Norichika Aoki, 2004 BBM #308
Masato Yoshii, 1988 Takara Kintetsu Buffaloes #36
Hideki Okajima, 1994 BBM #483
Akinori Otsuka, 1997 BBM #462
Masahiro Tanaka, 2007 BBM #211
Tadahito Iguchi, 1997 BBM #477 
Kenji Johjima, 1995 BBM #558
Kazuo Matsui, 1994 BBM #506
Akinori Iwamura, 1997 BBM #502 
Kosuke Fukudome, 1999 BBM #310
Kazuhiro Sasaki, 1991 BBM #196
Hideki Irabu, 1988 Takara Lotte Orions #18
So Taguchi, 1992 BBM #448
Kenshin Kawakami, 1998 BBM #385
Hisanori Takahashi, 2000 BBM #426
Kazuhisa Ishii, 1992 BBM #464

A few notes on this list. Junichi Tazawa and Dave Roberts were born in Japan, but never played in NPB, so they are not included. Mac Suzuki only played in NPB after his MLB career, he’s not really an NPB import, so I didn’t include him either.

There are many, many different interpretations collectors have for what constitutes a Rookie Card. My definition is simply the first time a player appears on a licensed card [EDITOR'S NOTE: David clarified that he's looking for the first "flagship" set appearance as the first cards of Aoki, Darvish and Tanaka are from BBM's Rookie Edition sets). For my NPB Rookie Card collection, I always look for BBM cards unless a player’s first card was not from BBM.

The guys in bold I have acquired – you can check out those cards in the images accompanying this post. If you have one of the rookies that I don’t have in Mint condition, let me know if you are interested in selling it to me in the comments section and maybe we can work out a deal.

The hardest part about acquiring cards for my collection has been the scarcity of Gem Mint graded examples. NPB card collecting is a niche hobby to begin with and few people submit their cards for grading. Some of the players on my list have very few examples graded BGS 9.5 or PSA 10. Kenji Johjima has just one graded Gem Mint rookie card. Others, like Akinori Otsuka, Masato Yoshii, Hisanori Takahashi and Hideki Irabu, have no Gem Mint  graded copies. To compile my collection, I will have to purchase ungraded copies that I think are Gem Mint and submit them for grading myself. I’ve recently acquired ungraded copies of Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda and Tadahito Iguchi NPB Rookies and will be submitting them to Beckett. In my experience, all three cards should receive Gem Mint grades. Fingers crossed.

In the past two years, as my collection has grown, I’ve become hooked on NPB baseball. Last March, I visited Japan for the first time and attended games at Seibu Dome, Meji Jingu Stadium and Fukuoka Dome. I had an absolute blast. Between singing (poorly) for home team players, the traditional 7th inning stretch balloon release and robots and cheerleaders on the field, NPB baseball offers an experience unlike anything we have in the states. I’m sure that as my love for NPB grows, my collection will grow with it.

How do you collect Japanese baseball cards and why? I’d love to read about your collection in the comments section. Thanks again to NPB Card guy for the platform and for providing invaluable insight on the hobby.

David sent me scans of his cards.  Here's the graded ones:

And here's the cards he has that still need to be graded:

I'll attest to the difficulties he has in finding cards that meet his standards for grading.  I have a couple of the cards that he's looking for (1994 Kazuo Matsui and Tomo Ohka and the 2000 Hisashi Iwakuma) but based on the scans that I sent him, none of the cards would end up being graded "Gem Mint".

I want to thank David for writing the post.  It's been a while since I've had a guest post from anyone.  If anyone else wants to write an essay on a relevant topic, let me know.


David Saba said...

For anyone interested in collecting NPB Gem Mint Graded Rookie Cards, here is an updated count of Beckett (BGS) and PSA Gem Mint cards for each player on my list (as of March 23, 2016). One note, I combined BGS 9.5 Gem Mint and BGS 10 Pristine cards in this count. There are very, very few examples of Pristine 10 Cards. PSA does not make that distinction.

Ichiro Suzuki, 1993 BBM #239 (30 BGS / 101 PSA)
Hideo Nomo, 1990 Takara Kintetsu Buffaloes #11 (8 BGS / 19 PSA)
Hiroki Kuroda, 1997 BBM #496 (3 BGS / 0 PSA)
Hideki Matsui, 1993 BBM #423 (10 BGS / 102 PSA)
Hisashi Iwakuma, 2000 BBM #388 (3 BGS / 5 PSA)
Yu Darvish, 2005 BBM #116 (36 BGS / 4 PSA)
Koji Uehara, 1999 BBM #329 (13 BGS / 8 PSA)
Tomokazu Ohka, 1994 BBM #493 (0 BGS / 9 PSA)
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, 1991 BBM #348 (0 BGS / 4 PSA)
Takashi Saito, 1992 BBM #471 (1 BGS / 0 PSA)
Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1999 BBM #413 (106 BGS / 33 PSA)
Norichika Aoki, 2004 BBM #308 (0 BGS / 1 PSA)
Masato Yoshii, 1988 Takara Kintetsu Buffaloes #36 (0 BGS / 0 PSA)
Hideki Okajima, 1994 BBM #483 (0 BGS / 2 PSA)
Akinori Otsuka, 1997 BBM #462 (0 BGS / 0 PSA)
Masahiro Tanaka, 2007 BBM #211 (41 BGS / 6 PSA)
Tadahito Iguchi, 1997 BBM #477 (3 BGS / 0 PSA)
Kenji Johjima, 1995 BBM #558 (0 BGS / 1 PSA)
Kazuo Matsui, 1994 BBM #506 (0 BGS / 16 PSA)
Akinori Iwamura, 1997 BBM #502 (7 BGS / 1 PSA)
Kosuke Fukudome, 1999 BBM #310 24 BGS / 9 PSA)
Kazuhiro Sasaki, 1991 BBM #196 (0 BGS / 8 PSA)
Hideki Irabu, 1988 Takara Lotte Orions #18 (0 BGS / 0 PSA)
So Taguchi, 1992 BBM #448 (0 BGS / 0 PSA)
Kenshin Kawakami, 1998 BBM #385 (7 BGS / 1 PSA)
Hisanori Takahashi, 2000 BBM #426 (1 BGS / 1 PSA)
Kazuhisa Ishii, 1992 BBM #464 (1 BGS / 2 PSA)

Sean said...

I`ve never been into graded cards but I can see how it creates an interesting challenge for someone trying to track them down in top shape like that. Interesting post.

Anonymous said...

... Yes, I am the current owner of the Kenji Johjima BGS 9.5 Graded Rookie Card.


David Saba said...

Scott - interested in selling it? -David

Anonymous said...

Why no Tsuyoshi Shinjo or Kensuke Tanaka, David?

David Saba said...

Anonymous - I didn't include Tsuyoshi Shinjo or Kensuke Tanaka only because of my arbitrary requirements of a minimum of 400 games played for position players and 200 IP for pitchers. Shinjo played 303 MLB games and Tanaka played 15 MLB games. Basically, I wanted to focus on collecting rookie cards of crossover players who had extended MLB careers, not NPB stars who only had "a cup of coffee" in MLB. Totally arbitrary on my part.