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:
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)|
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)|
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)|
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|