|1991 BBM #219|
One of the hallmarks of BBM's flagship sets used to be their "Leader" subset. From 1991 to 2013 BBM included 20 or 30 cards in their "regular" set (1991-2001) or their 1st Version set (2002-2013) that featured the award winners and statistical leaders from the previous season. I always liked this subset and was disappointed when BBM discontinued it in 2014. They kind of added them again to the Fusion set starting in 2016 but it's not quite the same.
The idea was that each statistical category leader or award winner would have a card commemorating that title. So for example, Hiromitsu Ochiai led the Central League in home runs in 1990 so he has a card in the 1991 BBM set commemorating it. Unlike the leader cards that I remember from Topps sets, the card ONLY shows Ochiai - he doesn't share it with either the leader from the other league or the second and third place finishers. Ochiai also led the CL in RBIs in 1990 so there's a separate Leader card of him for that category. If two or more players tied for the league lead in something, each player would get a separate cards in the subset. For example, Orestes Destrade and Kazuhiko Ishimine tied for the most RBIs in the Pacific League in 1990 so they both have "PL RBI Leader" cards in the 1991 BBM set.
|2007 BBM 1st Version #445|
One aspect of the cards is that usually the player was depicted on the Leader card with the team for which he earned the award or statistical title, regardless of whether or not that's the team he had his "regular" card in the set with. Where this gets kind of interesting is guys who switched teams in the off season. For example Michichiro Ogasaswara won the 2006 Pacific League MVP award while playing for the Fighters but joined the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent that winter. His 2007 "PL MVP Leader" cards shows him with the Fighters but his "regular" card shows him with the Giants. Similarly if a player won a title or award with a team that changed its name during the offseason due to being sold, merged or some other reason, in most cases the player would be shown with the original team. (I say "most cases" because it looks like that's not the case for at least the 1991-93 Leader cards.)
How BBM handled the flagship "Leader" cards differed both from how Calbee has handled their "Title Holder" cards and how BBM is now handling their "Leader" subset in the Fusion sets. Calbee does not do separate "Title Holder" cards for players who win multiple titles/awards - there's one card per player in the subset that lists everything the player won. BBM's Fusion sets have a set number of Leader cards - if multiple players tie for a particular statistical category, they all appear on the same card. This has led to having as many as three players on one Leader card.
BBM's first set in 1991 included 23 Leader cards, the fewest of any set. The number of cards in the subset expanded to the high-20's the next two years then broke 30 in 1994. The size of the subset remained above 30 the rest of the subset's lifespan with the exception of 2001 which only had 29 cards. The set with the highest number of subset cards was 2004 with 37 cards - 1999, 2005 and 2013 tied for second with 36.
I reached a milestone a while back in my goal to complete all of BBM's flagship sets - I now have every leader card from the 1991 to 2013 sets - all 739 of them! Since I have them all in my card database I thought I'd take the opportunity to do some analysis of who and what these cards included. It's probably more information than anyone ever want to know but here goes. There's five questions I was curious about.
1. Which Awards And Statistical Categories Were Included?
|2008 BBM 1st Version #436|
The awards and statistical categories included in the Leader cards varied over the years. Certain statistical categories appeared every year - Batting Average, ERA, Home Runs, RBI, Strikeouts, Stolen Bases and Wins - along with the big three awards - MVP, Rookie Of The Year and Sawamura (or at least in the years that these awards were actually awarded - for some reason 2000 saw no Sawamura Award or Pacific League Rookie Of The Year). They also included a card for the previous year's Nippon Series winner. BBM increased the number of categories after 1991, adding the Shoriki Award in 1992, OBP and the Comeback Player Award in 1993, and Game Winning RBI in 1995.
|2001 BBM #14|
All of the statistical categories I've mentioned so far were "official titles" for each league when they appeared in the Leader subsets with the exception of Game Winning RBI which after 1988 was no longer an official stat for the Pacific League and would get dropped by the Central League after 2000 (and BBM's last card for it was from 2001 naturally). Additional "official titles" were added by the leagues in the 1990's and drove the inclusion of new categories for the Leader cards. The two leagues added Hits as an "official title" in 1994 so the first "Hits Leader" cards appeared in 1995.
|1993 BBM #13|
|2013 BBM 1st Version #349|
Sometimes the categories evolved from year to year. Saves were introduced as an official stat in 1974 but the leagues switched to tracking "save points" (SP) a few years later (1976 for the CL and 1977 for the PL). "Save points" are determined by adding the number of saves to the number of relief wins a pitcher has. This remained the case until 2005 when both leagues went back to saves. The Leader subsets have an "SP" category until 2006 and a "save" category after that.
|2012 BBM 1st Version #356|
There are some oddball categories that I haven't quite figured out why BBM included them. Innings Pitched was included in one set (1993) and never again. There's some sort of relationship between the "MVPitcher" and "Pitcher Of The Year" awards and the "Winning Percentage" leaders that I don't fully understand. But the oddball one that really stands out is the "Rookie Special Award". I'm pretty sure this has been awarded a number of times - I think it's basically a consolation prize to an outstanding rookie that didn't win the Rookie Of The Year award - but it only shows up once as a Leader card (in 2012).
2. How Many Players Had Leader Cards And Who Had The Most?
|1995 BBM #10|
There are 270 players who had at least one Leader card. Ichiro Suzuki had the most with a somewhat astounding total of 24. I say "astounding" for two reasons. The first is that he only had Leader cards in seven sets (1995-2001) and the second is that those 24 cards are TEN more than the 14 cards Hideki Matsui, the player with the second most Leader cards, had. Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hideo Nomo are tied for third with 13 cards each. Alex Ramirez is fifth with 12 cards and Daisuke Matsuzaka and Masaki Saitoh are tied for sixth with 11 each. Kazumi Saitoh and Koji Uehara are tied for eighth with 10 each and four players are tied for tenth with 9 cards - Norichika Aoki, Michihiro Ogasawara, Tuffy Rhodes and Toshiya Sugiuchi.
3. Who Had The Most Leader Cards In One Set?
|1996 BBM #2|
Ichiro again leads this list with seven Leader cards in the 1996 set. Hideo Nomo and Nobuhiko Matsunaka are tied for second on the list with six each. Nomo's six were in the 1991 set while Matsunaka's were in the 2005 set (and partially commemorated his Triple Crown season in 2004). Ten other players are tied for fourth with five cards - Shinji Sasakoka (1992), Ichiro (1995), Fumiya Nishiguchi (1998), Koji Uehara (2000), Hideki Matsui (2001), Kei Igawa (2004), Kazumi Saitoh (2007), Hisashi Iwakuma (2009), Kenta Maeda (2011) and Shinnosuke Abe (2013).
By the way, this means that Ichiro's Leader cards from 1995 and 1996 constitute half of all his Leader cards.
4. Which Leader Cards Are Missing?
I noticed when putting the list together that there are Leader cards that are missing. In other words, there are categories for which a card would have been expected but there's no card. I pretty much picked these for categories that BBM had previously included a card for but didn't in a given year.
There are nine instances that I'm comfortable saying that BBM left a Leader card out:
1993 PL Home Runs Orestes Destrade
1993 CL RBI Larry Sheets
1993 PL RBI Boomer Wells
1997 PL ERA Hideki Irabu
1997 CL GWRBI Tom O'Malley
1998 CL GWRBI Takanori Suzuki
2001 CL Hits Bobby Rose
2001 Nippon Champion Yomiuri Giants
2012 PL Strikeouts Yu Darvish
Seven of these feature players who were no longer playing in Japan when the set was published - Destrade, Sheets, Wells, Irabu, O'Malley, Rose and Darvish. I'm assuming that BBM (and Calbee and Epoch) have the rights to make a baseball card of anyone playing in NPB in the current year but not for anyone who left after the previous season. For BBM to include any of those seven players they would have to make a separate deal with them for the rights.
That said - I have no idea why Takanori Suzuki doesn't have a Game Winning RBI Leader card in 1998 or why the Giants don't have a Nippon Champion Leader card in 2001. Suzuki played in NPB in 1998 (and not only has a base card in the 1998 set but he has also has a Leader card for Batting Average) and obviously the Yomiuri Giants played in NPB in 2001.
5. Which Leader Card Are NOT Missing?
|2003 BBM #373|
The seven players mentioned above are not the only ones to have led the league in a category during their final season in Japan. I did some searches to look for players who had one or more Leader cards in a flagship set but not a "regular" card. I found nine players who had fourteen cards between them:
1992 Jim Traber PL RBI
2001 Ichiro Suzuki PL AVG, OBP
2003 Hideki Matsui CL MVP, HR, OBP, RBI
2004 Senichi Hoshino Shoriki Award
2004 Shingo Takatsu CL Save Points
2007 Kei Igawa CL Strikeouts
2008 Yasuhiko Yabuta PL Hold Points
2010 Colby Lewis CL Strikeouts
2011 Tsuyoshi Nishioka PL Hits, AVG
Seven of these players - Ichiro, Matsui, Takatsu, Igawa, Yabuta, Lewis and Nishioka - had moved to MLB organizations while Traber didn't play anywhere in 1992. Hoshino is a special case - he had stepped down as manager of the Hanshin Tigers due to health reasons after leading the team to their first Central League pennant since 1985.
As I said earlier, my assumption is that BBM had to make a separate deal with all of these guys to have the rights to include their cards in the set. Why they successfully were able to do it with these guys and not the seven mentioned above is beyond me. It's interesting, though, that most of the "missing" cards are from before 2001 and most of the "not missing" cards from 2001 and after. It's almost like they went out of their way to include Ichiro in the 2001 set and Matsui in the 2003 set and decided to keep doing it.
There's another question I'd like to know the answer to but having the cards organized in the database isn't going to help me - why did BBM stop doing Leader cards after 2013? I don't know the answer but I have a suspicion.
I want to add some context here though. BBM actually changed several things between 2012 and 2015. They stopped publishing the annual All Star and Nippon Series box sets after 2012 and dropped the Tokyo Big Six collegiate set after 2013. They streamlined their "comprehensive" team sets in 2015, standardizing them as 81 card base sets. So there was some other retooling of their product line going on in those years.
What I suspect was the catalyst for BBM dropping the Leader cards though was Masahiro Tanaka's outstanding season in 2013. Tanaka led the PL in wins and ERA and won both the MVP and Sawamura awards in 2013. But he also left NPB for New York after the season so BBM was apparently faced with having to either make a separate deal with him to appear in the Leader cards in the 2014 set or have the Leader subset be missing four cards.
The counterargument to this is that Tanaka appeared in several other BBM sets in 2014, including Rookie Edition, the Eagles 10th Anniversary set and the Professional Baseball 80th Anniversary Pitchers Edition set so it's not like he wasn't willing to work with BBM that year.
By moving the Leader cards to the Fusion set, BBM solved the problem of not having the player under contract. The Leader cards would now come out in the same year that the players led the league. The only downside is that they no longer could include the award winners since those would not be announced until after the set went to press.
Here's the spreadsheet I put together to gather all the information about the Leader cards. The cells that are highlighted in green represent Leader cards that are missing (as described above):