Monday, February 28, 2022

Takashi Toritani

My final retirement post for this offseason is for former Hanshin Tigers and Chiba Lotte Marine infielder Takashi Toritani.  I previously did a post for Toritani about 4 1/2 years ago when he reached 2000 hits so I'll just kind of repeat and update what I wrote then.

In fact, I need to correct something - in that post I erroneously said that Toritani was the Tigers' fourth round pick in the 2003 draft out of Waseda University.  He actually was essentially their first pick - he and the Tigers agreed to a pre-draft deal as part of the "free acquisition frame" of the draft.  He took over as the starting shortstop for Hanshin in 2005 and didn't miss a game for them for the next 13 years.  He was a seven time All Star (2005-06, 2012-15, 2017) a six time Best 9 award winner (2008, 2010, 2011, 2013-15) and a four time Golden Glove award winner (2011, 2013-15).  He played in the Nippon Series twice, losing to the Marines in 2005 and the Hawks in 2014.  He was a member of the 2013 World Baseball Classic Japanese team and had a critical stolen base in the ninth inning of their game against Taiwan that put him in position to score the tying run on Hirokazu Ibata's single.  

After a poor 2019 season, he and the Tigers parted ways and he signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines.  He played sparingly over the next two seasons, didn't hit very well and announced his retirement at the end of October.  He'll be a baseball commentator on TV this season.

Toritani's first BBM cards are from the 2004 Rookie Edition (#40) and 1st Version (#213) sets while his first Calbee card was #055 from the 2005 Series One set.  Here's a bunch of his cards - I purposely picked ones that I didn't show (or like the Rookie Edition card didn't have) in the previous post I did for him:

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #40

2004 Shukan Baseball #2-2/2

2004 BBM 2nd Version #825

2005 Konami Baseball Heroes Old Black Edition #B05B113

2008 BBM 1st Version #091

2011 BBM 1st Version #374

2012 BBM 1st Version #391

2013 Calbee #AS-08

2017 Calbee #C-4

2019 BBM 2nd Version #FB12

2020 BBM Marines #M44

2021 Topps NPB #181

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Card Of The Week February 27

On Wednesday of last week two teams in the independent American Association announced they had each signed a former Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighter.  The Cleburne Railroaders signed Oswaldo Arcia while the Lake Country DockHounds signed Daikan Yoh (aka Yang Dai-kang).  Arcia spent 2018 with the Fighters.  Yoh is from Taiwan but went to high school in Japan so he was subject to the NPB draft.  He was the Fighters first round pick in 2005 (beating the Hawks in the lottery for his rights) and played for them through the 2016 season.  He signed with the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent in 2017 and has spent the last five years with them.  He played on the Taiwanese National Team for the 2006 and 2013 World Baseball Classics and the 2015 Premier 12.

Here are cards of each of them with the Fighters:

2018 Nippon-Ham "Home Run Sausage" #N134

2014 Calbee #204


Friday, February 25, 2022

Yuya Hasegawa

Yuya Hasegawa of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks retired at the end of last season.  Hasegawa was drafted by the Hawks in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of Senshu University.  He struggled with some injuries his first couple seasons - completely missing 2007 with a neck fracture and the last month or so of 2008 with a broken finger.  Given a chance to play regularly in 2009 he responded by hitting .312.  He was pretty much a regular starting outfielder for the Hawks over the next few years.  He had probably his best year in 2013, leading the Pacific League in batting with a .341 average and in hits with 198 and winning a Best 9 award.  He suffered an ankle injury towards the end of 2014 which ended up costing him a lot of playing time the following season.  He was a regular again in 2016 but after that injuries and ineffectiveness started to limit his time on the ichi-gun team.  This didn't keep him off the Hawks Nippon Series rosters, however, as he won seven championships with the team (2011, 2014-15 and 2017-20).  He also was named to four All Star teams (2009, 2013-14 and 2016).  He'll be a coach for the Hawks this season.

