Sunday, July 31, 2022

Card Of The Week July 31

Last week was the All Star break and Game One ended in epic fashion last Tuesday in Fukuoka.  With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied 2-2, Kotaro Kiyomiya of the Fighters stepped up and did this (courtesy of NPB's new official You Tube channel):

It was the first sayonara home run in an All Star game since 1986 (Sadaaki Yoshimura of the Giants hit one in Game Three) and first by a Pacific League batter since 1974 (Yasuhiro Takai of the Hankyu Braves hit one in Game One).  (H/T NPB Reddit).

Here's a 2018 Epoch One card (#175/NF-025) commemorating Kiyomiya's first ever home run on May 9th of that year:

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Card Of The Week July 24

Last Wednesday rookie Ren Mukunoki of the Buffaloes got within one out of throwing the fifth no-hitter of the 2022 NPB season.  He had retired the first two batters in the ninth inning before Fighter pinch hitter Ryusei Satoh singled.  Mukunoki struck out 11 and walked three in what was only his second start ever at the ichi-gun level.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to use his BBM 1st Version or his Epoch NPB card but I decided they were similar enough that I'd just use them both.  His glove's different but otherwise these two photos could have been taken at almost the exact same time, just from different angles.  And it looks like his BBM Buffaloes card (which I don't have yet) uses the same photo as his 1st Version card.

2022 BBM 1st Version #183

2022 Epoch NPB #246

Summer Sets

I was already overdue for a "New Release" post before I went on vacation a week and half ago and of course there were about five new sets announced while I was gone.  Not only that but I discovered that I had neglected to mention a set that hit the stores while I was on vacation.  So let me get up to date...

- Epoch announced three more of their "Premier Edition" team sets.  The new ones are for the Buffaloes, Fighters and Swallows.  The Buffaloes set is the one that came out while I was on vacation on July 15th (so you can see the set over at Jambalaya) while the Fighters and Swallows sets won't be released until September 3rd and 10th respectively.  The base set for all three are listed at 45 cards on their promo pages but take that with a grain of salt as the Buffaloes set actually only has a base set of 37 cards.  Each card in the base set has a "holo" parallel.  All three sets have the standard variety of insert sets that the other "Premier Edition" sets have had - "Regular Printed Signature" cards in various colors, "Metal Power" cards in various colors, "Time To Shine" cards in various colors, and "Decomori", "Gem" and "Black Gem" cards.  All three sets also have several types of autograph cards and the Fighters set will have "bat" memorabilia cards.  This brings the total number of "Premier Edition" team sets for 2022 to eight, one less than the number of "Rookies & Stars" sets that they did last year.  For whatever reason, they haven't done the Hawks this year after doing them last year.  They also have not done sets for the Marines, Eagles or Giants.

- Epoch has also announced the first of their ultra-high end combination active/OB player "Stars & Legends" team sets for the year.  It's for the Hawks, oddly enough - the one team they did a "Rookies & Stars" set for last year but didn't do a "Premier Edition" set for this year.  Boxes containing four cards will sell for 18,700 yen (~$140) - I believe one of the cards is guaranteed to be an autograph.  The base set will contain 50 cards (all of which I believe are serially numbered) along with five insert sets - "Decomori Signature  (Gold)" (three cards each numbered to 25), "Decomori Signature (Green)" (three cards each numbered to 5), "Decomori Signature (Hologram)" (three 1-of-1 cards), "Gem" (six cards numbered to 15), and "Black Gem" (six cards also numbered to 15).  There's also six different types of autograph cards - "Authentic", "Star", "Legendary", "1-of-1" and "Baseball" (which I think are on a cut up piece of a baseball).  The set will be out on August 27th.

- Epoch's annual box set for the Pacific League rookies called...uh... the "Pacific League Rookie Card" set will be out on August 6th.  This is a 42 card box set that contains the complete 39 card base set, two foil signature parallel cards and one autographed card.  The 39 cards base set contains cards for all the players drafted by the six Pacific League teams last fall (regular phase only so no ikusei players).  Unopened sets will retail for 11,000 yen (about $86) - as usual if you just want the base set it should be available much cheaper.

