Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 In Review - BBM

BBM issued 35 sets in 2017 (including a couple that were actually issued in late 2016).  This may sound like a lot but it's actually the fewest number of sets they've released in a year since 2009 when I think they issued 34. 

21 of these sets were BBM's perennial sets - the "flagship" 1st and 2nd Version sets, the high end Genesis set, the 12 pack based team sets, the Rookie Edition (draft pick) set, the "Farewell" set for players who retired in 2016, the Rookie Edition Premium set, the two dance team/cheerleader sets ("Hana" and "Mai") and the "Icons" box set (which had a theme of "Japan Pride" this year). 

There are a couple of other sets that look like they will become annual issues.  BBM released the "Fusion" set for the second consecutive year which is kind of a wrap up on the season - it includes cards of player highlights and the statistical leaders as well as additional "flagship" cards and more First Pitch Ceremony cards.  The "Time Travel" set has replaced the annual "Historic Collection" set and the 2017 edition set highlighted the year 1975.  BBM issued their first ultra high end set since 2015's "Masters Of Insert" - this one was called "Rising Sun" and featured active players instead of OB players.  BBM also issued another multi-sport set to follow up on 2016's "Masterpiece" set - this one was called "Infinity".

For the fourth consecutive year, BBM issued a box set a specific team's cheerleaders and dance squad.  This time around it was called "Fighters Girl & B * B Family" and (obviously) was for the Fighters squad (and mascots).

I was a bit disappointed this year that BBM did not issue a "Classic" set.  I'm guessing that it simply wasn't popular enough to continue after four years.

The remaining nine sets were all team specific box sets.  Most of these featured autograph or memorabilia chase cards.  There were "Premium" sets issued for the 2016 pennant winners (the Fighters and the Carp); "HEAT" sets issued for the Dragons, Tigers and Lions and "Young" sets for the Carp, Tigers and Fighters.  There was also a box set issued called "Successful Achievement" that celebrated the Carp winning the Central League pennant for the second year in a row.  (And yes, you're reading all of this correctly - there were three box sets issued for the Carp and two each issued for the Fighters and Tigers.  The nine box sets covered only five teams.)

Other than the Time Travel set there were no OB only sets issued this year (although the Fusion set had a number of OB players in it).  I'll be curious to see if there are more OB sets issued in 2018 as there are a number of team anniversaries this year that were commemorated in sets in 2008 - the Hawks franchise founding (80th in 2018), Lotte acquiring the Orions (50th in 2018), the Whales moving to Yokohama (40th in 2018) and Seibu acquiring the Lions and moving them to Tokorozawa (happened in 1979 so 2018 is the Lions 40th season in Saitama).  There also were no "single player" sets issued this season for the first time in quite a while.

Card Of The Week December 31

I got a little surprise the other day in the mail.  I had picked up a couple bromides from the 1940's recently on Ebay because they featured players wearing the uniform of a team called "Gold Star".  "Gold Star" was a team that started up in 1946 and became the Kinsei Stars in 1947 and then the Daiei Stars in 1949.  They would eventually merge with the Mainichi Orions to become the team that is now the Chiba Lotte Marines.  Even though the seller had identified the players, I really wasn't paying too much attention until I went to enter the cards in my database and realized that one of the players was Hall Of Famer Michio Nishizawa.

Michio Nishizawa is best known as a pitcher, batter and manager for the Chunichi Dragons.  He joined the Dragons as a pitcher in 1937 at the age of 15 which made him the youngest player ever in professional baseball in Japan.  He had a somewhat mixed career as pitcher over the next seven seasons, going 55-57 overall although he had a couple bright spots - he went 20-9 in 1940 and threw a no-hitter against Hankyu in 1942.  He was conscripted into the Army following the 1943 season and apparently injured his shoulder.  When he returned to the Dragons in 1946 he returned to the mound but pitched relatively poorly - going 5-8 with a 4.68 ERA.  He was never a big strikeout pitcher but he only struck out 22 batters in 121 innings while giving up 90 walks.  His friend Michinori Tsubochi (Japanese Wikipedia describes him as a "former colleague" but I can't figure out where they might have played together before) was the player-manager of Gold Star and Nishizawa somehow got himself transferred to that team in the middle of the 1946 season.  Tsubochi moved Nishizawa off the mound to first base - Nishizawa would only pitch in two more games after leaving the Dragons. 

