Sunday, June 27, 2021

Card Of The Week June 27

Former Orix Buffaloes pitcher Brandon Dickson (not to be confused with current Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles outfields Brandon Dixon) signed a minor league deal with the St Louis Cardinals recently.  I don't believe he's on the team's 40 man roster (he's currently playing for the Cards' Triple-A team in Memphis) so he should still be eligible to play for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics next month.  I bring this up simply because he pitched for Team USA in both the Premier 12 in 2019 and the America's Qualifier earlier this month.

Dickson had originally intended to spent this year in Japan with Orix but ultimately asked the team for his release when he was unable to bring his family to Japan as well.  Dickson had been in Japan without his family in 2020 and was unwilling to do it again in 2021.  Several players have had issues with this this season - Jason Smoak of the Giants returned to the US a week and a half ago because he wanted to be with his family and John E. Gibson had a heart-wrenching interview with Zach Neal of the Lions on last week's Japan Baseball Weekly podcast about the issue.

One odd thing about Dickson's circumstances - he has 2021 Japanese baseball cards showing him as a member of the Buffaloes!  One of the things I really like about Japanese baseball card sets is that they are almost always as up-to-date on the team roster as they can be.  For example, back in 2016 BBM issued their annual "comprehensive" team set for the Giants with a missing card - Kyosuke Takagi (card #10 in the set) had been released by the team between the set going to press and being released so they removed his card rather than issue a card for someone who was no longer with the team.  It's pretty rare that a set will come out with a player who not appear with the team.  Off hand, the only other time I can think of it occurring was 2015 when Yulieski Gourriel was expected to return to the Baystars for a second season but ended up staying in Cuba - he had two cards in BBM's 1st Version set that year.  Dickson not only appears in BBM's 1st Version set this year but also BBM's "comprehensive" team set for the Buffaloes, along with Epoch's NPB and Buffaloes Rookies & Stars sets.  The only one of these cards I have so far is from 1st Version (#144):

Friday, June 25, 2021

My Oldest Sports Card

Earlier this week, Comatoad On Cards asked the question "What's Your Oldest Sports Card?"  I don't think he meant is as a "blog bat around" but it sounded like a good one to me so I'm going to take it and run with it.

There's a group of cards that I'm pretty sure are the oldest Japanese cards I have that show individual players (as opposed to just generic players).  There are six bromide cards I have that probably date from 1946 or early 1947.  These six cards represent four different sets but only one of those sets is cataloged.

These two cards - Seizo Furukawa of the Chubu Nippon Dragons and Kazuto Tsuruoka of the Kinki Great Ring (who went by Kazuto Yamamoto at the time) - are from the set Gary Engel has cataloged as "JBR 73 - 1947 Marutoku B&W Bromides".  As the name implies, Engel dates this set to 1947 but he states in his description for the set that "Players are featured in their 1946 it is assumed that this is a pre-season 1947 set, making it the earliest checklisted postwar baseball card set."

Like the JBR 73 cards, the other four cards I have (from three separate, uncataloged sets) feature players in their 1946 uniforms.  This is clear because the two teams represented - Goldstar and Pacific - only went by those names in 1946 (Goldstar became the Daiei Stars who eventually merged with the Mainichi Orions and are now the Chiba Lotte Marines while Pacific became the Shochiku Robins who merged with the Taiyo Whales who are now the Yokohama DeNA Baystars).  

Takashi Eda

Isao Tsuji

Michio Nishizawa

Victor Starffin

Half of these players are Hall Of Famers (Tsuruoka, Nishizawa and Starffin).  The photo on the Starffin card is identical to his JBR 73 card but the text is different and the card is larger than the JBR 73 cards.

These may not be the oldest Japanese cards in my collection however.  I have a small uncut menko sheet depicting generic college baseball players that resembles some cards shown in "Sayonara Home Run!: The Art Of The Japanese Baseball Card" that date from the 1920's:

But the actual oldest cards in my collection are two of the few American cards that I've kept.  The first is a T205 card of Arlie Latham.  I got interested in Latham when I read Bill James' "The Historical Baseball Abstract" because his name seemed to keep popping up.  The 19th century gave us some great nicknames for baseball players (none better of course than Bob "Death To Flying Things" Ferguson).  Latham's reputation as a jokester earned him the nickname "The Freshest Man On Earth".  He played in the majors from about 1880 to 1899 and then spent time in the minors as both a manager and umpire from 1900 to 1908.  In 1909 he returned to the majors as a coach for John McGraw's Giants - the first person to ever be a full time coach for a team.  He actually played in a couple games that season at age 49 and stole a base - becoming the oldest major league player to ever do so.  That record still stands.  He later lived in England and taught King George V about baseball.  Even later he worked in the press box at the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium.  He passed away in 1952 at age 92.  It's alway struck me as amazing that a guy who played baseball with the early greats like George Wright and Cap Anson lived to see Mickey Mantle play.

