Thursday, March 31, 2022

Back For More

News broke today that Topps has renewed their license with NPB for 2022.  The announcement says that "Topps plans to launch several new NPB products throughout 2022" but, like the announcement of their initial agreement last October, there aren't any actual details on what they'll release.  The October announcement statement said "Topps will launch several products in 2021 to be sold in select retail locations throughout Japan starting in Q4" and it turned out that "several" equalled "two".

My expectation at this point is that Topps will at least do another "NPB" set using the same design as their flagship MLB design this year as well as a "Chrome" version.  After that, your guess is as good as mine about whether they'll do anything else and what that anything else might look like.  My hope is that this year's set will be better than last year's, if for no other reason than the design of this year's MLB flagship set is much more attractive than last year's.  And hopefully they'll have time to make an effort to make the backs somewhat interesting.

One last thing - I had mentioned last month that Topps' Japanese website was no longer accessible from outside Japan.  That apparently has changed as I can get there from the US without a VPN again.  They still do not ship outside of Japan however.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Oldest BBM Set With An Active NPB Player - 2022 Edition

A couple years back I got curious about what was the oldest BBM set that included at least one active NPB player.  I was kind of surprised to discover that it was the 1998 set with Ryota Igarashi being the active player.  When Igarashi retired after the 2020 season the 1999 set became the oldest set with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukudome as the active players.  Matsuzaka retired at the end of last season but Fukudome's still going strong - he was batting third in the starting lineup for the Dragons on Opening Day last Friday - so it's still the 1999 set.  This makes Fukudome the final player who was active in the 20th Century.

1999 BBM #310
My collection of Calbee cards isn't anywhere near complete enough to figure this out every year but since Fukudome was a rookie in 1999 and he has cards in the 1999 Calbee set, the 1999 Calbee set is the oldest one with an active player:

1999 Calbee #079

Looking back, the 1991 set was the earliest BBM set that included an active NPB player from 1991 to 2015.  After Motonobu Tanishige, Masahiro Yamamoto and Satoshi Nakajima retired, the 1994 set (with Kazuo Matsui, Daisuke Miura and Kazuya Fukuura) became the oldest (or 1993 if you want to count Ichiro who was still playing in MLB through the start of the 2019 season).  Once Fukuura retired after 2019 it became 1998 and Igarashi.

Once Fukudome retires, the next possible candidate is the 2001 set which features Seichi Uchikawa and Hiroyuki Nakajima.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

KBO At 40

Today is the 40th Anniversary of the first professional baseball game ever in Korea.  The KBO's inaugural game was held between the Samsung Lions and the MBC Chungryong at Dongdaemun Stadium in Seoul.  The Lions Lee Man-soo made history with the first hit and first home run in the new league and the Lions led 5-0 early in the game and 7-4 by the bottom of the seventh.  But MBC's Yu Sung-an hit a three run home run that inning to tie the game up and Lee Chong-do would hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the tenth to start the league in memorable fashion.

Here's a video with highlights of the game:

This is a baseball card blog of course, and I'd like to show off cards of the players involved in the game.  Problem is, the earliest Korean cards that I have are from 1991 which kind of limits my options.  The only Korean card I have from a player that I know was in this game is this 1994 Teleca card of Lee Man-soo:

1994 Teleca #40

However, I do have a number of Japanese cards for someone who played in the game - MBC player/manager Baek In-Chan.  Baek was born in Japanese-occupied China in 1943 but grew up in Seoul after the war ended.  His performance as part of a touring Korean team in Japan in the early sixties brought him to the attention of Japanese teams and he eventually signed with the Toei Flyers in 1963 under the name "Jinten Haku".  He played for 19 years in NPB for the Flyers/Fighters (1963-1974), the Lions (1975-76), the Orions (1977-80) and the Buffaloes (1981) before moving to the new league in 1982.  After his one season with MBC he joined the Sammi Superstars as a player/coach in 1983 and retired after the 1984 season.  He later managed the LG Twins (which was the name of the his original team after LG bought the team from MBC) from 1990-91, Samsung from 1996-97 (Lee Man-soo's last two seasons) and the Lotte Giants from 2002-03.  Here's some cards of his:

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #408

1975/76/77 Calbee #349

1979 TCMA #2

H/T Dan Kurtz for the linked article and video and the fact that today was the 40th Anniversary.