Hasegawa's first BBM cards are (of course) from the 2007 Rookie Edition (#23) and 1st Version (#107) sets.  His first Calbee card wasn't until 2009 though - #247 in the Series Three set.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2007 BBM Rookie Edition #23

2007 BBM 1st Version #107

2009 BBM All Stars #A28

2011 BBM Tohto 80th Memorial #85

2011 BBM Nippon Series #S24

2012 BBM Hawks #H60

2014 BBM Classic #023

2016 Calbee #075

2018 BBM Hawks 80th Anniversary #58

2021 Calbee #150

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Atsushi Fujii

Longtime Chunichi Dragons outfielder Atsushi Fujii is another player who retired at the end of 2021.  Fujii had been playing for NTT West in the corporate leagues when the Dragons made him their third round pick in the college/corporate league player portion of the 2005 draft.  He spent much of his career with the Dragons as a backup outfielder.  As far as I can tell, he only really was a regular in maybe two seasons - 2009 and 2017.  He did get to play in four Nippon Series with the Dragons though - 2006-07, and 2010-11.  

His first BBM cards are from the 2006 Rookie Edition (#63) and 1st Version sets (#287).  His first Calbee card was #157 in the 2006 Series Two set.  Here's some of his cards:

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #63

2006 BBM 1st Version #287

2007 BBM Nippon Series #S26

2008 BBM 1st Version #061

2011 BBM Dragons #D58

2015 BBM Memories Of Uniform #035

2016 Calbee #061

2017 BBM 2nd Version #585

2021 BBM Dragons #D55

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Frank Herrmann

The news broke last week that former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Chiba Lotte Marines pitcher Frank Herrmann had taken a job with the Toronto Blue Jays' front office.  Herrmann joined the Eagles in 2017 after eleven seasons in the Indians, Pirates, Angels and Phillies organizations including stints in the majors with Cleveland and Philadelphia.  He put up pretty good numbers in three years in Sendai, including a 2018 season in which he posted a 1.99 ERA with 18 saves.  He moved south to Chiba for the 2020 season and put up good numbers in middle relief that year.  2021 didn't go as well though and he and the team parted ways after the season ended.  His record for his five years in Japan was 14-10 with a 3.02 ERA.  I believe he's the only Harvard graduate to play in NPB.

Here's a card from each year he played in Japan:

2017 BBM Eagles #E19

2018 BBM 1st Version #061

2019 Epoch NPB #189

2020 BBM 1st Version #088

2021 Epoch NPB #046

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Tetsuya Kokubo

Another player who announced their retirement at the end of last season was long time Hiroshima Toyo Carp and short time Chiba Lotte Marine utility infielder Tetsuya Kokubo.  Kokubo attended high school at baseball powerhouse PL Gakuen and went on to attend college at Aoyama Gakuin University.  He was a star in college, winning four Tohto League Best 9 awards and leading the league in batting with a .373 average in the 2007 spring season.  He earned a spot on the Japanese collegiate national team that played in the USA-Japan Collegiate Baseball Championship in North Carolina that summer (and like Yuki Saitoh ended up with a card in Upper Deck's USA Baseball set the following year).

He was Hiroshima's third round pick in the college/industrial league portion of the 2007 draft and made his debut with the top team the following April.  To some degree I think Kokubo spent most of the early years of his career unsuccessfully trying to establish himself as a starter at one of the infield positions but almost always either losing out to another player (Eishin Soyogi, Takuro Ishii, Kenta Kurihara, Brian Barden, Shota Dohbayashi, Ryosuke Kikuchi), not playing well or getting injured.  His personal highs in both games played and plate appearances occurred in his first season (98 games, 316 plate appearances) and he spent a good deal of each season with the farm team.  He was versatile enough to play all four infield positions and the Carp kept him around for 13 seasons as a late inning defensive replacement/pinch hitter.