The second is a T206 card of Jack Dunn, the owner and manager of the International Leagues' Baltimore Orioles.  Dunn's biggest claim to fame was discovering a local kid at a reformatory school in Baltimore in 1914 and signing him to a contract.  The player was so raw when it came to anything other than baseball that he got dubbed "Dunnie's Babe" by the other players.  Dunn had a problem that season, however, as the Federal League had placed a rival team in Baltimore literally across the street from his ballpark, causing him to lose enough money that he was forced to sell a bunch of players to major league teams, including selling his "Babe" to the Boston Red Sox where he became a star (and eventually got sold again to the Yankees but that's a different story).  Dunn ended up moving the Orioles to Richmond, Virginia until the Federal League folded.  After returning to Baltimore he built a powerhouse team, winning seven straight International League pennants from 1919 to 1925.  Another Maryland native that he discovered, Lefty Grove, pitched for five of those pennant winning teams.  Dunn passed away from a heart attack in 1928 but his family was involved with baseball in Baltimore for years afterwards.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Summer Sets

Time for another round up of recently announced sets:

- After being delayed to October last year, this year's edition of BBM's 2nd Version set will be released at its usual time in early August.  BBM has restored the set to the pattern it had from 2015 to 2019 where there are 216 "regular" player cards (18 per team), 36 "1st Version Update" cards (3 per team), 12 team checklist cards, 36 "Cross Torrent" cards (3 per team) and an unspecified number of "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards (in case you forget, last year's set only had 180 player cards but also had three 12 card subsets so the set was roughly the same size as usual).  I had wondered if the "1st Version Update" subset might be larger this year since there were so many foreign players who hadn't gotten into Japan in time to be included in the 1st Version set but apparently not.  There are four 12 card insert sets - "New Sensation", "Showman", "Phantom" and "Picturesque" - I'm pretty sure the last two of those are serially numbered.  There are memorabilia cards of Teruaki Satoh and Takahisa Hayakawa randomly included in packs.  There are also several varieties of autograph cards available including buy-back autographs for Tomoya Mori.

- Another one of BBM's annual sets that was delayed several months last years was the first of their cheerleader/dance squad sets called "Dancing Heroine - Hana".  This year's edition will be released in early August which is still about six weeks later than normal.  BBM doesn't list the exact number of cards in the set on their webpage but it's expected to be around 80.  Only eight of the eleven teams that have cheerleaders (the Carp do not) are represented in the set - the "Honeys" (Hawks), "M☆Splash!!" (Marines), "bluelegends" (Lions), "Tohoku Golden Angels" (Eagles), "FIGHTERS GIRL" (Fighters), "VENUS" (Giants), "Cheer Dragons 2021" (Dragons) and "Passion" (Swallows).  I don't know why the squads from the Tigers, Buffaloes and Baystars are not included.  There's a foil parallel version for each card in the set along with autographed cards.

- Another team is getting an OB set using BBM's new "History" format.  The "Dragons History 1936-2021" will apparently follow the style used last year for the Carp and Giants.  The set celebrates the Dragons' 85th Anniversary so it's the next set in the progression of the 70th, 75th and 80th Anniversary sets issued in 2006, 2011 and 2016 respectively.  Like the Carp and Giants sets, the base set will include 90 cards that are split between "team history" (6 cards), OB players (72 cards) and active players (12 cards).  There's three insert sets - a 12 card "Dream Team" set, a nine card "Team Records" set and 12 serially numbered "Phantom" cards - along with assorted autograph cards.  The set will be out in mid-August.