Nishizawa remained with Tsubochi and the now Kinsei Stars for two more seasons after 1946.  He had decent numbers with the bat but it wasn't until he returned to the Dragons in 1949 (taking Tsubochi with him or maybe it was the other way around) that he really took off.  He hit .309 with 37 home runs and 114 RBIs in the Japan Baseball League's final season.  He followed that up by hitting .311 with 46 home runs and 135 RBIs in the inaugural season for the Central League.  His power numbers dropped off after that but he still hit for average, leading the CL in batting in 1952 with a .353 average.  He helped the Dragons to their first (of only two) Nippon Series Championships in 1954.  He retired after the 1958 season and managed the Dragons for four seasons from 1964 to 1967.  He appears to have stepped down as manager before the 1968 season due to poor health

He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1977 and his uniform number 15 (which he wore after he returned to Chunichi in 1949) was retired by the team.  Tragically his poor health caught up to him in 1977 - he had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1971 that he left him confined to a wheelchair and he passed away in December of 1977 due to heart failure.  He was only 56 years old.

Here's the card of him with Gold Star.  The card is uncatalogued so I don't know much about it.  Since he only played in 34 games with the team in 1946 it must have come out either late in the year or in early 1947.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Who Had A Card In 2017?

I decided this year that I would do something that I've toyed with doing for a number of years - I would sit down and figure out how many players in NPB had cards this season and how many did not.  To make life a bit easier for myself I limited myself to seeing who appeared in the BBM and Calbee "flagship" sets (1st Version and 2nd Version for BBM and the Series One and Two for Calbee) as well as the BBM team sets (the 81 card pack based sets, not the smaller box sets).  I didn't include any of the Epoch sets since they didn't do any large scale sets.  (From what I could see there weren't any players who appeared in an Epoch set but not in a BBM set.)

Here's some numbers on what I figured out - there were 924 players who appeared on an NPB roster this season.  88 of these players were ikusei players.  From what I can tell there were 75 players who did not have cards this season.

There were 654 players who made at least one appearance at the ichi-gun level.   15 of these players did not have a card in one of the sets that I mentioned although six of those appeared in the BBM Fusion set (four of them also appeared in BBM's Genesis set) - Wily Mo Pena and Roel Santos of the Marines, Livan Moinelo of the Hawks, Xavier Batista of the Carp, Chris Marrero of the Buffaloes and Carlos Rivero of the Swallows.  This leaves nine ichi-gun players who did not have any NPB cards at all this season.  Four of these are foreign players - Jason Rogers of the Tigers, Yadir Drake of the Fighters, Stephen Fife of the Lions and Josh Corrales of the Eagles.  The other five are all ikusei players who were moved to their team's 70-man roster during the season - Taturo Iwasaki of the Dragons, Alejandro Mejia of the Carp, Shogo Kimura of the Lions and Ryuta Konno and Chia-Hai Sung of the Eagles.

Additionally there were five players who only played at the ni-gun level who also did not appear on any cards this season.  All of these players were ikusei players who were registered to the 70 man roster during the season.  They are Naoto Nishida of the Tigers, Takumaru Yaoita of the Eagles and Makoto Aoyama, Daiki Masuda and Takaya Tanaka of the Giants.

BBM hasn't included any ikusei players in their pack based team sets for the last few years so the only ikusei players who have cards this year are the ones who were taken in last fall's draft and therefore appeared in BBM's Rookie Edition set last winter.  There are 27 ikusei players who had cards in Rookie Edition leaving another 61 who had no cards at all in 2017.

In addition, there were seven players who were traded during the season.  Only three of these players appear on a card with the team they were traded to - Keisuke Tanimoto of the Dragons, Luis Mendoza of the Tigers and Toshiki Kurobane of the Fighters.  All three of these cards are in the BBM Fusion set.  The other four players are Toshihiro Sugiura of the Fighters, Luis Cruz of the Eagles, Shogo Yagi of the Swallows and Edwin Escobar of the Baystars.

I do want to point out that I don't have the Fusion set in hand yet so the cards in it are not in my database.  I've simply added the nine "1st Version Update" cards to my list.  It's possible (although I don't think it's likely) that some of the players that are missing have "regular" cards in the Fusion set.

