Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Mail Day From Justin - Fixing My 2017 Epoch Lions Set

I got a package in the mail today from Justin, aka Charm City Autographs, that contained some assorted goodies.  Before I go into most of what he sent me though, I need to explain an odd situation I discovered a few months back.

Back in 2017 Epoch issued smallish (27 to 26 cards) team sets for the Dragons, Hawks, Tigers, Carp, Lions, Swallows, Baystars and Giants.  The "gimmick" that Epoch rolled out for these team sets was that each card would have one to five(!) possible short printed "photo variant" parallels.  I've always wondered if this was in response to BBM introducing "secret versions" - short printed "photo variant" parallels - in that year's 1st Version set.  Unlike BBM's version, it was easy to tell if you had an Epoch photo variant because there was one or more stars on the back of the variants.  Ryan had picked me up a "master" set for the Tigers and base sets with no variants for the other seven teams back in 2017.  Or so I thought.

Fast forward to a few months ago.  Justin opened a box of the Lions set and asked me if there was anything from it I was interested in.  I told him that I'd be interested in a photo variant of Takeya Nakamura if he had one - Nakamura's probably my favorite player right now and if I were to decide to do a PC for someone it would be him (although I'm really not serious considering doing a PC for anyone).  Justin checked and discovered he had a "one star" variant of Nakamura and put it in the mail to me.  I was excited to get it and pulled out my binder full of 2017 Epoch cards to put the card with the rest of the set when I made a surprising discovery.

I already had it.

What I had assumed (but obviously never actually checked) was that my Lions set was all the regular, non-short printed base cards.  This was not the case.  Of the 27 cards I had, only seven were the regular cards.  Three were "two star" variants and the remaining 17(!) were "one star" variants.  

While this is an interesting development, not having a base set bugs the heck out of my OCD, so after checking that the other sets weren't a similar Frankenstein mix of base and variant cards (they weren't) I set out to see what I could do about this.

What I concluded was...not much.  I checked Yahoo! Japan Auctions thinking that a complete base set might be out there pretty cheap but there were none to be found.  I asked Ryan what he thought about looking for a set or singles and he said he could look but he wasn't real optimistic.  In the meantime he suggested I ask Justin if he could help.

Justin could and did - sending me five of the base set singles I was missing.  This was the bulk of the package I received today.

Here are the cards he sent me along with the short printed variant that I already had.  The base set card is the one of the left.  All of the variants are "1 star" except for Ernesto Mejia which is a "2 star" variant.  Obviously for these particular cards it looks like Epoch just re-cropped the photo for the variant.






Here's the back of the Akiyama cards so you can see what I mean by a "1 star" variant:

So five down, 15 to go!

The other item Justin sent me was really cool.  Justin discovered recently that former Orix BlueWave and Hanshin Tiger George Arias runs a batting cage in Tucson, Arizona where Justin lives and he arranged to get some cards autographed.  He was nice enough to send me one:

2000 Power League #149

So thanks for the cards, Justin!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Kim Ha-seong of the San Diego Padres

The San Diego Padres today signed Kim Ha-seong, formerly of the Kiwoom Heroes, to a contract for reportedly at least four years.  Kim was originally a third round pick of the then-Nexen Heroes in the 2014 draft and he made his debut later that season.  He stepped into the starting shortstop role the next season to replace Kang Jung-ho who had left Nexen for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  He's been the Heroes starting shortstop ever since, winning three straight Golden Glove awards from 2018-20.  He's also played for the Korean National Team at a number of international tournaments including the 2017 World Baseball Classic and the 2019 Premier 12.  