- Back in February I mentioned that the Eagles had issued a team set called "Eagles 1st Version" which implied that someday there would be an "Eagles 2nd Version" set released.  Well, "someday" was last Friday when the Eagles released their 2021 "2nd Version" set.  There are 76 cards in the base set which are all the players on either the Eagles 70 man roster or their ikusei squad.  Unlike the earlier set, this includes the team's new foreign players as well as Masahiro Tanaka.  Each card has two signature parallel versions - a silver one and a serially numbered (to 30) gold one.  There are 10 short printed "photo variation" parallels showing the player on the card eating the bento box meal with their name on it that is sold at the ballpark.  There are two insert sets - an 18 card "H18tory Maker" set featuring Masahiro Tanaka (the cards are essentially the same as the ones being sold with potato chips at the Eagles' ballpark this year) and a nine card "Stars Of Tohoku" set (which are die-cut and limited to only 45 cards each although I don't know if they are serially numbered).  Finally there are jersey and patch cards available for Masahiro Tanaka as well as autograph cards for 42 different players.  There are also two checklist cards that are not considered part of the base set.  Jambalaya has most of the cards for the set (other than the memorabilia, autograph and "Stars Of Tohoku" cards) up on their website.

- The first 2021 set from SCC for the KBO will be released next week on June 30th.  The set is called "Rainbow" and Dan Skrezyna has all the details for the set along with images of sample cards over at Korean Cardboard.  It's a bit of a confusing set as there doesn't appear to actually be a base set - all the cards are serially numbered parallels.  There's 199 players in the set (20 for each team except for Hanwha which only has 19).  There are autograph cards available for each player in the set - each autograph is serially numbered to 24.  Boxes retail for about $135 and are guaranteed to include an autograph card and a rookie card.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

NPB Players On The Final Qualifier Rosters

The fight for the last spot in the baseball competition for the Tokyo Olympics starts tonight as the Final Qualifier opens in Puebla, Mexico.  The tournament is smaller than originally planned as three of the six teams expected to play in it - China, Taiwan and Australia - ended up dropping out due to COVID-19 related travel issues.  As a result, only Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, the second and third place teams from the America's Qualifier earlier this month, and the Netherlands, the runner up from the Europe/Africa Qualifier all the way back in September of 2019, will be taking part.

I've only been able to identify four former NPB players on the rosters of the three teams and all of them are with the Dominican Republic.  Three of those players were on the Domincan's roster for the America's Qualifier as well while the other one (Frank Garces) is an alternate player.  Juan Francisco played for the Yomiuri Giants in 2015, Radhames Liz played for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2016 and Garces and Roman Mendez played for the Saitama Seibu Lions and Hanshin Tigers respectively in 2017:

2015 BBM 2nd Version #356

2017 Epoch Lions #23

2016 BBM 1st Version #143

2017 BBM 1st Version #248

I was a little surprised and disappointed that neither Rick Van Den Hurk (Swallows) nor Wladimir Balentien (Hawks) were on the Netherlands team.  Maybe if they make the Olympics the two of them will be put on the roster.  I feel I should mention though that the manager of the team, Hensley Meulens, spent three seasons in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines (1994) and the Yakult Swallows (1995-96).  Meulens also played for the Netherlands in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and has been the manager for the Netherlands team in all the major international tournaments (WBC, Premier 12, etc) since 2013.  

1994 Takara Marines #31

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Card Of The Week June 20

Had a couple things I thought about doing for Card Of The Week this week and I couldn't decide which one to do so I did all of them...

Inter-league play wrapped up this week and surprisingly the Orix Buffaloes had the best record.  The Inter-league MVP was Yoshinobu Yamamoto.  Here's his card from the 2019 Calbee Series Three "Exciting Scene" subset (#ES-04):

There was a trade last week between the Marines and Dragons involving two players with the last name "Katoh".  Lotte sent Shohei Katoh to Chunichi for Takuma Katoh.  Shohei Katoh homered in his first at bat on Friday with the Dragons and became the first player to ever do that for two different teams.  He had homered in his first at bat with the Marines back in 2013.  Since I don't have a card of him with the Dragons yet, I decided to show a card of him with Rikkio University back in his college days (2012 BBM Tokyo Big Six #17) Except it turns out that's not him.  That's a different Shohei Katoh - the Marines/Dragons Shohei Kato went to Jobu University (cue the Major League jokes).  Here's his card from the 2013 BBM Rookie Edition set (#74) (and thanks to @cbjm262 for pointing out my mistake):

Finally I don't usually mention milestones on the blog but I couldn't help but notice that this is the 700th "Card Of The Week" post I've done.  I did the first one on December 2, 2007, shortly after I started writing the blog and I think I've only missed two weeks since then - one of those was when I had my first back surgery in August of 2014.  I thought I'd mark the occasion with a card celebrating Sadaharu Oh's 700th home from the set celebrating his career that BBM did in 2009 (#43):

Saturday, June 19, 2021

RIP Minoru Nakamura

The news broke this past week that former Yomiuri Giants pitcher Minoru Nakamura had passed away earlier this month at the age of 82.  Nakamura had signed with the Giants after graduating from Ujiyamada Shogyo High School in 1957.  He had his first taste of success as a professional after Don Drysdale taught him how to throw a change-up when the Giants did spring training with the Dodgers in Vero Beach in 1961.  He went 17-10 with a 2.13 ERA that season and got the win (in relief) in the decisive Game Six of the Nippon Series against the Nankai Hawks that fall.  He won the "Outstanding Technique" Award for the Series.  Shoulder injuries and a traffic accident cost him playing time over the next couple seasons but he posted what was probably the best year of his career in 1965, going 20-4 with an ERA of 2.21.  He started and lost Game Four of the Nippon Series that year.  In 1966 he had his last season as a regular starter in the Giants rotation, going 11-7 with a 2.77 ERA.  He started Game Five of the Nippon Series and threw eight innings without getting a decision in a game the Giants ultimately lost in 14 innings to the Hawks.  After a couple seasons with diminished playing time he retired after the 1969 season.  He was a three time All Star, making the team in 1962, 1965 and 1966.  He had three coaching stints for the Giants after he retired (1970-77, 1981-83 and 1989-92) along with one with the Chiba Lotte Marines (1997-98).

Nakamura had a number of cards in various vintage sets during his career, highlighted by his appearance in the 1967 Kabaya-Leaf set.  He also appeared as a coach in the 1983 NST set.  He's been a regular in the couple Giants OB sets from both BBM and Epoch over the past 20 years or so although he hasn't been in any of the more general OB sets.  I don't have any of the cards from his playing career but I have the NST card and his "modern" cards:

1983 NST #200

2004 BBM Giants 70th Anniversary #025

2014 Epoch Giants V9 Glorious Victory #32

2014 BBM Giants 80th Anniversary #25

2020 BBM Giants History 1934-2020 #14

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

1984 Takara Kids

I included a Takara Kids card of Yutaka Enatsu in a post a few weeks back and Fuji commented that it was an awesome looking card.  That inspired me to do a quick post about the set(s).

Takara made game sets for NPB teams from 1978 to 1998.  Each team's set would contain 30 cards.  They are somewhat significant in that they were the first cards in Japan to feature that many players per team - the other card sets usually only featured a handful of the star players on each team - even if the set had 1400 cards like the 1975/76/77 Calbee set.  It wasn't until BBM came along in 1991 that other manufacturers started putting a larger number of players in their sets.

That being said - I am not really a big fan of the Takara sets, especially the ones from before 1991.  I like my baseball cards with big, beautiful, full bleed, interesting photos on them.  Takara cards have almost always had big borders - at least on the top and bottom - and all the photos on them from before 1991 are "mug shots" - a posed photo of the player from the chest up.  A lot of their designs also looked similar from year to year which isn't always a bad thing (I see you Calbee!) but the combination of similar designs and similar photos is just monotonous.

The one exception to this is the 1984 Takara Kids sets.  Well, it's kind of an exception - the photos are still mug shots - but at least it looks different than all the other Takara sets.

The Kids sets - so named because it was a simplified version of the game marketed towards kids - contained only 20 cards per team.  The cards were printed on thicker cardboard than normal card stock and in many ways resemble menko cards.  The fronts are simpler than the "normal" Takara cards and are much more attractive.

The backs are really what make these cards look like menko.  Here's the back of Enatsu's card:

It's got the "rock-paper-scissors" symbol on the bottom right - these frequently appeared on menko cards from the 1940's, 50's and 60's. 

I have two complete Takara Kids team sets - the Tigers and the Orions - plus a mostly complete Giants set (missing one card) and the Enatsu card.  Here's a couple example cards from the Giants, Orions and Tigers sets - the Ochiai card is the earliest one I have of him:

Tatsunori Hara

Reggie Smith

Leron Lee

Hiromitsu Ochiai

Randy Bass

Masayuki Kakefu

 Takara only did the Kids sets in 1984.  I have no idea if they were popular or not.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Card Of The Week June 13

In the fifth inning of today's game against the Swallows, Wladimir Balentien of the Hawks hit his 300th career NPB home run.  Coincidentally, it was also his 1000th hit in NPB.  He became just the fourth foreign player to reach that milestone, behind Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Ramirez and Alex Cabrera.  He hit his 301st home run in his next at bat two innings later.

Here's a card of Balentien from 2013, the season in which he hit a fifth of those 300 home runs:

2013 Calbee #088

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Corporate League Cards

I have been asked from time to time if there are any baseball cards for the corporate league teams in Japan.  For those who don't know (and those who do also), the corporate (or industrial) league teams are "adult amateur" baseball teams that are run by corporations such as TDK, JR East, Nippon Life and ENEOS.  The players for the teams are employees of the corporations and, as the "amateur" label suggests, they aren't considered professionals but I think it's pretty much the case that their job with the company is playing baseball.  Many NPB players have spent time in the corporate leagues - it's not unusual for a player to play there for a year or two after graduating high school or college.  For example Hideo Nomo spent a couple years after graduating from high school playing for Nippon Steel before being drafted by the Kintetsu Buffaloes.  It's also not unusual for a player to have a long career playing in the corporate leagues and never turning "pro" - Masanori Sugiura spent ten years playing for Nippon Life and resisted numerous attempts to recruit him by professional teams.

Getting back to the baseball cards question...if you had asked me a week ago, I'd have said that I had never seen any baseball cards for corporate league teams.  But then I got that box of stuff from Deanna Rubin that I've been talking about.  Amongst the baseball cards was a silver packet containing five baseball cards from the Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) team.  Here are the fronts and backs of all five cards:

The cards are a little smaller than the standard 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches and have rounded corners like playing cards.  None of the five players have ever played in NPB and it looks like Tsushima is the only one still on the team (which is now called Mitsubishi Heavy Industries East).  (There's a Ryota Kawano with the Seibu Lions but he's 10 years younger than this player.)

This is pretty much all I know about these cards.  I don't know if there were more cards from the set and in fact I don't even know what year the set is from.  The company only went by the MHPS name between 2017 and 2020.  Deanna got the cards from a friend of hers in Japan in either 2018 or 2019 so it really only narrows it down to 2017, 2018 or 2019.

Now that I know cards exist for corporate league teams, I'll keep my eyes open for any others.  I did some searching through Yahoo! Japan Auctions today but I didn't find anything.  It's a bit difficult to come up with good search terms though so maybe I just haven't thought of the right one yet.

Thanks again to Deanna for sending these cards my way!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Team Issued Cards From Deanna

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently got a big package of Japanese baseball stuff from Deanna Rubin that included a bunch of baseball cards.  A fair number of the cards were team issued cards so I thought I'd do a quick post about them.

First up is a couple cards from the Chiba Lotte Marines:

2006 Tsuyoshi Nishioka

2011 Shota Ishimine

I think this 2013 oversized (roughly 7 1/2 inches by 5 1/2 inches) card of Katsuya Kakunaka was issued with a meal bought at a Lotteria stand at Chiba Marine Stadium:

I know this oversized (5 x 7 inch) card of Taiga Hirasawa from 2019 is from a Lotteria meal because I got a similar card of Tatsuhiro Tamura with the meal I bought there that year:

Next from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, this 2009 card featuring Atsunori Inaba - I've never been really sure if cards like this should be considered issued by the team or the Lawson convenience stores:

From the Orix Buffaloes is this 2008 card of then-manager Daijiro Ohishi.  Based on the back of the card, I think it was given away at the team's fan fest in November of that year:

Deanna sent me a couple cards from the Yomiuri Giants.  She sent me these two "Pitchers Day" cards from 2008.  Each card was issued in a silver pack - I assume these were an SGA issue:

She also sent me two "Players Day" cards - one from 2008 (Seung Youp Lee) and one from 2009 (Hayato Sakamoto).  These are kind of unique in that they are issued inside folders.  Here's the front cover of each folder and then the inside of the folder with the card still embedded in it.  I'm sure you'll notice that the design of the Lee card is the same as the "Pitchers Day" cards:

Deanna knows that the Lions are one of my favorite teams so half of the team issued cards she sent me were from them:

2009 Shogo Saitoh

2009 Yasuyuki Kataoka

2009 Fumiya Nishiguchi

2010 Ryoma Nogami

2010 Shuichiro Osada

2011 Yasuyuki Kataoka

2013 Ken Togame

2013 Naoto Watanabe

2013 Shogo Akiyama

I was quite happy to receive this last card.  Not only is Takeya Nakamura one of my favorite players, but this postcard sized card was given away with a "player's bento box" meal at Seibu Dome in 2019.  I had intended to buy one of those meals when I was at the Dome that season but I messed up - I didn't realize that the only place to buy the meal was outside the ballpark.  By the time I discovered this, I was already at my seat and didn't feel like fighting the flow of Carp fans coming into the park to make my way back out (with a hand stamp for re-entry):

Thanks for the cards, Deanna!