I've embedded the spreadsheet that I put together to figure all this out.  I did an SQL query to get the list of the 2017 cards I had which I then manually went through and rearranged to the current format.  (If I do this again next year I'll probably write a Java program to do that part.)  I then compared the list of players for each team with the rosters on NPB's website (which luckily haven't been updated for 2018 yet).  I included in the listing the manager for each team and any coaches that appeared in the team sets (which was only Masayuki Kakefu of the Tigers).

There was only one team for which every player this season had a card - the Chiba Lotte Marines.  Their only two ikusei players (Shota Sugawara and Yoshizumi Yasue) were in BBM's Rookie Edition set and their only late signing foreign players were Pena and Santos who were in both the BBM Genesis and the BBM Fusion sets.

A couple of notes about this sheet - I only listed sets in the "Other Sets" column if the player did not appear in a "flagship" or BBM team set.  So for example since Shohei Ohtani appeared in BBM's 1st and 2nd Version sets as well as their Fighters team set and Calbee Series One, I didn't also list him as appearing in Genesis and Fusion.  The contents of the "Notes" column was taken pretty much verbatim from the rosters on the NPB website.  I didn't include notes for players who were released or retired as it wasn't pertinent to what I was trying to accomplish.

I hope all of this makes sense.  I've been working on this for more than a week.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Card Of The Week December 24th

Busy weekend so I've got to do this fast.  This is an uncataloged bromide card of Tsuguhiro Hattori of the Dragons (or at the time of the photo Chubu Nippon).  Hattori was the first Dragons pitcher to reach 100 wins and his uniform number (#10) was retired by the team,  His career lasted from 1939 to 1958 although he missed several seasons due to the war.

The uniform he's wearing was apparently used by the team in 1946 and 1947 although the team only went by the name "Chubu Nippon" in 1946.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Yoshihisa Hirano of the Arizona Diamondbacks

Former Orix Buffaloes pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano has reportedly signed a two year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Hirano will be the second Japanese pitcher to play for Arizona, following Takeshi Saitoh who appeared in 16 games for them back in 2011.  Hirano was drafted by Orix out of Kyoto Sangyo University in the "preferred entry frame" of the fall 2005 draft and has spent his entire 12 year NPB career with them.  He was a starter for his first four seasons with Orix pitching decently but with little luck as he ran up a record of 18-36 (he actually missed the entire 2008 season with an elbow injury).  He moved into a middle relief role in 2010 and lead the Pacific League in "hold points" in 2011.  He took over the closer role from Mamoru Kishida in 2013 and secured 143 saves over the next five seasons (despite losing his closer job to Tatsuya Sato in 2015 and having to beat out former major leaguer Erik Cordier for the job the next year).  He lead the league in 2014 with a then PL record 40 saves.  Hirano was named to the Pacific League All Star team five times (2006, 2010-13) and played for the Japan National Team in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

His first BBM cards were #27 from the 2006 Rookie Edition set, #140 in the 2006 1st Version set and #Bs09 in the 2006 Buffaloes team set.  He's appeared in every BBM flagship set since 2006 except for the 2nd Version sets from 2008, 2009 and 2010.  He also appears in the BBM All Star sets from 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2012.  His first Calbee card was #126 in the 2006 set.  As always this isn't a comprehensive list - check out TradingCardDB for a more complete list.

Here's a sampling of his cards:

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #27

2006 BBM 1st Version #140

2006 BBM Buffaloes #Bs09

2007 Calbee #257

2010 BBM All Stars #A47

2011 Bs Club #2

2012 BBM 1st Version #350

2012 BBM Pedigree #04

2013 Front Runner Buffaloes Rookies & Young Stars #09

2017 BBM Buffaloes #Bs06

Thursday, December 21, 2017

High End For The Holidays

There's a couple of the ultra high end sets that have been announced recently, two of which are coming out next week.