He and the Carp parted ways after the 2020 season and he started the 2021 season with the Hinokuni Salamanders of the independent Kyushu Asia League.  It was the inaugural season for both the team and the league.  Kokubo hit .421 in 18 games with the Salamanders, attracting the attention of the Chiba Lotte Marines who signed him to a contract just before the deadline for teams to add players who would be eligible for the playoffs (which was the end of August).  He started September on the Marines' ni-gun team and sizzled there, hitting .471 in five games.  He was promoted on September 9th and made a big splash in his first game with Lotte, hitting a solo home run against the Buffaloes.  Unfortunately that ended up being his only hit with the Marines.  He ultimately had 18 at bats over seven games and hit a lowly .056.  He announced his retirement at the end of October and will be a coach for the Carp this season.

His first BBM cards were #27 in the 2008 Rookie Edition set and #179 in the 2008 1st Version set.  His first Calbee card was #228 in the 2008 Series Three set.  He also appeared in a couple Konami sets in his rookie season.  Here's a bunch of his cards:

2008 Upper Deck USA Baseball #JN-6

2008 BBM Rookie Edition #27

2008 BBM 1st Version #179

2011 BBM Tohto 80th Memorial #83

2013 Front Runner Carp Season Summary #20

2015 Calbee #217

2017 BBM Carp Successful Achievement #22

2018 BBM Carp #C45

2020 Epoch NPB #346

2021 BBM Fusion #605

Monday, February 21, 2022

2022 Flagships And More

A bunch of new sets have been announced in the last few weeks, one of which I think is actually in stores already.  Here's a quick roundup, roughly in order of their release dates:

- The set that I think is already out is the Eagles 1st Version set, this year's edition of the set annually issued by the team (along with their 2nd Version set of course).  The base set contains 68 cards which includes all the players on the team's 70 man roster (and possibly the ikusei roster) as of December 3rd of last year so don't expect cards of new foreign players Chris Gittens and Jose Marmolejos or any of the 2021 draft picks.  Each player card has three facsimile signature parallels - silver, gold and red.  The gold ones are more rare than the silver but I don't know if either are numbered.  The red ones are 1-of-1.  There are three insert sets - "Rising Eagles" (12 cards), "Iconic Moment" (8 cards) and "Stars Of Tohoku" (8 cards).  There's a parallel version of the "Iconic Moment" cards and the "Stars Of Tohoku" cards are serially numbered to 40.  There's also memorabilia cards for Hiroaki Shimauchi available - jersey cards (serially numbered to 100), patch cards (serially numbered to 30) and letter cards (serially numbered to 9 - the number of letters in "Shimauchi").  There are also autograph cards available for 55 of the players - I think they are numbered between 30 and 60 depending on the player.  UPDATE - Jambalaya has a lot of the cards from the set online here.

- This year's edition of BBM's annual Icons set will be out in late March.  The theme this year is "Rough Diamond" and the players listed as being in the set - Yoshinobu Okagawa, Roki Sasaki, Teruaki Sato, Shugo Maki and Hiroya Miyagi - all kind of fit into that definition.  This is a box set that contains 37 cards - the 36 card base set plus one "special" card.  The base set contains three players from each of the 12 NPB teams and in addition to the players I already mentioned will include eight first round picks from the 2021 draft.  The "special" card will be either a foil print card (one of 12 possible with a parallel version also available), an "Extreme 2022" card (one of eight possible - all 2021 draft picks), a foil signature card (three possible - all members of the Giants) or an autograph card. 

- The first of Calbee's expected three sets that make up their flagship issue - Series One - is going to officially be released on March 28th but it usually can be found a couple of days before that.  That's about all I know about the set though - for the first time that I can remember, Calbee has not put the set's checklist up on line yet.  They say they'll have it up in mid-March.  This is the 50th year that Calbee has been doing baseball cards and I suspect they'll be doing something special for it - although I don't know that it will be anything more than the card reprints that they did for their 30th Anniversary in 2002 and their 40th Anniversary in 2012.

- Epoch One, Epoch's on-demand card set (a la Topps Now) will be back this year for its fifth season.  I would expect that the first cards will be offered for sale on March 28th as it will be the first business day after Opening Day (March 25th).  Epoch will offer these cards for the same nine teams as last year - the Marines, Dragons, Hawks, Tigers, Fighters, Lions, Eagles, Swallows and Giants.  I guess the biggest news about the cards is that from the promo image it appears that the English version of the player's name will not included on the card.

- BBM has announced their first three "comprehensive" team sets for 2022 - for the Swallows, Hawks and Buffaloes.  Each of these sets has a base set of 81 cards which has been the standard for BBM's team sets since 2015.  The Swallows base set has 67 cards for the manager and players along with three subsets - "Milestone" (2 cards), "New Phase" (5 cards) and "Check It Out" (7 cards).  The details are a little scarce on the Hawks base set but it will have 66 cards for the manager and players and three subsets - a four card one featuring starting pitchers, a four card one featuring relief pitchers and a five card one featuring batters.  The Buffaloes base set consists on 64 cards for the manager and players plus four subsets - "Memorial Scene" (4 cards), "Yoshinubo Yamamoto Special" (4 cards), "Golden Age" (6 cards) and "Orix Junior" (3 cards).  Each set also includes 18 non-premium insert cards split among four different types - none of the web pages are terribly descriptive about these sets.  Each set also has two or three premium insert sets - I believe that these are all serially numbered but I don't know what they're numbered to.  All three have 15 "Esparanza" cards each.  BBM has replaced the "Phantom" cards of the past few years with "Treasure" cards this year - the Swallows set has 13, the Hawks set has 15 and the Buffaloes set has 19.  Additionally the Buffaloes set has a premium insert set called "Antique" that the other two do not - there are 24 of these "inserts with special wood grain processing".  All three sets have a variety of associated autograph cards.  The Hawks set also has Yuki Yanagita jersey cards available while the Buffaloes set has three types of memorabilia cards - Masataka Yoshida jersey cards, Yutaro Sugimoto jersey cards and combo jersey cards with both Yoshida and Sugimoto.  The Swallows and Hawks sets will be out in early April and the Buffaloes set will be out in mid-April.

- Mid-April is also when BBM will be publishing the first of their 2022 flagship sets.  The 1st Version set appears to be following the same pattern it has for the past eight years, at least in terms of the break down of the base set.  There's the usual 324 player/manager cards (27 for each team), the 12 team checklist cards and the 36 "Cross Something" cards that will be continued in the 2nd Version set later in the year - this year the Something is "Grotto".  That makes a total of 372 cards in the base set.  Nine cards for each team have several different facsimile autograph parallels.  There are also parallel versions for 77 of the rookie cards (not sure if that's all the rookie cards or not).  For the first time there are three varieties of the short printed photo variants - each team has a card with a rare "secret" version, a card with a rarer "ultra secret" version and a card with an even rarer "super ultra secret" version (and they could all possibly be variants for the same player).  There are also parallel versions of the "Cross Grotto" cards available.  There are two non-premium insert sets - "Promising Youth" (12 cards - one per team) and "Japonism" (12 cards - one per team) - and three serially numbered premium insert sets - "Amazing" (24 cards - two per team - each numbered to 50), "Cross Foil Signing" (6 cards - all members of the Giants - each numbered to 15) and "3D Cross Grotto" (12 cards - one per team as you probably guessed - each numbered to 25).  Some of the insert sets will probably have parallel versions but I don't see anything about them yet.  There are memorabilia cards available for Hiromi Itoh and Shugo Maki and a wide variety of autographed cards including buybacks.   

- I want to wrap up this post with a quick word not about an announcement but about a disappearance.  I mentioned in the post I did about Topps' 2021 NPB set that I thought it was odd that Topps' Japanese website no longer mentioned their NPB products and I wondered if it meant there wouldn't be any more of them.  Since I did that post a little over a month ago, Topps' Japanese site appears to have vanished - attempting to go to gets you redirected to the regular Topps website.  I obviously don't know for sure but I kind of take that as sign to not expect any NPB product (or even an MLB Japan Edition) from them this year.  UPDATE - I've been informed by @lovelovemarines that Topps' Japanese website is still up but apparently you can only get there if you're in Japan.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Card Of The Week February 20

After eleven seasons Wladimir Balentien is leaving NPB and Japan.  The Saraperos de Saltillo of the Mexican League announced that they had signed him last week.  Balentien led the Central League in home runs his first three years in Japan, culminating in his record setting 60 home run season in 2013.  He also led the CL in RBIs in 2018.  He won the CL MVP award in 2013, won Best 9 awards in 2012 and 2013 and made the All Star team six times (2011-14, 2016 & 2018).  After spending his first nine years in Japan with the Swallows he signed with the Hawks as a free agent and spent the past two years mostly on the Hawks' farm team in Chikugo.  It was a little surprising that he didn't sign with another Japanese team after he and Hawks parted ways as he's been in Japan long enough that he no longer counts as a foreign player.

Here's a 2014 Calbee card (#C-1 from the Series One set) celebrating his 60th home run of the 2013 season - this was on October 4th, about two and a half weeks after he hit home run number 56 to pass Sadaharu Oh as the single season leader:

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Minoru Iwata

Hanshin Tigers pitcher Minoru Iwata retired at the end of last season.  Iwata attended baseball powerhouse Osaka Toin for high school and was a teammate of Takeya Nakamura and Tsuyoshi Nishioka there.  He was named the ace pitcher of his team by his junior year but missed opportunities to pitch much due to a back injury and the discovery that he suffered from Type 1 diabetes.  He had hoped to go into professional baseball after graduating from high school but went undrafted in the fall 2001 NPB draft.  He went to Kansai University and went 6-10 with a 2.11 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 23 games over four injury-plagued seasons.  Former Hankyu Braves pitcher Takashi Yamaguchi who was a scout for the Tigers and an alum of Kansai University recommended that Hanshin draft him.  The team actually acquired him via the "desired enrollment frame" part of the 2005 draft which basically allowed them to sign him to a deal without other teams getting a shot at drafting him - the process cost the Tigers their first and second round picks in the college/industrial league portion of the draft.

Iwata spent most of his first two seasons with the Tigers on their farm team, making only one appearance with the top team in 2006 and four in 2007.  He made the ichi-gun starting rotation in 2008 and went 10-10 with a 3.28 ERA in 27 starts and finished third in Rookie Of The Year voting behind Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Hayato Sakamoto.  He was a late addition to the 2009 Japanese World Baseball Classic team, replacing Hiroki Kuroda.  He only made two appearances in the tournament, both against Korea, but hurt his shoulder and missed a couple months of the season.  An elbow injury sidelined him for all of 2010 but he returned to the Tigers starting rotation in 2011 and remained there for the next five seasons, starting at least 20 games each season except for 2013 where ineffectiveness limited him to only nine games with the top team.  He started Game Four of the 2014 Nippon Series and held the Hawks to just two runs in seven innings in a game ultimately won by Softbank on a three run walk off home run by Akira Nakamura in the bottom of the tenth.  His playing time on the top team dropped off quite a bit after 2015, apparently due to poor performance.  He announced his retirement after the team had let him know that he wasn't in their plans for 2022.  He's now working for the team as a "community ambassador".

Iwata's first baseball cards were in the 2006 Rookie Edition (#55) and 1st Version (#248) sets from BBM.  His first Calbee card was #116 in the 2008 Series Two set.  He's also appeared in various sets from Konami, Bandai and Epoch.  Here's some of his cards:

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #55

2006 BBM 1st Version #248

2008 BBM Touch The Game #073

2009 Konami Baseball Heroes WBC #W09R090

2012 Calbee #058

2013 BBM 2nd Version #521

2015 Tigers Original Player Card #04

2019 BBM 2nd Version #371

2021 BBM Tigers #T10