His first baseball card is #SBC03-108 in the 2014 Ntreev Duael Super Star Season 3 set and he's had at least one card in each year since then in either the SMG/Ntreev/Dauel sets from 2015-16 and SCC from 2017-20.  There's a mostly complete list of all of his cards over at the Trading Card Database.  Here's the cards I have of his:

2014 Ntreev Duael Super Star Season 3 #SBC03-108

2015 SMG Ntreev Baseball's Best Players Hell's Fireball #PA01-NE004

2016 SMG Ntreev Baseball's Best Players Diamond Winners #PA02-NE003

2016 SMG Ntreev Baseball's Best Players Forever Ace #PA03-NE006

2016-17 SMG Ntreev Superstar Black Edition #SBCBK-063-AS

2017 SCC #SCC-01-NX16/N

2018 SCC KBO Collection #SCCR-01/160

2018 SCC KBO Collection 2 Red #SCCR-02R/055

2019 SCC KBO Collection #SCCR1-19/073

2019 SCC Premium #SCCP1-19/080

2019 SCC KBO Collection 2 #SCCR2-19/075

2019 SCC KBO Collection 2 #SCCR2-19/075 All Star

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Card Of The Week December 27

I picked up a "Glorious 3D" insert card of Yu Darvish (#3D01) on Ebay a few months ago.  This is one of those cards that looks better in person than in a scan:

Here's what the back looks like:

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Kohei Arihara Of The Texas Rangers

Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighter pitcher Kohei Arihara has signed a two year contract with the Texas Rangers.  Arihara was selected by four teams in the first round of the 2014 draft - the Fighters, the Carp, the Tigers and the Baystars - and the Fighters won the lottery for his rights.  He debuted with the ichi-gun team the following May and ended up going 8-6 with a 4.79 ERA in 18 starts which doesn't sound all that good but it was a good enough performance to be named Rookie Of The Year that season.  His best two seasons were 2016 when he went 11-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 2019 when he went 15-8 with a 2.48 ERA.  He was an All Star in both of those seasons and his 15 wins led the PL in 2019.

Arihara's first cards predate his NPB playing career.  BBM did sets for the Tokyo Big Six collegiate league between 2008 and 2013 and Arihara appears in the last three sets they did (2011 Autumn Version, 2012 and 2013).  He's the first player featured in one of those sets to sign with an MLB team.  Here are his three collegiate cards:

2011 BBM Tokyo Big Six Autumn Version #26

2012 BBM Tokyo Big Six #07

2013 BBM Tokyo Big Six #10

His first NPB card is #023 from the 2015 BBM Rookie Edition set.  Other 2015 cards for him include BBM's 1st Version (#073), 2nd Version (#409), Fighters (#F06) and Genesis (#020) sets, Calbee's Series One set (#019) and Bandai's Owners League 02 set (#25).  He's been in every BBM 1st and 2nd Version set since he began his career and had at least one Calbee card every year as well.  He's also been in all three Epoch NPB sets.  Trading Card Database has a fairly complete list of his cards.  Here's some of his cards - you can see that some of his cards suffer from a lack of variety of poses:

2015 BBM Rookie Edition #023

2015 BBM 1st Version #073

2015 Calbee #019

2016 Calbee "Title Holder" #T-02

2017 BBM Fighters #F07

2018 BBM/Nippon-Ham Home Run Sausage #2018-N06

2018 Konami Baseball Collection #201810-N-F016

2019 BBM Fusion "Title Holder" #TH17

2020 Epoch NPB #149

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Missing Rookies Of The Year

Last week when I did my post about the 2020 NPB Award Winners I noticed that Pacific League Rookie Of The Year Kaima Taira did not have a card in either the 1st or 2nd Version sets from BBM this year.  This is not the first time this has happened - the 2018 Pacific League Rookie Of The Year Kazuki Tanaka didn't have a card in either of BBM's flagship sets from 2018 either.  I thought I'd do a little research and see how often it's happened in BBM's history.

Now you may be asking yourself "How can this happen?  Doesn't BBM issue a card of each year's entire rookie class?"  The answer is yes, but "rookie" means something different for BBM than it does for NPB.  For BBM, a "rookie" is a player in his first professional season.  In this context, Kaima Taira's "rookie" season was 2018.  For NPB, a "rookie" is a player who has not exceeded 30 innings pitched or 60 at bats with the ichi-gun team, has been registered to the team's 70 man roster for less than five years and has never played in an overseas league (so Tyler Austin was not eligible for the Central League award this year).  So while BBM didn't consider Kaima a rookie in 2020, NPB did.

As you see then, the only "rookies" that are guaranteed to be in BBM's flagship set each year are the previous year's draft picks.  Anyone else is subject to whether or not BBM thinks the player is worth including - and since they aren't playing on the ichi-gun team, they probably won't.  The one thing in BBM's favor is if the player is obviously playing well on the top team in the early part of the season BBM can include them in the 2nd Version set.  This actually happened for both Rookies Of The Year last year - neither Munetaka Murakami nor Rei Takahashi (who were both 2017 draft picks and therefore 2018 "rookies" in BBM's eyes) were in 1st Version but both were included in 2nd Version.

What I found out when I looked into this is that BBM has not had a card of a Rookie Of The Year in that year's flagship set (or sets) eight times since they started doing cards in 1991*.  What's kind of surprising about that total is that it's not randomly distributed between the two leagues - it's happened seven times for the Pacific League winner but only once(!) for the Central League winner.

*I want to caveat this by saying that the Rookie Of The Year did not have a "regular" player card in the flagship set.  They may have appeared in a subset or insert set dedicated to top prospects.

The Central League winner who didn't appear in the flagship set(s) was Tatsuhiko Kinjoh in 2000.  The Pacific League winners who were absent are Makoto Kaneko (1996), Tatsuya Ozeki (1998), Itsuki Shoda (2002), Ryo Sakakibara (2010), Hirotoshi Takanashi (2016), Tanaka (2018) and Taira (2020).*

*It's kind of odd that four of those seven (Kaneko, Shoda, Sakakibara and Takanashi) were Fighters

So obviously this will only happen if the award winner is NOT in their first professional year.  One of the reasons for the discrepancy between the two leagues is that the Central League is much more likely to have their Rookie Of The Year be a rookie in BBM's eyes as well.  Only five times in the last 30 years has the CL award winner not been in his first professional season.  On the other hand, the PL winner has not been in his first professional season ten times, slightly more than a third of the time (there was no Pacific League Rookie Of The Year in 2000).  

Still you'd only expect there to be a 2 to 1 difference between the two leagues, not a 7 to 1 difference.  It's also happening more frequently - 2020 was the third time in the last five years that the Pacific League Rookie Of The Year was not in a BBM flagship set.  All I can guess is that with so much more talent on the Pacific League teams than the Central League teams (based on the PL's dominance of the CL in both interleague and the Nippon Series over the past 15 years) that BBM has a tough time picking the players to include.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Card Of The Week December 20

The Australian Baseball League kicked off their 2020/21 season last week...kind of.  Only two of the eight scheduled games were able to be played.  The Canberra Cavalry was unable to travel to Perth due to Western Australia's requirement that people from New South Wales quarantine for 14 days due to a COVID outbreak on Sydney's North Shore.  Similarly the Melbourne Aces left Sydney after playing only two of their four games with the Blue Sox to get back to Victoria before the state closed their border with New South Wales.  I'm not sure at the moment what the league's plans are going forward - at the moment it looks like the only games scheduled for next weekend are games between the Aces and Cavalry in Canberra.

In past seasons there have been a number of NPB teams that have sent players to Australia but for obvious reasons that is not happening this year.  I did recently learn though that there's at least one Japanese player who signed with an ABL team this winter.  Former Fighters pitcher Masaru Nakamura has joined the Brisbane Bandits (who don't have a scheduled game until January).

Nakamura had been the Fighters first round pick in the 2009 Draft but had been released by them after the 2019 season.  He had attended the 12 team tryout last year but he didn't caught on with anyone and announced his retirement.  He had traveled to Brisbane earlier this year (not sure if it was January or March) to study English and so was already in country when all the COVID-19 travel restrictions went into effect.  He had played with the Surfers Paradise Club baseball team during the Australian winter and signed with Brisbane back in September.  

Here's a card of Nakamura from the 2013 BBM Young Fighters set (#YF06):

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Biggest Stretch

Sean posed an interesting question in a comment to my post last week about the only player to appear (as a player) in both the first Calbee set in 1973 and the first BBM set in 1991.  He asked "What is the longest stretch between a player's first card appearance and their last while still an active player?"  He pointed out the longest stretch in MLB is the 26 years for Nolan Ryan between his 1968 rookie card and his last card as an active player in 1993* but he wanted to know what the longest stretch for an NPB player was.