- BBM appears to be doing one ultra high end set per year.  This year's version (and by this year I mean 2018) is called "Glory" and is one of the sets that will hit the stores next week (Discount Niki says it will be out on Tuesday the 26th).  Each 16,200 yen (~$143) box contains one pack with six cards in it - I believe that at least one of these is guaranteed to be an autograph or memorabilia card and another will be a "high end" insert card.  The base set has 36 cards of current players (I'm assuming three cards for each team) - I think each card of the base set is serially numbered to 99 and there's a parallel version for each card serially numbered to 70.  There are two insert sets called "ULTRA XTAL" (36 cards numbered to 50) and "Glorious 3D" (12 cards numbered to 20 according to the website but I think it's actually 25) and a smorgasbord of possible autograph and memorabilia cards including ones with  multiple jerseys or patches and multiple autographs.  BBM released a box break video for the set on their YouTube channel yesterday:

- Epoch is pushing out one last 2017 set just before the end of the year.  Boxes of the "Hanshin Tigers Season Achievement" set will be released on December 29th and will retail for about 12,960 yen (~$114).  Each box will contain two packs containing 5 cards each.  Each box will contain two "special insert cards" including one autographed card.  The base set has 18 cards of current Tigers players (including manager Tomoaki Kanemoto), each of which has a parallel version available.  There's four different varieties of memorabilia cards available (12 total cards) and four different types of autographed cards available (56 total cards).

- Epoch's first set for 2018 will be another Tigers set but this time the set will only include OB players.  "Hanshin Tigers Glorious Players" will be released on February 10th.  Boxes will run 15,120 yen (~$133) and will contain two packs containing three cards each.  Each pack is guaranteed to contain an autographed card.  The base set will contain 40 cards, each of which has a parallel.  Each player in the set has an "A" and a "B" version of an autographed card and each of these has a parallel version as well (so each player has four possible autographed cards).  There are also two possible "triple autograph booklet" cards that feature three autographs on a foldout "booklet" and a couple different varieties of Tomoaki Kanemoto bat cards - some of which are autographed.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Card Of The Week December 17

It was announced this past week that another Japanese player would be heading to the Australian Baseball League - Kenshi Sugiya of the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters will be joining the Brisbane Bandits for the second half of the season.  The league will be off for the All Star break and Christmas this week but Sugiya is expected to join the team in their series against Adelaide starting on December 29th.  Sugiya joins the team when it appears that most of the other Japanese players in overseas winter leagues are heading home - Tomoya Mori left the Melbourne Aces a week early due to injury and him Lions and Aces teammates Kona Takahashi and Shunta Nakatsuka will be heading back this week after the All Star game on WednesdayThursday.  Louis Okoye left his Mexican Pacific League team a few weeks ago and I think that Tomo Otosaka is done as well - not sure about Luciano Fernando.

I'll be curious to see if Sugiya stays with the team all the way to the end of the season.  The Bandits' last game is January 27th, just a couple of days before the Fighters open spring camp on February 1st.  And the Fighters are again sending the main part of their team to Arizona for the first two weeks of February and Sugiya has gone with the team each of the last two years.  Another thing to consider is that the ABL post-season will potentially go the first two weekends of February.  Brisbane currently has the best record in the league.  Either Sugiya's going to miss the ABL playoffs or he's going to miss spring camp (or Brisbane's going to not make the playoffs but that seems unlikely - especially since the ABL's new playoff format has four of the six teams making the postseason).

Here's Sugiya's card from this year's BBM Fighters set (#F43):

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Favorite Card Of 2017

P-Town Tom of Waiting 'til Next Year is running a contest/challenge for other bloggers to do a quick post for their favorite card of 2017.  It took me a little bit to narrow it down to one but this is the one I decided to go with:

This is card #18 from BBM's Hiroshima Toyo Carp "Successful Achievement" box set that came out in October to celebrate the team's Central League pennant.  The card shows Tsubasa Aizawa hitting a sayonara two-run home run to beat the Baystars on April 18th of this year.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Autographed Cards From Justin

Justin (who is one of what I call the three amigos of Korean Baseball Cards along with Dan and George) recently moved from Korea to Arizona.  He spent some time this fall getting autographs at Arizona Fall League games and while there discovered that Jeremy Powell, the pitching coach for the Salt River Rafters, had played in Japan.  Justin asked me if I had any Japanese cards available for Powell and it turned out I had nine unique cards that I sent off to him.  Justin got back to me saying that Powell had signed the cards and loved them - he apparently didn't have any Japanese cards of himself.  I sent the remaining cards that I had off to Justin for him to give to Powell.  Justin got one of them signed for me and sent it to me a couple of weeks ago:

2003 BBM 1st Version #224
Justin included another autographed card for me as a thank you gift (not that he needed to do that).  It's an autographed card of former Lion and current Buffalo Hiroyuki Nakajima.  Justin got the autograph a few years ago when Nakajima was playing in Sacramento when he was in the A's organization.  He says it's a terrible autograph but "Believe it or not, that was probably one of the better autographs that I got from him":

2012 BBM 1st Version #382
Terrible autograph or not, it's still cool to get the autograph of a former Lions star.  Thanks for everything Justin!