Card Of The Week March 27

For the second time in three years, NPB's Central League has opened the season as the only professional baseball league in the world that has not adopted the Designated Hitter.  Opening Day 2020 featured two home runs by pitchers - one by Yuki Nishi of the Tigers and the other by Daichi Ohsera of the DragonsWhile CL pitchers had a pretty good weekend at the bat this year, only one of them went deep - Akiyoshi Katsuno of the Dragons:

Now that the National League has permanently adopted the DH, it's probably only a matter of time before the Central League adopts it as well.  But they'll still be swinging the bat at least for one more season.

Here's Katsuno's first ever card - a 2018 Epoch One card (#677/CD-081) commemorating the Dragons' press conference that fall where they officially introduced the 2018 draft class:

Friday, March 25, 2022

Play Ball (2022)

I'm continuing my Opening Day tradition of doing a post showing a baseball card from the last year that each of the 12 NPB teams won the Nippon Series which was inspired by (or stolen from) the series of posts that Night Owl Cards has been doing for a while now for MLB teams.  This is the fifth year I've done this and the first time the Hawks aren't the defending champions so this was a nice change of pace.

The last time the SWALLOWS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2021 Epoch NPB #404

The last time the HAWKS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2020 Epoch One #288/SH-029

The last time the FIGHTERS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2016 Pro Yakyuu AI #42

The last time the EAGLES won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2013 Calbee #216

The last time the GIANTS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2012 Giants Victory #5

The last time the MARINES won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2010 BBM Marines #M17

The last time the LIONS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2008 Lions Fan Club #11

The last time the DRAGONS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

2007 BBM Climax Series Dragons #D21

The last time the BAYSTARS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

1998 Calbee East Special #E-41

The last time the BUFFALOES* won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

1996 BBM All Stars #A43

The last time the TIGERS won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

1985 Calbee #203 (Masayuki Kakefu)

The last time the CARP won the Nippon Series, cards looked like this:

1984 Takara Carp #24 (Yutaka Ohno)

*The Buffaloes were called the BlueWave in 1996

All 12 current NPB teams have won the Series at least once so there are no "Photo Not Found" teams.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

My First Japanese Cards

I got thinking recently about the first Japanese cards I ever got.  Part of this was spurred by a discussion Justin Shafer and I had a few months back when he had me on his video podcast "That Hobby Show" show on YouTube - he remembered a story I had once told him about getting some cards at a shop in Frederick, Maryland.  So I thought I would do a real quick post about the Japanese cards I got BEFORE I actually started collecting Japanese cards.  (This does not count the 1979 TCMA set that I had when I was in high school that I sold with the rest of my childhood collection when I was in college.)

The first Japanese cards I got were those ones Justin was asking about.  In 1991 I was living in Beltsville, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC.  My birthday that summer was on a Friday so I took the day off from work and spent the afternoon in Frederick looking around at a couple antique malls before heading up to Hagerstown to watch the Suns play.  At some point I stopped by Burton's Coins & Cards in Frederick - I have it in my head that I stopped by there AFTER the game but that can't be right as the game wouldn't have ended until 9:30 or 10 and Hagerstown's a half hour away from Frederick - where I came upon a box of 1991 BBM packs.  I had read about them in Baseball Card Magazine but had never seen any - I had been interested in the set but felt that the $70 price the magazine said it was going for was more than I wanted to pay for it.  At the time I was collecting MLB cards and just starting to get serious about minor league cards.  This was four years before Hideo Nomo joined the Dodgers so no one was really thinking about NPB players coming the US.  Anyway, I ended up buying a pack.  I only remember one of the ten cards from the pack - it was for a player who eventually would become one of my favorites:

1991 BBM #219

The cards went into my collection and were the only Japanese cards I had for about four years.  In 1995 I was visiting my parents at their home in Newark, Delaware and stopped off at a card shop - I think it was called something like "Steve's Cards" - in a shopping plaza about two blocks from their house.  Steve had a small pile of Japanese cards in his display case and I decided on a whim to buy them.  I don't remember how much he was selling them for but I'm sure it wasn't a whole lot.  There were two different types of cards.  First was about seven 1992 Calbee cards - if I remember correctly they were actually packs rather than loose cards.  Once again I ended up with cards of players who would become favorites of mine (and one of those cards has a cameo appearance of the favorite player from 1991):

1992 Calbee #51

1992 Calbee #43

The other cards in the pile were what I eventually learned were the 1992 Takara Hiroshima Toyo Carp set - all 30 cards still in their case.  Since this was the summer of Nomo-mania, Steve wanted to be sure that this wasn't the team that Nomo had played for in Japan.  After I assured him it was not, he included the set in what he sold me.  These were my first Japanese cards that had no English on them and it wasn't until years later when I got my first copy of one of Gary Engel's "Japanese Baseball Cards Checklist & Price Guide" did I learn who all the players were.