- Topps has announced their 2022 NPB set and, like last year, there's not a whole lot of information out about it.  I think it's going to be out at the end of August but I have nothing to point at to confirm that.  The set is being sold in boxes containing 24 packs of 14 cards for 13,200 yen (right around $100) - or at least it WAS being sold as it's apparently sold out now.  No word about the set itself although it would not surprise me if it was a 216 card set like last year's was.  There are no autograph or memorabilia cards available but each base set card has the same seven parallel versions as the ones from last year - "Gold Rainbox Foil", "Rainbow Foil" (#'d to 150), "Vintage Stock" (#'d to 99), "Blue Foil" (#'d to 50), "Orange Foil" (#'d to 25), "Red Foil" (#'d to 5) and "RayFoil" (1 of 1).  There are three insert sets - "Topps 1958", "Illustration Card" and "Kings Of The Craft" - but no details about them other than the parallels (all three have "Gold Foil" (#'to 50), "Orange Foil" (#'d to 25) and "Red Foil" (#'d to 5) with the "Topps 1958" and "Illustration Card" sets also having a "RayFoil" (1 of 1) parallel).  I'm intrigued by the "Topps 1958" inserts as I assume these will use the 1958 Topps design - I'll be more intrigued if Topps actually uses 1958-style posed photos on the cards rather than just using the standard action shots superimposed on a color background.  UPDATE - according to Discount Niki, the set will be out on September 9th.

- The first of BBM's two annual cheerleader/dance team sets - "Dancing Heroine" - will be out at the end of August.  The "Hana" set will contain 80 cards for members of "Passion" (the Swallows' cheer team), "Tigers Girls", "VENUS" (Giants), "Cheer Dragons", "M * Splash!!" (Marines), "Tohoku Golden Angels" (Eagles), "Honeys" (Hawks), "Fighters Girl" and "Blue Legends" (Lions).  As always I do not know why the Buffaloes and Baystars cheerleaders don't appear in these sets (the Carp do not have cheerleaders).  There are parallel versions of the base set cards and randomly inserted autographed cards.  I'd expect that the second set - "Mai" - will be released about a month later. 

- BBM has announced that this year's edition of their high end Genesis set will be out in late September.  As usual the base set is 120 cards - 108 player cards and 12 thick team checklists and as usual no one cares about the base set.  There's the usual plethora of memorabilia, patch and autographed cards with a special focus on Roki Sasaki (the web page specifically says that "Roki Sasaki Fever has also attacked Genesis) - he apparently has a signed ball card, an autographed jersey booklet, a combo booklet autograph with Kou Matsukawa and "super patch" cards for the home and away jerseys and cap.  Besides the autograph and memorabilia cards, each card in the base set has several parallel versions and there's three 12 card insert sets - "Elite Of Nine", "Game Changer" and "Cross Grotto".  I think the insert cards are all serially numbered to 50 but I'm not positive.

 - Speaking of Roki Sasaki, BBM is issuing a set called "Roki Sasaki Perfect Game" to (obviously) commemorate his perfect game back in April.  This will be a 19 card box set and as you can probably guess that's an 18 card base set plus one "special" card.  The base set will highlight the various records Sasaki set that day along with the highlights of the game and will have 15 cards of Sasaki, two cards of Kou Matsukawa and one card of both Sasaki and Matsukawa.  The "special" card could be any of a number of different things - one of three 3D cards, one of eight "Pitcher Perfect" cards featuring players who have thrown a perfect game (Sasaki, Hideo Fujimoto, Masaichi Kaneda, Yoshiro Sotokoba, Yoshimasa Takahashi, Soroku Yagisawa, Yutaro Imai and Hiromi Makihara), one of two "legendary foil sign" cards (for Fujimoto or Kaneda - these are facsimile signed),  one of 18 "special foil sign" cards (I think these are parallels of the base set),  a Sasaki autograph card, a "legendary autograph" card for either Sotokoba, Takahashi, Yagisawa, Imai or Makihara, or memorabilia cards for Sasaki, Matsukawa or both Sasaki and Matsukawa.  The set retails for 5500 yen ($40-ish) and will be out in late August.