Justin got interviewed recently by Dan on his Korean Cardboard blog and has also started a Facebook page for his autographed memorabilia called Charm City Autographs.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels

After years of speculation, intrigue and machinations, Shohei Ohtani has finally signed a contract with an MLB team - the Los Angeles Angels.  Not one of my favorite teams but also not one that he'd be dead to me if he joined so I'm good with it (not that my opinion matters).

Typically on a "New Import" post I'd mention the player's rookie cards and what sets he's appeared in.  I've beaten the subject of his rookie card to death with a couple posts last year - one that showed a bunch of his 2013 rookie cards and another that painstakingly listed every card I'm aware of that was issued for him in 2013 (including promos).  He's appeared in every BBM flagship set (both 1st Version and 2nd Version) since 2013 as well as all the Genesis (2013-17), Classic (2013-16) and Fusion (2016-17) sets.  He's been in every BBM team set for the Fighters including both the pack based sets and the various box sets (2013 Young Fighters, 2014 WE LOVE HOKKAIDO, etc) and three "Historic Collection" sets - 2014's Brilliant Teenagers, 2015's Memories Of Uniform and 2016's The Ballpark Stories.  He also appeared in BBM's sets for the 80th Anniversary of professional baseball in Japan in 2014 and the company's 25th Anniversary in 2015.  He appears in every Calbee set since 2013 as well although he doesn't always have a "regular" card in the set - there's a couple years (2013 & 2017) that he only appears in a subset.  He had cards in the Bandai Owners League sets from 2013 to 2015 (their final year).  He also appears in a couple of Epoch's sets in the past two years for both the Pacific League and the Fighters themselves. UPDATE - I completely forgot to mention that BBM did a box set last year called "Go Higher" that featured both him and Shintaro Fujinami.

Here's a bunch of his cards, most of which I don't think I've shown before:

2013 BBM Fighters #F83

2013 BBM Fighters 10th Season In Hokkaido #89 


2014 BBM 80th Anniversary Batters Edition #90

2015 BBM Memories Of Uniform #103

2015 Bandai Owners League 01 #009

2016 Calbee #C-3

2016 BBM Opening #02

2016 Pro Yakuu AI Fighters #02

2016 BBM 2nd Version "One And Only" insert #OO02

2017 BBM 1st Version "Rookie Reprint" insert #R01

2017 Bowman "Chrome Prospects" #BCP31

Card Of The Week December 10

I recently picked up this bromide card from a seller on Ebay.  It's a great action shot - I just wish I could figure out who's in the photo.

The seller identified it as "1950' Vintage Japanese Baseball Photo Card 'YAMAMOTO & OHTOMO" so I started researching based on those names.  There's only two "Ohtomo's" to play professionally in Japan in the 40's and 50's - Kazuaki Ohtomo who played between 1936 and 1948 and Takumi Ohtomo who played between 1949 and 1960.  Both were pitchers so you'd think they'd be the baserunner then.  But I haven't found a catcher named Yamamoto during this time period.  From the fielder in the background I'm guessing that the catcher played for Hankyu as the uniforms are consistent with what the team wore between 1945 and 1949.  There's no Yamamoto who played for Hankyu during that time period. I haven't identified the uniform worn by the base runner.  It COULD be the Daiei Stars uniform from 1949 but neither Ohtomo played for that team (although Kazuaki had played for that team the previous year when it was the Kinsei Stars).

It's also entirely possible that this is from a college game and not a professional game at all.  Which means I have even less chance of figuring it out.

Obviously the fact that I can't read Japanese is hampering me here.  I can see the kanji for both "Yamamoto" and "Ohtomo" in the second line of text.  The first two characters on the first line look kind of like the kanji used for "Hankyu" (which isn't necessarily the kanji that says Hankyu) but they might not be.

I'd appreciate any help anyone can give me on this one.