*Yes, I know 1993-1968 = 25 but that's an INCLUSIVE set of years so it's 26 years total.  And Ryan's 1994 cards don't count because he wasn't an active player that season.

My first thought when reading his question was that the answer was probably going to be Kimiyasu Kudoh for a number of reasons.  First reason - Kudoh had the longest career in NPB history.  He debuted in 1982 and played his last game in 2010.  Second reason - unlike the several of the other players I could think of, Kudoh actually had a card in his rookie season.  His cards stretch across 29 years.

But I went ahead and did the research this past week just in case I missed something.  The other candidates I considered were Katsuya Nomura, Masahiro Yamamoto, Motonobu Tanishige and Satoshi Nakajima.

Nomura played from 1954 to 1980, a 27 year span.  However the earliest baseball cards of him listed in Engel are from 1957 so his stretch of cards is only 24 years.

Had BBM started doing cards in 1981 instead of 1991, Yamamoto could have been the answer to this question.  He was the fifth round pick of the Dragons in the 1983 draft and made his debut with the ichi-gun team in 1986.  His final season was 2015.  He is tied with Kudoh for most seasons played in NPB history* - he missed the entire 2011 season with injuries which is why he doesn't have 30 seasons.  But his first baseball card didn't come until 1988** so his stretch of cards is 28 years, one short of Kudoh's.  Before BBM started doing cards it was very rare for a player to have a baseball card in their rookie season.  Had Yamamoto had a card in a 1984 set (like he would have if BBM was doing cards that year), his stretch of cards would have spanned the 32 years total that he spent with the Dragons.

*To be clear - the record is for most seasons with at least one appearance with the ichi-gun team which is why Yamamoto's 1984 and 1985 seasons with the farm team don't count

**With the Vero Beach Dodgers

Like Kudoh, Tanishige had a card in every year he played.  He debuted with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in 1989 after being their first round draft pick the year before and played his last game in 2015.  That's a stretch of 27 years but it's two short of Kudoh's stretch.

I didn't think of Nakajima at first but he also had a 29 year career.  He debuted with the Hankyu Braves in 1987 and played his last game with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in 2015*.  But like Yamamoto, he didn't have a baseball card until several years after his debut.  His first card wasn't until 1989 so his cards "only" stretch 28 years, like Yamamoto one short of Kudoh.

*No, I don't know why three of these players hung up their spikes after the 2015 season.  I also don't know why I've done some many Joe Posnanski-ish notes in this post either

One other name popped into my head while I was researching this - Ichiro Suzuki.  Ichiro's first cards were in 1993 and his final MLB cards (I assume) were in 2019, giving him a stretch of 27 years.

So it looks like my first instinct was correct and the answer to the question is Kimiyasu Kudoh.  Here's his first and last cards as an active player, 28 years apart and spanning a career of 29 years:

1982 Takara Lions #47

2010 BBM 1st Version #339

And just for fun, here's the back of Kudoh's 2010 card showing his entire career (except for his 2010 season):

Let me know if there's someone I missed.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

2020 Award Winners

NPB announced most of their major awards this week.  Yuki Yanagita of the Hawks and Tomoyuki Sugano of the Giants were named Pacific and Central League MVPs respectively.

2020 BBM 1st Version #047

2020 BBM 1st Version #166

The Rookies Of The Year were the Lions' Kaima Taira for the Pacific League and the Carp's Masato Morishita for the Central League.

2020 Calbee #150

2020 Calbee #129

Here are the Pacific League Best 9:

2020 Epoch NPB #047

2020 Epoch NPB #052

2020 Epoch NPB #163

2020 Epoch NPB #089

2020 Epoch NPB #092

2020 Epoch NPB #021

2020 Epoch NPB #063

2020 Epoch NPB #208

2020 Epoch NPB #173

2020 Epoch NPB #025

And the Central League Best 9:

2020 Epoch NPB #222

2020 Epoch NPB #234

2020 Epoch NPB #419

2020 Epoch NPB #348

2020 Epoch NPB #237

2020 Epoch NPB #236

2020 Epoch NPB #275

2020 Epoch NPB #243

2020 Epoch NPB #351

I want to add that a month ago, Dragons pitcher Yudai Ohno won the Sawamura Award.

2020 BBM 2nd Version #525