- BBM has announced two more sets in their "History" line of OB team sets - this time it's the Swallows and Hawks being commemorated.  Both sets will have 90 card base sets that will break down into three categories - "Team History" (7 cards for the Swallows and 8 for the Hawks), "OB Players" (71 cards for the Swallows and 70 for the Hawks) and "Active Players" (12 cards for each set).  I assume "OB Players" will include not just retired players but active former players so I wouldn't be surprised to see, say, Seiichi Uchikawa in the Hawks set even though he's with the Swallows now.  Both sets will have two non-premium insert sets - "Dynasty" (12 cards) and "Team Record" (9 cards) - along with the premium "Treasure" insert cards (Swallows will have nine while the Hawks will have 12).  Both sets will have plenty of autographed cards available - these sets basically exist as an excuse to have autographed cards so expect the player selection to be heavily weighted to players from the 1970's and later - i.e. ones that are still around and can sign cards.  The Swallows set (full title is "Tokyo Yakult Swallows History 1950-2022") will be out in late August while the Hawks set ("Fukuoka Softbank Hawks History 1938-2022") will be out in late September.  Given that BBM released four "History" sets in the four months between August and November last year, it would not surprise me at all to see two more of these sets this year.  The only teams that have not yet been done are the Fighters, Lions, Eagles and Baystars.  Since the Eagles have only been around since 2005 and BBM did a 70th Anniversary set for the Baystars in 2019, I'm going to guess they'll do sets for the Lions and Fighters later this year (unless they decide to do a Kintetsu Buffaloes set which wouldn't surprise me).

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Hawks Team Issued Cards

I thought I'd do a quick post on some Hawks team issued cards I picked up recently.  I've always said that the team issued cards are one of the least understood parts of Japanese baseball cards and these new cards just continue to contribute to the confusion.

For starters, I have cards from what appear to be three different sets from 2006.  Let's start with this card of Nagisa Arakaki which actually has a copyright date of 2005 on it but has his complete stats for 2005 on it as well:

I mean, maybe I should call it a 2005 set because of the copyright but since it has the complete 2005 stats, I think of it as a 2006 set.

Here's four cards from a different set:

I really like the "rock-paper-scissors" symbols on these, kind of shoutout to old menko cards.  Here's the back of Saitoh's card where you can again see the player's 2005 stats, making it a 2006 set:

And then here's a card from a possible third 2006 set that includes some sort of ad for the TV broadcasts for the Hawks.  Again the back has the player's 2005 stats:

This next card mercifully has the year on the front of it:

Kind of interesting that the back has Oh's stats from his playing days with the Giants rather than his managerial record with the Hawks:

Finally I've got three cards from either one or two sets that I can't narrow down the year of.  These pretty much could be from any year between 2005 and 2011 as Wada left for the Orioles in 2012.  Here's the fronts of all three cards:

I kind of think the Mahara card is from a different set than the Arakaki and Wada cards, both because the box at the bottom has a different color and no copyright line at the bottom of the photo.  The backs are a little different as well:

The cards are similar enough that I would expect that they'd be from the same year, whatever year that is.

Friday, July 22, 2022

And Then There Was One

I did a post a couple months back reporting that I had narrowed the number of cards I was missing from a full run of BBM's "flagship" sets down to three.  Twycchang, a card collector in Taiwan who's been extraordinarily helpful to me, left a comment with links to auctions for all three cards, two of them on Mercari and the other on a Taiwanese site.  I asked Ryan to grab the two cards on Mercari and took twycchang up on his offer to pick up the other card.  As it worked out, Ryan was only able to get one of the cards as the other auction was basically a zombie auction - the seller never responded to the attempt to buy it (I'm kind of over-simplifying here as twycchang was the one who actually tried to buy it after Ryan declined to as he correctly judged that it was going to be futile).  So I'm now down to only needing one card to complete my run - #642 from the 1996 set (Yonetoshi Kawamata), although there's nine cards that I "have" but I don't physically have - they'll be coming from Japan in the next package Ryan sends me.