UPDATE - Got an email from Jay Shelton who passed on a translation for the card from Jeff Alcorn, one of the "pioneers" of the Japanese baseball card hobby.  Jeff says that the card literally says something like:
Hankyu - Kinsei
Kinsei Yamamoto Otomo center hit 2 home
Jeff goes on to add:  "So basically it is Hankyu vs. Kinsei, Hideo Yamamoto & Kazuaki Otomo scored for Kinsei after a hit to center field, 2 runs home. I don't think that the Braves' catcher is named, but the writing at the end of the sentence is very hard, however, it does not resemble the name of either of the Braves' catchers. Hideo Yamamoto's last year was with the Kinsei Stars in 1947, so I think that dates the card."

So I got off track figuring that one of the names was the Hankyu catcher.  I should have guessed that the baserunner's team was Kinsei and I'm not sure why I didn't investigate that further.  Of course there's still the question of which Kinsei Stars player is the baserunner - Ohtomo or Yamamoto.  I'd like to believe it's Ohtomo because he's a little more interesting of a player - he played in the first ever professional game in Japanese history on April 6th, 1936 and had the first ever stolen base.  If he's still alive (his Japanese Wikipedia page does not have a date of death for him), he's 101 years old now.

So thanks to Jay and Jeff for translating this for me!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Miles Mikolas of the St Louis Cardinals

Giants pitcher Miles Mikolas is returning to MLB after three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.  Mikolas signed a two year deal with the Cardinals earlier this week.  I thought I'd do a "New Import" post for Mikolas like I did when Tony Barnette returned to North America two years ago.

Mikolas had gone 4-6 with an ERA of 5.32 in 37 MLB games before he joined Yomiuri after the 2014 season.  In his first season with the Giants he went 13-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 145 innings.  He lead the Central League in Winning Percentage that year and his wife Lauren got a lot of attention from the Japanese press while watching her husband in the stands - enough that she ended up on a baseball card in Sports Card Magazine #112.  Shoulder issues limited him to only 14 games in 2016 when he went 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA.  He was fully healthy again this year and had a 14-8 record with a 2.25 ERA and led the league with 187 strikeouts (in 188 innings).

His first Japanese card was in the 2015 BBM 1st Version set (#171).  He had two other BBM flagship cards - #195 in the 2016 1st Version set and #504 in the 2017 2nd Version set.  His other BBM set appearances include the 2016 and 2017 Fusion sets, the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Giants team sets, the 2016 "Historic Collection" set (The Ballpark Stories) and the 2017 Genesis set.  He never had a "regular" Calbee card - his lone base set card was from the 2016 Title Holders subset (#T-13).

2015 BBM 1st Version #171

SCM #338/2015 BBM Giants #G82

2016 BBM The Ballpark Stories #008

2016 Calbee #T-13

2017 BBM Giants #G15

2017 Epoch Giants #13

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Card Of The Week December 3

The Australian Baseball League is not the only winter league featuring Japanese players this offseason.  There are three players from Japan in the Mexican Pacific League.  Outfielder Tomo Otosaka of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars is with Yaquis de Obregon.  He's currently hitting .475 after 17 games.  The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have sent two outfielders to the league.  Luciano Fernando is currently hitting .444 after 5 games with Venados de Mazatlan and Louis Okoye is still looking for his first hit after one game with Caneros de los Mochis.  Here's cards of all three of them:

2013 Front Runner Baystars Rookies & Young Stars #08

2016 BBM Eagles #E67

2017 Epoch Pacific League ##44
There's also a number of recent Western NPB players in the league this winter including Yadir Drake, Japhet Amador, Yuniesky Betancourt and Matt Clark.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Professional Players From Todai

The University Of Tokyo has a rich heritage.  It was originally chartered in 1877 by the Meiji government and was later known as first the Imperial University (1886) and then the Tokyo Imperial University (1897) before reverting back to its original (and current) name in 1947.  (The school is also referred to as "Todai" which appears to be an abbreviation).  The school has had many prestigious alumni including 15 Prime Ministers of Japan and 12 winners of either a Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal.

What the school doesn't have many of in their alumni is professional baseball players.  Despite being part of the Tokyo Big Six intercollegiate baseball league since its inception in 1925, there have only been six Todai players to ever sign a professional contract.  The most recent player was Kohei Miyadai, who was drafted by the Fighters in the seventh round this fall's NPB draft.  I thought it'd be interesting to write about the previous five players, especially since Deanna Rubin left a comment on my post about the draft to give me a bunch of information on them.  I was lucky in that the 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 set had cards for all five players although I had other cards for four of them.