1992 Takara Carp #20 Manabu Kitabeppu

1992 Takara Carp #28 Shinji Nishida

The last batch of Japanese cards that I got were from my co-worker Lonnie in 1996.  Lonnie was a computer programmer like me but he did some card dealing on the side.  He had gone to Japan a few years earlier for work and out of curiosity bought two packs of cards - a pack of 1992 BBM and a pack of 1993 Tomy.  The Tomy pack had included a card of Nomo.  I think I paid him $20 for all the cards - the price was pretty much driven by the Nomo.  Like the 1991 BBM pack, I don't remember too much about who was in either pack - these are the only ones I'm sure about (well, I'm pretty sure about Kawakami but I could be misremembering - but today marks 102 years since his birth so I need some excuse to show a card of his...):

1992 BBM #125

1992 BBM #32

1993 Tomy #047

I didn't get any more Japanese cards until I joined Ebay in 1999 and started seeing cards show up when I was looking for minor league cards.  By late 2000 I was seriously collecting them and by 2002 I was pretty much collecting nothing else.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Card Of The Week March 20

The last time an NPB team changed its name was 10 years ago - the Yokohama Baystars were sold to DeNA after the 2011 season and changed their name to the Yokohama DeNA Baystars.  This means that 2022 will be the eleventh consecutive year that NPB has operated with the current set of team names.  That may not sound like much, but I believe it is the longest that NPB has ever gone without a team changing their names because they were sold, they merged with another team, they moved to a new location or just randomly decided to change their name.  The previous longest stretch between name changes was the ten years between Fukuoka losing their team after the 1978 season (the Crown Lighter Lions were sold to Seibu and moved to Tokorozawa) and gaining a new team after the 1988 season (the Nankai Hawks were sold to Daiei and relocated from Osaka) - and also the Hankyu Braves getting sold to Orix.

Here's a list of the name changes in NPB since 1958 when the Daiei Stars and Mainichi Orions merged to become the Daimai Orions and stabilize the league at 12 teams:

1959 - the Kintetsu Pearls change their name to the Kintetsu Buffalo
1961 - the Osaka Tigers change their name to the Hanshin Tigers
1961 - the Kintetsu Buffalo change their name to the Kintetsu Buffaloes
1964 - the Daimai Orions change their name to the Tokyo Orions
1965 - the Kokutetsu Swallows are sold to Sankei and become the Sankei Swallows
1966 - the Sankei Swallows change their name to the Sankei Atoms
1968 - the Hiroshima Carp change their name to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp
1969 - the Tokyo Orions are sold to Lotte and become the Lotte Orions
1970 - the Sankei Atoms are sold to Yakult and become the Yakult Atoms
1973 - the Toei Flyers are sold to Nittaku and become the Nittaku Home Flyers
1973 - the owners of the Lions sell the naming rights to the team to Taiheiyo Club and the team is renamed the Taiheiyo Club Lions
1974 - the Nittaku Home Flyers are sold to Nippon-Ham and become the Nippon-Ham Fighters
1974 - the Yakult Atoms are renamed the Yakult Swallows
1977 - the owners of the Lions sell the naming rights to the team to Crown Gas and the team is renamed the Crown Lighter Lions
1978 - the Taiyo Whales move from Kawasaki to Yokohama and become the Yokohama Taiyo Whales
1979 - the owners of the Lions sell the team to Seibu and the team is moved to Tokorozawa to become the Seibu Lions
1989 - the Nankai Hawks are sold to Daiei and moved to Fukuoka to become the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks
1989 - the Hankyu Braves are sold to Orix and become the Orix Braves
1991 - the Orix Braves move to Kobe from Nishinomiya and become the Orix BlueWave
1992 - the Lotte Orions move to Chiba from Kawasaki and become the Chiba Lotte Marines
1993 - the Yokohama Taiyo Whales rename themselves the Yokohama Baystars
1997 - the Kintesu Buffaloes rename themselves the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes
2004 - the Nippon-Ham Fighters move from Tokyo to Sapporo and become the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
2005 - the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks are sold to Softbank and become the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks
2005 - the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave merge to become the Orix Buffaloes
2005 - the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are added as an expansion team to replace Kintetsu
2006 - the Yakult Swallows change their name to the Tokyo Yakult Swallows
2007 - the Seibu Lions change their name to the Saitama Seibu Lions
2012 - the Yokohama Baystars are sold to DeNA and become the Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Note that these are just team name changes which is why I don't mention the Lotte Orions moving from Tokyo to Sendai in 1972 and from Sendai to Kawasaki in 1978 since the team's name remained the same the whole time.

In honor of it being 10 years since the debut of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, here's a couple cards from the spring of 2012 featuring the then-current and future managers of the team:

2012 BBM 1st Version #298

2012 Calbee #070

Saturday, March 19, 2022

An Expensive Sadaharu Oh Set, More Team Sets And A Calbee Update

I wanted to do another quick round up of recently announced sets plus give an update on Calbee Series One.

- Epoch released the "Sadaharu Oh Legendary Career Super Luxury Baseball Card Collection" today.  To say this is an expensive set is a gross understatement.  I haven't been able to find the MSRP price for it but I did find someone selling an unopened box on Yahoo! Japan Auctions for 500,000 yen or about $4200.  Each box contains only four cards but one of them is guaranteed to be an autographed card.  There's about 20 different autographed cards available, all of which are serially numbered and all of which have a print run of six or less.  There are parallel versions of them also which are numbered to either 1 or 2.  There are four types of autographed booklets which are numbered to 4 or 5, three of which have parallel versions numbered to 1 or 2.  The "base set" (and I use that term loosely) contains 20 cards - each card is serially numbered to 14, 15 or 20.  Each card in the "base set" has a 1-of-1 "Hologram Foil" parallel version.

- At the other end of the cost spectrum, Epoch has announced their first "reasonably" priced team set for 2022.  Epoch's low end team sets have been evolving over the past five years.  They've been issued under the label "Rookies & Stars" and started out in 2018 as "comprehensive" team sets - meaning that they contained cards for all the players on team's 70 man roster (as well as the ikusei players for a couple of the teams).  Epoch shrunk the sets to 36 cards starting in 2020 so they only featured about half of the roster.  For 2022 they have apparently ditched the "Rookies & Stars" tag in favor of "Premier Edition".  The first of these is for the Carp and will be released on April 30th.  The base set will grow to 45 cards although it looks like three of those cards will be for OB players.  Each card in the base set has a "Hologram" parallel and there's a boatload of insert cards - "Regular Printed Signature" cards in various colors, "Metal Power" cards in various colors, "Time To Shine" cards in various colors and the standard inserts Epoch has been doing for the past few years - "Decomori", "Gem" and "Black Gem".  There also will be a number of different autograph cards available.

- BBM announced two more of their annual "comprehensive" team sets - the Dragons and the Marines.  Both sets feature an 81 card base set and 18 "non-premium" insert cards along with a bunch of premium insert cards and autograph cards.  The Dragons' base set breaks down to 66 cards for the players and manager along with three poorly defined subsets - a three card one that I think is for established players, a six card one for young players and another six card one labeled something like "hot topics this season".  The 18 insert cards are split among three similarly ill defined sets - nine cards for "main players", five cards for "growing young dragons" and four cards for rookies.  On the premium insert side there are 24 "Antique" cards, 19 "Treasure" cards and 15 "Esperanza" cards.  The Marines' base set has 67 cards for the players and manager, a two card "Newcomer" subset, a five card "Titleholder" subset, a four card "Back Number Genealogy" subset and a three card subset labeled "Young & Fine".  The 18 insert cards are not well defined - nine cards for "main players", three cards for "expected rookies", three cards for "moment of fulfillment" and three cards for "reliable veterans".  There's also 24 "Treasure", 15 "Esperanza" and 24 "Antique" cards associated with the set.  The Dragons set will be out in late April and the Marines set will be out in late May.

- Last week Calbee finally released details on their Series One set that will be released next week although it's a bit confusing.  There will be the usual 72 player cards, split evenly between the 12 NPB teams.  There will be a 19 card "Title Holder" subset which will feature players who either won major awards or led their league in a major category last year (players who switched teams either domestically or internationally aren't included which I think only leaves out Robert Suarez and Seiya Suzuki this year), the ubiquitous 24 card "Star" subset, a four card "Legend" subset for retiring players (Yoshiyuki Kamei, Daisuke Yamai, Takeshi Toritani and Yuki Saitoh) and the usual four checklist cards.  There are also two (and only two) reprint cards - apparently Calbee's big deal to celebrate their 50th Anniversary is issuing reprint cards of Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh with a "kira" finish a la the "Star" cards.  I'm a little underwhelmed by this - I was expecting something a little more interesting.  The thing that's confusing about the details of the set is just the way the cards are listed on the on-line checklist - typically any subset listed between the "regular" cards and the checklist cards is considered part of the base set while anything listed after the checklist cards is considered "insert" cards.  The list for this set implies that the "Star" subset is part of the base set but I'm pretty sure the "Star" subset has always been considered an "insert" set.  I expect to discover next week that the "Star" subset (along with the "Legend" and reprint cards) are actually "insert" cards and that the base set will just be the "regular" cards, the "Title Holder" cards and the checklist cards.  Calbee also announced that the 12 card box set associated with the Series One set that's only available from Calbee's Amazon store is called "Clutch Hitters".

Friday, March 18, 2022

Seiya Suzuki of the Chicago Cubs

Former Hiroshima Toyo Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki ended months (if not years) of speculation about where he was going to end up by signing a five year deal with the Chicago Cubs this week.  He was assigned uniform number 27 today (for Mike Trout, not Atsuya Furuta) and is expected to make his exhibition debut tomorrow afternoon.

Suzuki was originally drafted as an infielder by the Carp in the second round of the 2012 draft out of Nishogakusha University High School.  He played third base and shortstop on the farm team during his first two seasons but was converted permanently to the outfield in 2015.  He didn't become a regular with the Carp until 2016.  He made a huge splash by hitting sayonara home runs in back-to-back games on June 17th & 18th and then hit a game winning home run on the 19th - all against the Orix Buffaloes whose bullpen pitchers probably still have nightmares about facing him.  He helped lead the Carp to their first Japan Series in 25 years that fall although they lost to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.  He finished the season with a .335 batting average, 29 home runs and 95 RBIs.  The following seasons were more of the same - he hit .300 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs in 2017, leading the Carp to another Central League pennant although they were beaten by the Baystars in the playoffs.  2018 saw him hit .330 with 30 home runs and 94 RBIs with the Carp again winning the pennant and again falling in the Nippon Series, this time to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  He led the Central League in batting in 2019 with a .335 average and hit 28 home runs with 87 home runs although the Carp missed the playoffs for the first time in three years.  His average dropped to .300 in 2020 as the Carp dropped out of contention but he rebounded with a .317 average last year, good enough to win his second batting crown.  He also had a career high 38 home runs last year - it seemed like he hit 30 of them in September as the Carp made a late (and ultimately unsuccessful) playoff run but that's probably an exaggeration.

He's a five time All Star (2016-19, 2021 - there were no All Star games in 2020), a six time Best 9 winner (2016-21) and a five time Golden Glove winner (2016-17, 2019-21).  Besides his two batting crowns he also led the CL in OBP twice (2019 & 2021).  He played for Samurai Japan in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, the 2019 Premier 12 and the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, winning Gold Medals in the last two tournaments.  He was the MVP of the Premier 12, hitting .444 with 3 home runs and 13 RBIs in just eight games.

His first baseball card is #23 the 2013 BBM Rookie Edition set.  It's becoming more and more apparent each year that that set is loaded - in addition to Suzuki it also includes the rookie cards of Takehiro Norimoto of the Eagles, Yasuhiro Ogawa of the Swallows, Tomoyuki Sugano of the Giants and, of course, Shohei Ohtani.  His other cards from 2013 include cards in BBM's 1st Version (#105), Carp team (#C047), and Rookie Edition Premium (#RP11 & #RP40) sets and the Front Runner Carp Season Summary set (#16).  His first Calbee card was #203 in the 2016 Series Three set.

Suzuki is one of my favorite players and it was difficult to pick just a few of his cards so here's a whole bunch of them (in more or less chronological order):

2013 BBM Rookie Edition #23

2013 BBM 1st Version #105

2013 Front Runner Carp Season Summary #16

2014 BBM 1st Version #232

2014 Front Runner Carp Rookies & Young Stars #14

2015 BBM 2nd Version #534

2016 BBM Carp #C68

2016 BBM Fusion #053

2017 Topps Museum Collection #WBCPR-SS

2017 BBM 2nd Version #498 "Secret" Version

2017 Calbee #113

2018 Konami Baseball Collection #201810-R-C051-00

2018 Calbee #185

2018 Epoch One #514/HC-080

2018 BBM Carp "Three-Peat" #29

2019 BBM 1st Version #CS21

2019 BBM Fusion #29

2020 Calbee Samurai Japan #SJ-09

2020 BBM 2nd Version #519

2021 BBM 1st Version #287

2021 Topps NPB #80