Monday, April 25, 2022

RIP Toshizo Sakamoto

Toshizo Sakamoto, infielder for four different Pacific League teams between 1967 and 1980, passed away about a month ago from Parkinson's disease but it didn't make the news until today.  Sakamoto is primarily remembered for two things - misplaying a ground ball in the 1971 Nippon Series and being the first designated hitter in Pacific League history in 1975 - although surprisingly only one of these events is mentioned in his obituary in Nikkan Sports. UDPATE - the reason him being the first DH in PL history isn't mentioned is because he wasn't.

He had been playing for Kawai Instruments in the corporate leagues when he was drafted in the fifth round of the 1966 draft by the Hankyu Braves.  He quickly became the Braves' starting shortstop and won the PL Best 9 award at shortstop every year between 1968 and 1971.  He also led the PL in steals in 1969 and made the All Star team each year from 1968 to 1971.

I don't know this for sure, but I think the misplay in the 1971 Series cost him his future with the Braves.  Hankyu and the Giants had split the first two games when Braves ace Hisashi Yamada took the mound for Game Three.  Yamada pitched a great game, holding the Giants to only two hits and no runs over the first eight innings.  Giants pitcher Shitoshi Sekimoto also pitched well, giving up only five hits and one run to the Braves.   With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Yamada walked Isao Shibata, his first free pass of the day.  After Toshiro Yanagida flew out for the second out, Shigeo Nagashima stepped to the plate.  Nagashima hit a slow ground ball a little to the left of up the middle that Sakamoto could not quite get to - it rolled into the outfield with Shibata going all the way to third.  Sakamoto apparently had taken a step in the opposite direction when the ball was hit which prevented him from reaching the ball.  Sadaharu Oh was the next batter and he drove the ball into the right field stands at Korakuen Stadium for a sayonara three run home run.  Oh's shot is considered the turning point for the Giants who went on to win the next two games 7-4 and 6-1 and win the Series 4 games to 1.

You can see the play (along with a bunch of Calbee Braves cards) in the middle of the following video:

Regardless of whether or not Hankyu blamed Sakamoto for the Series loss, he wasn't a Brave anymore after that season.  He was traded with Koji Okamoto and Seigo Sasaki to the Toei Flyers for Masayuki Tanemo and Yutaka Ohashi.  He made the All Star team in 1972.  The next year the team (now called the Nittaku Home Flyers) moved him to third base and he shifted to second base two years later (when the team was now the Nippon-Ham Fighters).  While he was the first player to bat as a designated hitter in 1975 he spent most of his time that season in the field - according to his stats at Baseball Reference he played at second base in 94 of the 96 games he appeared in that year.

He was dealt a second time after the 1975 season - the Fighters sent him along with Kenichi Yaezawa to the Kintetsu Buffaloes for Toshikazu Hattori and Yozo Nagabuchi.  After three years with the Buffaloes he again switched teams - this time going to the Nankai Hawks (not sure if there was a trade, a sale or if he was released by Kintetsu).  He spent two years with the Hawks - the last one as player-coach - and retired following the 1980 season.   He spent a couple years as a commentator before coaching for Kintetsu from 1984 to 1996.

Somehow there are almost no baseball cards of Sakamoto that were issued during his career.  I only know of four and three of those (the Broder "JY4" and "JY6" sets from 1975 and 1976 respectively and the 1979 TCMA set) were American issues.  His only card actually issued in Japan was a game set issued with the July 1976 issue of the "Elementary School 3rd Year" magazine that used a caricature of him rather than an actual photo.  He does not have any Calbee, Takara or Yamakatsu cards that I'm aware of.  He has appeared in a number of BBM OB sets -  the 2009 Hankyu Braves Memorial set, the 2011 Legend of Bs set, the 2013 The Trade Stories set and the 2021 Orix Buffaloes History set - as well as the 2017 Epoch Hankyu Braves Greats set.   Here's all the cards I have for him - I've arranged them in chronological order of the teams he played on:

2009 BBM Hankyu Braves Memorial #25

2011 BBM Legend Of Bs #40

2021 BBM Orix Buffaloes History 1936-2021 #18

2013 BBM The Trade Stories #08

2011 BBM Legend Of Bs #69

1979 TCMA #3

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Card Of The Week April 24

There must have been something in the air last week as there were a number of near no-hitters in Japan.  First, of course, was Roki Sasaki's eight perfect innings on Sunday.  On Tuesday, Burch Smith of the Lions threw seven no-hit innings against the Marines before being lifted for a reliever who lost the no-hitter in the eighth.  On Wednesday Manabu Mima of the Marines faced off against Wataru Matsumoto of the Lions and neither pitcher gave up a hit until the seventh inning.  And on Saturday, Matt Shoemaker of the Giants was perfect into the seventh inning against the Dragons.

I also can't leave out an actual no-hitter thrown by Jacob Waguespack of Orix on Friday.  You might not have heard much about this one because it was a farm team game.

I've run into a bit of a problem featuring these players in this week's post.  Since Smith, Shoemaker and Waguespack are all new to NPB, I don't have cards of any of them.  I was going to cheat with Waguespack since the BBM Orix team set was released last week and swipe the image of his card from Jambalaya but he signed too late to appear in the set!  Similarly none of the three of them appear in BBM's 1st Version set which was released a few days ago.  So I'm only able to share cards of Matsumoto and Mima:

2020 Lions Fan Club #17

2021 BBM Marines History 1950-2021 #80

Friday, April 22, 2022

Rick Van Den Hurk

Former Fukuoka Softbank Hawk and Tokyo Yakult Swallow pitcher Rick Van Den Hurk announced his retirement in a post on his website yesterday.  Van Den Hurk had spend ten years in the Marlins, Orioles and Pirates organizations (along with stints in the majors with each team) before heading for the Far East to spend two seasons (2013-14) with the KBO's Samsung Lions.  He joined the Hawks in 2015 and won his first 14 decisions with the team - this streak was split between nine wins in 2015 and five wins in 2016.  He was a mainstay of the Hawks rotation for several years and pitched for them in the Nippon Series in 2015 (against the Swallows), 2017 (against the Baystars), 2018 (against the Carp) and 2019 (against the Giants).  Injuries cut into his playing time in his last two seasons with the Hawks and he was released following the 2020 season.  He signed with the Swallows before last season but only made a couple appearances with the ichi-gun team.  The Swallows released him at his request last September.

Van Den Hurk was born in the Netherlands and played for their team in both the 2009 and 2017 World Baseball Classics.  

Here are some of his Japanese baseball cards (plus a WBC card for him):

2009 Topps WBC Box Set #36

2015 BBM 1st Version #008

2016 BBM Classic #001

2016 Calbee "Exciting Scene" #ES-01

2017 BBM Hawks #H20

2018 BBM Hawks 80th Anniversary Celebration #05

2019 Epoch NPB #050

2020 Konami Baseball Collection #202000-N-H044-00

2021 BBM Swallows #S05

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Best NPB Sets Of All Time

I made up a list of what I considered the worst NPB sets of All Time a few weeks back and decided while I was doing it that I should do a more positive list as well.  So I put together a list of the Best NPB Sets of All Time.  Like the other list, this one's extremely subjective and if I made the list up again six months from now it would likely be very different.  Or perhaps not - some of these have been favorite sets of mine for years.

Here are the ten sets on the list in roughly chronological order:

1967 Kabaya-Leaf

I know, how could I possibly leave this set off the list?  My only really gripe with it is that it only represents half the league so there's no cards of the Tokyo Orions, the Hiroshima Carp, the Kintetsu Buffaloes, the Taiyo Whales, the Sankei Atoms or the Hankyu Braves.

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #306 (Toshihiro Hayashi)

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #351 (Futoshi Nakanishi)

1975/76 Calbee

All 1970's Calbee is really great but the 1472 card set issued between mid-1975 and early 1977 (the "monster" as Sean calls it) is in a class by itself.  To paraphrase Stefon, this set has EVERYTHING - cards from the 1975-76 All Star games and the Nippon Series; pink bordered cards quasi-1975 Topps  cards; cards showing players as amateurs; ARTIFICIAL TURF; team and league leader cards, a fat man throwing out the first pitch and multiplayer "Rivals" cards. There's a lot of great and unique photography in the set.  I don't have anywhere near a complete set but I love what I have.

1975/76/77 Calbee #865 (Takeshi Koba, Toshiharu Ueda, Hiromitsu Kadota)

1975/76/77 Calbee #394 (Kenji Furusawa)

1975/76/77 Calbee #290 (Sadaharu Oh)

1975/76/77 Calbee #404 (Pacific League Leaders)

1970's Yamakatsu

Like the pre-1991 Takara on the "Worst Sets" list, I'm kind of cheating here in lumping multiple sets together.  Yamakatsu made a number of sets between 1976 and 1981 in a variety of sizes - from the smallest of 2 by 2 1/2 inches through the standard size of 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches to postcard sized to 6 3/4 by 9 13/16 inches to what was probably the largest size ever for a baseball card - 14 by 15 1/2 inches.  Almost all the sets feature great photography - the only real clunker in the lot is the "badge" set I mentioned in the "Worst Sets" list.

1976 Yamakatsu JY1 (Makoto Matsubara)

1977 Yamakatsu JY3 (Hiromitsu Kadota)

1977 Yamakatsu JY4 (Sadaharu Oh)

1979 Yamakatsu JY8 #11 (Leron Lee)

1980 Yamakatsu JY12 (Kinji Shimatani)

1994 BBM

It was kind of tough picking just one BBM flagship set.  I've always liked the looks of the 1997 and 2000 sets as well as the 2003 and 2007 1st Version sets and the rookies in the 1993 and 2013 1st Version sets are pretty impressive.  But I picked the 1994 set for this list.  I've always liked the design and it was the first BBM flagship to feature all of the previous fall's draft picks.  It also includes the final BBM card identifying Ichiro as "Ichiro Suzuki".

1994 BBM #403

1994 BBM #363

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9

In 2000 NPB did a fan vote to elect a Best 9 team for the 20th Century.  BBM issued this set as sort of a ballot for this vote - the set contained four cards each for 120 players, going back to guys like Eiji Sawamura and Victor Starffin from the earliest days of professional baseball up to guys who had started playing in the 1990's including Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kazuo Matsui and Hiroki Kokubo.  Pretty much all the biggest names in NPB history are in the set including Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, Katsuya Nomura, Isao Harimoto, Yutaka Enatsu and Sachio Kinugasa.  There's a significant number of foreign players in the set as well including Leron Lee, Tuffy Rhodes, Randy Bass, Boomer Wells, Bobby Rose, Alonzo Powell, Jim Paciorek, Wally Yonamine and Harris McGalliard (a player from the 1930's who as far as I know has never had any other cards).  The only thing I don't like about the set is that BBM couldn't get the rights for three players (Masaichi Kaneda, Warren Cromartie and Hideo Nomo) but included them anyway without putting their photos on their cards.  (If you want to know who won the vote, BBM put them on an insert set with the 2001 Preview set.)

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #479

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #251

2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 #122

01 Upper Deck

Upper Deck put out four NPB sets in 2000 and 2001.  The 2000 Ovation set made my "Worst Sets" list and I'm ambivalent towards the 2000 and 2001 Victory sets.  But their final set - the 2001 "Upper Deck" set - was beautiful.  The 180 card base set is the only one of Upper Deck's NPB sets to feature full bleed photos and the photo selection was outstanding.

2001 Upper Deck #24

2001 Upper Deck #26

2001 Upper Deck #46

2001 Upper Deck #13

02 BBM All Time Heroes

In the wake of the popularity of the 2000 BBM 20th Century Best 9 set - their first major combination active/OB player set - BBM started issuing an annual "Historic Collection" set.  From 2001 to 2015 BBM issued one of these sets although the cover dates on the sets go from 2002 to 2016 - it was always the first set of the "new model year".  The All Time Heroes set was the best of the 15 sets - it basically featured both an active and OB "Best 9" for each of the 12 NPB teams along with a bonus OB player and a checklist card for each team.  It's a beautiful looking set that again features a lot of the biggest names in NPB history.  My only real complaints are the number of black and white photos used and that none of the players in MLB at the time show up in the set (which probably really only resulted in Ichiro being left out of the set).

2002 BBM All Time Heroes #063

2002 BBM All Time Heroes #027

2002 BBM All Time Heroes #155

2002 BBM All Time Heroes #103

2002 BBM All Time Heroes #224

2002 BBM All Time Heroes #238

06 BBM Nostalgic Baseball

BBM issued the 108 card "Nostalgic Baseball" set in 2006 with an ambitious idea - they colorized photos of a number of players who were active between the 1930's and 1960's (well, OK some were active as late as 1980).  A lot of the players in the set had never had color photos on their baseball cards before - in fact I think some of these guys never had baseball cards before.  Since lately it seems like BBM only issues OB sets for players who are still breathing and can sign autographs, this was a fascinating set that featured a lot of players who rarely appeared in a BBM set.  I won't say that photos are beautiful but they are very interesting.

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #075

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #099

2006 BBM Nostalgic Baseball #062

09 BBM Legend Players

One last combination active/OB player set.  In 2009 BBM celebrated the 60th Anniversary of the two league system by issuing a 100 card set in issues of Shukan Baseball - there were 50 weekly issues of the magazine that each included two cards.  I don't know if there's an official name for this set but I've dubbed it the "Legend Players" set.  It's one of the best representations of Japanese baseball history (at least for the years 1950 to 2009) and includes not only the all time greats like Oh and Nagashima but also players active in MLB at the time like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kazuo Matsui.  There's also eight bonus cards that were apparently only available by sending in the purchase receipts for the issues.  (Thanks to twycchang for the information on how this set was distributed.)

2009 BBM Legend Players #028 (Isao Harimoto)

2009 BBM Legend Players #062 (Ichiro)

2009 BBM Legend Players #020 (Tatsunori Hara)

2009 BBM Legend Players #SP8 (Yutaka Enatsu)

12 Front Runner Carp Starting Lineup

To close out the list I decided to go with something a little unusual.  The 2012 Carp Starting Lineup set was the first box set that Front Runner put out.  At the time it came out it wasn't obvious who the manufacturer actually was - it looked like it was issued by "Hiroshima Athlete Magazine".   Just over half of the 27 cards feature the "starting lineup" for the 2012 Carp - besides the eight position players there's also one starting pitcher, two set up pitchers, one closer and two pinch hitters - using a card design that looks like a magazine cover.  The set also includes four cards for 2012 Carp rookies (including Yusuke Nomura and Ryosuke Kikuchi), six cards for Carp prospects (none of whom ever panned out) and three cards for the three guys on the 2012 roster with 2000 hits - Takuro Ishii, Tomonori Maeda and manager Kenjiro Nomura.  It may seem odd to go with a set that features a single team for a "Best NPB Sets Ever" list but I really like how the "starting lineup" cards look.  Front Runner continued to make cards until 2015 but I don't think they ever made a set better looking than this one.

2012 Front Runner Carp Starting Lineup #09 (Kenta Maeda)

2012 Front Runner Carp Starting Lineup #14 (Yoshihiro Maru)

2012 Front Runner Carp Starting Lineup #16

2012 Front Runner Carp Starting Lineup #19