I received the card that twycchang picked up for me yesterday.  It's a card that I didn't even know existed until last fall - Checklist #13 from the 1996 set (card #656).  This is kind of a weird card to be honest as it's for the "Late Series" cards that year.  If you're not familiar with BBM's "Late Series" cards (and even if you are), in 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000 and 2001 BBM essentially ran a second printing of their flagship set and replaced all the cards for a team (or two) with new cards that were added to the end of the set.  For example, in 1994 the first printing was numbered 1-566 with the first 42 cards being for the champion Swallows.  The second printing replaced cards 1-42 with cards 567-608.  

BBM's "Late Series" in 1996 updated all the cards for the Dragons, including the team checklist, AND added the new checklist card.  1996 was the last year that BBM did separate checklists for the entire set - after that the team checklists covered the bulk of the set with maybe one additional checklist card to handle the inserts and memorabilia cards.  There were 12 checklist cards that covered the original 613 cards in the first printing of the set.  Each checklist card covered 52 cards except for the final one which only listed 41 cards (#573 to 613).  They looked like this:

The new checklist card covers all the "Late Series" cards - #614 to #656.  What I find weird about this is that there's really no reason for this card to exist since all the cards in the late Series are listed on the back of the new Dragons team checklist card except the two checklist cards!  Here's the backs of the two checklist cards side by side to show what I mean:

The team checklist (#655) is on the left and checklist #13 (#656) is on the right.  I can't help feeling that if they'd simply listed the team checklist card on the team checklist card they could have skipped checklist #13 altogether.  

As far as I can tell, they did not issue a separate checklist card for the 1994 "Late Series" cards and the new Swallows team card did not list itself.  BBM did issue a separate checklist card for the 1995 "Late Series" cards which makes sense as there were five "new" cards with that printing that were not just updates of the Marines cards.  By 1999, the next time they issued a "Late Series", BBM's team checklists included themselves on them so there was no need for any separate checklists for the "Late Series" cards.

The other kind of weird thing about the card is that the entire checklist appears on the back of the card which leaves the front seeming a bit empty:

Regardless of the weirdness, it's a card I needed to complete the 1996 set and I thank twycchang for picking it up for me (after letting me know it existed!)

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Card Of The Week July 17

The great baseball writer Roger Angell passed away a few months ago at age 101 and I've been rereading his collections of essays as kind of my personal tribute to him.  I was a little amused at a passage I came across recently.  His essay "Sunny Side Of The Street" in the "Five Seasons" collection is a report about spring training in 1975.  In it he talks about Walt Williams, the former White Sox outfielder who's trying to make the Yankees as an infielder.  Williams says that "Truthfully, after last year [1974 when he hit .113 in 43 games with New York] I was going to go and play in Japan.  I planned on winning the batting championship there."  He goes on to say that he got fan letters urging him to stay with the Yankees so he proposed to Gabe Paul, the team's GM, that he play second base.

Williams did make the club in 1975, hitting .281 in 82 games - although only six of them were at second base.  He then made the jump to Japan, spending two seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters.  He hit .285 in 1976 and .269 in 1977.  Neither value was enough to lead the Pacific League - he was sixth overall in 1976 and 15th in 1977.  He spent two years after that playing in Mexico before he retired.

As far as I can tell, he had a number of Japanese cards in the 1975/76/77 Calbee set and the two Nippon-Ham sets (1975-76 and 1977-79).  I only have one of these cards - #1002 from the 1975/76/77 Calbee set:

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Card Of The Week July 10

Last Wednesday Koji Chikamoto of the Tigers extended his hitting streak to 30 games which tied him with Matt Murton for the longest streak in Tigers' history.  He was also just three games behind Yoshihiko Takahashi's all time NPB record of 33.  Unfortunately Chikamoto went hitless on Thursday, bring his streak to an end.  Here's the "secret" version (basically a short-printed photo variant) of his 2019 BBM 2nd Version card (#585):

Saturday, July 9, 2022

2022 Calbee Series Two

I picked up the Calbee's latest "set", Series Two, a few weeks ago.  As the name implies, this is the second of the three series of cards that Calbee is expected to issue their annual flagship set in this year.  Series One contained cards 1-72 while this Series has cards 73-144.  Well, that's the numbering of the 72 "regular" cards in this Series - there's also two subsets (or non-premium insert sets) that are considered part of the base set - a 12 card "OBP Leader" set and four checklist cards.  Between the regular cards and the two subsets, there's a total of 88 cards in the set.

Once again Calbee has really gone out of their way to pick boring photos for most of their cards.  As usual there are way too many pictures of "batters batting, pitchers pitching and catchers catching".  Like Series One, there are no horizontally formatted cards to break up the monotony either.  On the plus side, there's two cards showing significant events - Tetsuto Yamada's 250th home run and Riki Sasaki's perfect game - and at least all the photos appear to be taken this year (the Fighters are shown in their new uniforms which was not the case in Series One).

The set contains a few more stars than Series One did as it has Yamada, Sasaki, Kodai Senga, Teruaki Sato, Masahiro Tanaka, Hayato Sakamoto and Tomoyuki Sugano in it.  The set also contains rookie cards for Ko Matsukawa, Kosuke Ukai, and Chihiro Sumida along with a couple of guys who changed teams over the winter - Haruki Nishikawa and Taishi Ohta.  Like BBM and Epoch's flagship sets so far this year, no foreign players who are new to Japan appear in the regular cards of the set (although one does in the checklists - I'll get to that in a minute).

Here's some examples, including a couple of the better looking cards:

#117 (Roki Sasaki)

#086 Hayato Sakamoto

#073 Tetsuto Yamada

#122 Ryosuke Tatsumi

#100 Yudai Ohno

#143 Gakuto Wakabayashi

#134 Hiromi Itoh

I was kind of disappointed with the "OBP Leader" subset.  Usually Calbee's 12 card subset in their sets has something kind of interesting, be it the first round picks of the previous year's draft, "Exciting Moments" featuring recent events or milestones or even the Opening Day starters for each of the 12 teams.  Frequently the photos in the subset are better than the ones on the "regular" cards of the set.  But most of these cards just show a dull "batter batting" shot superimposed on a dark background with rays of light coming from behind the player.  And while supposedly these are supposed to be the OBP leader from last year for each team, there's a bit of a problem - the Carp's team leader in OBP from last year is currently a member of the Chicago Cubs.  As a result, Shogo Sakakura is featured instead, with a note on the back of the card that he was actually second on the team behind Seiya Suzuki:


Back of #O-04

The checklist cards are probably the best cards in the set.  They're numbered from C-05 to C-08 (since Series One had C-01 to C-04) and feature highlights from the first week of the season.  Three of the cards showcase rookies Taisei Ota, Yuma Yasuda and Shota Suekane while the fourth shows Hawks infielder Freddy Galvis hitting a grand slam on Opening Day - this card of Galvis is the only flagship card from either BBM, Epoch or Calbee so far this year to feature a new foreign player:


As you can probably guess, my feeling towards this set is kind of "meh".  This is pretty much a generic recent Calbee set which - to echo what's Sean's been saying about them lately - means it's mediocre.

As always you can check out the cards yourself (along with the inserts) over at Jambalaya.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

2022 Epoch NPB set

When Epoch first announced that they were doing an annual "flagship" set back in 2018, I was hoping it would result in two things.  The first is that it would pressure BBM into doing a better job with their "flagship" 1st and 2nd Version sets and the second was that Epoch's "flagship" NPB set would develop into an outstanding product.  Four years and five NPB sets later, I feel that one of those things has happened - BBM has definitely improved the photography in their 1st and 2nd Version sets although they have not increased the size of either set.  But I don't feel like Epoch's NPB set has become an outstanding product.  Now don't get me wrong, the new 2022 edition of Epoch's NPB set isn't bad, it's just not particularly good.  

Let me give you the particulars of the set - if you've read about any of the previous four editions this will be familiar to you.  The set contains 432 cards which works out to 36 cards for each of the 12 NPB teams.  Those 36 cards include the team's manager and the entire 2022 rookie class (or the entire 2021 draft class not including development players).  For the third year in a row the set also includes 12 OB players (one from each team) and for the second year in a row all the OB player cards are short printed.  The set is considered complete without the short printed cards.

With 36 players per team in this set as compared to the 27 per team in BBM's 1st Version set, you'd expect there would be at least 108 players in this set that don't appear in BBM's set.  The number is actually 116 which is the smallest number of players exclusively in the NPB set ever.  These players include Seiya Inoue, Rei Takahashi, Shintaro Fujinami, Fumihito Haraguchi, Shota Dohbayashi, Kenshi Sugiya, Seiichi Uchikawa and Seiji Kobayashi along with foreign players like CC Mercedes, Rubby De La Rose, Robert Corniel, Cy Sneed, Alan Busenitz, Raul Alcantara, Carter Stewart, Ariel Martinez and Enny Romero.  It's kind of odd though that despite being released about six weeks after BBM's 1st Version set, Epoch had the same inability to include any of the new-for-2022 foreign players such as Brian O'Grady, Ryan McBroom, Gregory Polanco or Adam Walker.  While BBM will undoubtedly include many of these players in their 2nd Version set, Epoch has never done an update set for the NPB set.

I should mention that there are eight players who appear in the 1st Version set but not in the NPB set - Daiki Iwashita and Katsuya Kakunaka of the Marines, Shohei Katoh and Yuki Okabayashi of the Dragons, Colin Rea of the Hawks, Tomohiro Abe of the Carp, Seiji Kawagoe of the Lions and Fernando Romero of the Baystars.

My main gripe with the set is that there's a lot of dull and repetitive photography in it.  Some teams have better photo selection than others but on the whole there's way too many "batters batting, pitchers pitching" poses.  And sometimes there's even less diversity than just "pitchers pitching" would imply - almost all the non-rookie Marines pitchers had their photos taken from a similar position so that you can see the infield dirt around second base in the background.  And then there's the cards for four of the Swallow's five draft picks that have photos that all look like they were taken in the infield of Yakult's farm team field in Toda - it reminds me of the minor league sets from the 1990's where it was obvious all the players had their photos taken in the exact same spot at the ballpark:

#'s 032, 034, 035 & 036

The other kind of annoying thing about the photography is there's a number of photos that are studio shots with a white background, probably taken on a pre-season "photo day".  While it's not unusual for Epoch to use photos like this, there seems to be a lot more in this set than in the past.  It's particularly notable that over three quarters of the Fighters cards have a white background, including their manager:


This is the first card that I'm aware of where Tsuyoshi Shinjyo is labeled "BigBoss".

There are some exceptions to the dull photography however.  Here's some cards with photos I thought were pretty good:







The backs look pretty much the same as every other edition of the set.  There's a cropped version of the photo from the front on the card and the player's stats for his last three years (at most) in NPB with no stats for any other leagues (MLB, KBO, CPBL, Cuba, etc).  Here's the back of Yoshihisa Hirano's card as an example - you can see his 2018-20 seasons in MLB are not included:

As always, Jambalaya has the entire set on-line so you can check out the cards yourself and see if you agree with me about the photography.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Card Of The Week July 3

Last Sunday Hotaka Yamakawa of the Lions hit the 200th home run of his career.  The milestone came in his 697th game, the fewest games ever by a Japanese player.  Here are Calbee cards celebrating Yamakawa getting to home runs number 100 and 150 on May 12th, 2019 and September 12th, 2020 respectively:

2019 Calbee ES-01

2021 Calbee #ES-03

It would not surprise me at all for there to be a card in Calbee's Series Three set this year for Yamakawa reaching 200 home runs.