The first ever professional player from Todai was Shinji Niihara.  Niihara actually went to work for the Taiyo corporation as a salaryman after graduating in 1965 but he managed to convince the owner to let him play baseball for the Whales which Taiyo owned at the time.  He was able to do this as this was the last year before NPB implemented a draft.  He got into 88 games mostly out of the bullpen in four seasons between 1965 and 1968 - the bulk of which were in 1965 (40 games) and 1966 (37).  He went 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA.  After he retired from baseball he continued to work for Taiyo and later was an advisor to the Baystars.  He passed away in 2004.  As far as I know his 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 is his only card ever.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #077
The next Todai professional player was Takashi Ide who was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in the third round of the fall 1966 draft.  He was originally a pitcher and went 1-4 with 5.13 ERA in 1967.  He converted to the outfield (I think it was due to injury) and by 1970 was back with the top team as a backup outfielder and pinch runner.  He retired after the 1976 after appearing in 359 games, the most for any Todai alum.  He also appeared in the 1974 Nippon Series which I think makes him the only Todai alum to play in a Nippon Series.  He went on to coach the Dragons for two separate sessions (1978-86, 1992-95) as well as working in their front office and as a baseball commentator.  He has at least one card beyond his Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 cards - it's from the 1977 NST Mr Baseball set.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #078

1977 NST #31
It would be a quarter century until another University Of Tokyo player joined NPB.  Itaru Kobayashi was the eighth round pick of the Chiba Lotte Marines in the 1991 draft.  He spent two seasons with Lotte's farm team without making any appearances at the ichi-gun level.  Deanna says that the rumor was that Lotte actually drafted him to get him to join their front office.  He went on to do a number of things including getting an MBA from Columbia University and working the front office of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  He had a card in the 1993 Tomy set which I think is his only card other than his Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 card.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #080

1993 Tomy #253
The fourth professional Todai player was Ryohei Endoh who was drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 draft by the Nippon-Ham Fighters.  Like Kobayashi, Endoh only spent two years in NPB although he did get into one game with the ichi-gun team in 2001 (although Deanna says it was only his retirement game - he only faced one batter and he gave up a hit).  He's been working in the Fighters front office since then.  Endoh has a card in the 2000 BBM set as well as his 2011 Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 card - I suspect that these are his only cards.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #081

2000 BBM #372
The final Todai professional player prior to Kohei Miyadai was Takahiro Matsuka.  Matsuka was the ninth round pick of the Yokohama Baystars in the 2004 draft.  He didn't pitch at the ichi-gun level until 2009 when he got into nine games and went 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA.  He was traded to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as part of a six player trade.  He made five appearances with the Fighters in 2010, going 0-0 with an ERA of 4.26.  He spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons exclusively with the farm team and was then released.  He came to the US in early 2013 and unsuccessfully attempted to join the Dodgers and White Sox.  He ended up signing with the Gary Southshore RailCats of the independent American Association.  He made one disastrous appearance with Gary - he face four batters and only got one of them out.  He hit two batters and walked the other one and threw a wild pitch.  Ultimately all three runners scores although only two of the runs were earned so his American Association ERA is a tidy 54.00.  After he retired as a player he became a schoolteacher.  He has the most cards of any Todai alum - besides appearing in BBM's 2005 Rookie Edition and 1st Version sets and the 2010 2nd Version set he also appeared in BBM's team sets for the Baystars between 2005 and 2009 and the Fighters from 2010 to 2012.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #099

2005 BBM Rookie Edition #80

2005 BBM 1st Version #486

2010 BBM 2nd Version #749
In addition to the five cards of professional Todai players the 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 set had cards of two additional players from the school.  I was curious about who they were so I did a little bit of research.  Takeo Azuma attended the school from 1925 to 1929.  He threw the first and what I think may be the only no-hitter in school history in 1927.  After graduation he served in the Imperial Navy in the Philippines and apparently died of disease just after the war ended in November 1945, possibly in a POW camp.  Kensuke Ohkoshi attended Todai from 1981 to 1984.  He went on to a journalism career, mostly covering politics for NHK.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #076

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #079