Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Summer Sets

Quick post to catch up on some recently announced sets...

- BBM's 2nd Version set, the second of their three "flagship" sets, will be out in early August.  The set looks like it breaks down the way almost every 2nd Version set has since 2015 - 216 "regular" player cards (18 per team), 36 "1st Version Update" cards (3 per team), 12 team checklists and 36 cards (3 per team) making up the second half of the "Cross Moon" cross set subset (with the first half having been in the 1st Version set).  That's a total of 300 cards.  There's also a currently unannounced number of "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards which are likely short-printed and not considered part of the base set.  There are six insert sets - "Mr. Franchise" (12 cards), "Kirinji" (24 cards), "Fireworks" (24 cards), "Treasure" (12 cards), "Foil Picturesque" (12 cards) and "Combo Cross Foil Signing" (12 cards).  There are also a bunch of autograph and memorabilia cards but BBM hasn't released any details about them.

- BBM's announced the final two of their annual "comprehensive" team sets.  Each set has a base set of 81 cards, most of which are "regular" player cards featuring the manager and the players on the 70 man roster plus a couple subsets (which may not be fully defined yet) to fill out the set.  Each set also has 18 non-premium insert cards split into a variety of sets which also may not be fully defined yet.  The Treasure, Esperanza and Antique inserts are all serially numbered.  (If it's not obvious, the "Regular Cards", "Treasure", "Esperanza" and "Antique" columns are the total number of those type of cards in each set)

Release Date Team Regular Cards Subsets Non-Premium Inserts Treasure Esperanza Antique Other
Mid July Dragons 66 Top Prospects (3), Over The Top (6), Pride & Passion (6) Be The Best (9), We Can & We Will (3), Power+ (6) 18 15 24 Autograph cards, jersey cards for Kaito Muramatsu & Hiroki Fukunaga
Late July Baystars 68 Mighty Lefty (3), Spring Fever (6), Lock On (2), Enhance (2) Starlight (9), Ready Set Go (3), Future Core (3), Big Bang (3) 18 15 24 Autograph cards

- The first of BBM's two annual cheerleader/dance squad sets - "Dancing Heroine - Hana" - will be released in late August.  It's an 80 card set featuring cheerleaders from the Hawks, Eagles, Lions, Marines, Fighters, Swallows, Tigers, Giants and Dragons.  I don't know why the Buffaloes and Baystars are not included - the Carp don't have cheerleaders.  There are also nine "Two Shot" insert cards and a number of autograph cards.

- Epoch has announced two more of their "Premier Edition" team sets.  The latest ones are for the Swallows and the Dragons.  The base set for the Swallows set contains 40 cards while the Dragons set has 45 cards.  Each base set card has a holographic parallel.  Both sets have the same massive amount of insert cards (takes deep breath...) - "Regular Printed Signature (Silver)" (18 cards), "Regular Printed Signature (Gold)" (18 cards), "Regular Printed Signature (Hologram A: Silver)" (18 cards), "Regular Printed Signature (Hologram A: Gold)" (18 cards), "Regular Printed Signature Variation (Hologram A: Silver)" (9 cards), "Regular Printed Signature Variation (Hologram A: Gold)" (9 cards), "Regular Printed Signature Variation (Hologram B: Silver)" (9 cards), "Regular Printed Signature Variation (Hologram B: Gold)" (9 cards), "Metal Power (Silver)" (18 cards), "Metal Power (Gold)" (18 cards), "Metal Power (Hologram A: Silver)" (18 cards), "Metal Power (Hologram A: Gold)" (18 cards), "Metal Power (Hologram B: Silver)" (18 cards), "Metal Power (Hologram B: Gold)" (18 cards), "Time To Shine (Hologram A)" (6 cards), "Time To Shine (Hologram B)" (6 cards), "Time To Shine (Hologram C)" (6 cards), "Decomori Signature (Gold) (6 cards), "Decomori Signature (Green) (6 cards), "Decomori Signature (Hologram) (6 cards), "Gem" (6 cards) and "Black Gem" (6 cards).  There are four types of autograph cards associated with each set - "Authentic", "Rookie", "Baseball'" and "1 Of 1".  The Dragons set also has "Rookie Combo", "Star" and "Next Generation Combo" autograph cards while the Swallows set list "Combo" autographs without any more detail. The Swallows set will be out on July 8th and the Dragons set will be released on a week later on the 15th.

Monday, May 29, 2023

2023 Topps Now WBC Cards

Back in March, I had a kind of difficult decision to make.  I love the World Baseball Classic and I always try to get all the baseball cards associated with it.  But for both the 2017 and 2023 tournaments, Topps has issued a bunch of WBC cards as on demand Topps Now cards that are on sale for one day only for $9.99.  

For the 2017 set I wasn't sure I wanted to buy them when they first came out and it was only after the fact that I decided to get the complete set.  This turned out to be a long and somewhat expensive process.  While I was able to get a great many of the cards for less than the original $9.99 cost, several of them ended up costing me somewhat more.  It took me until February of this year to find the final card I needed, #W-32 of Didi Gregorious, and I ended up spending $80 on it.  

I faced the same decision this time around and decided that while it would be expensive in the short term to get all the cards as they came out, it would end up cheaper in the long run.  Now when I say "get all the cards as they came out", I don't mean spend $9.99 on each one directly from Topps.  It was much cheaper to buy them on Ebay from someone buying them in bulk - I paid somewhere between $4 and $5 for each card.  Still that's not exactly cheap for 73 cards.  I knew up front that there were two downsides of doing it this way - no chance to get parallel versions of the cards and there would be a delay in my receiving the cards as they would have to get to the Ebay sellers first before they got forwarded to me.  But being able to save over half the price on the cards outweighed these downsides.  I just didn't realize how long it was going to take to receive all the cards - I finally got the last one this past Friday, over two months after the tournament ended.

Let's talk about the cards themselves.  As I briefly mentioned above, there are 73 cards in the set (nine more than the 2017 set).  Each of the twenty teams in the tournament has at least one card in the set with the exception of China.  Japan has the most cards in the set with 18, almost twice as many as the team with the second most, the US with 10.  Japan has two cards for each of their first round games and their quarterfinal game, three cards for their semi-final game against Mexico and five cards for the final game against the US.  Those 18 cards only feature eight separate players though - there are five cards of Shohei Ohtani, two cards each of Munetaka Murakami, Kazuma Okamoto and Masataka Yoshida and one card each of Yu Darvish, Lars Nootbaar, Roki Sasaki and Yoshinobu Yamamoto.  There are also three cards that feature "Team Japan" rather than an individual player.  Here are all 18 cards (along with the back of the card celebrating Munetaka Murakami's walkoff double in the semifinal game against Mexico):




















A couple quick additional comments - the card of Ohtani striking out Mike Trout had the highest print run of any card in the set - 42,273 (for comparison's sake, the highest print run of any of the 2017 cards was 1736 for the card of Adam Jones robbing Manny Machado of a home run.  The lowest print run for anuy of the 2023 cards was 265 for the card of Reynaldo Rodriguez & Guillermo Zuniga of Colombia).  The front of card #WBC-69 is incorrect - Murakami did not hit home runs in back-to-back games.

Despite Korea's third consecutive disappointing WBC finish, they had three cards in the set (two more than they had in 2017).  There's one card for their defeat of the Czech Republic and two cards for their 22-2 battering of China:




Despite there being around 28 former or current NPB players on various team's WBC rosters, only onetwo of these players made it onto a card.  Wu Nien-Ting of the Lions hit the first home run of the tournament for Taiwan and had his feat commemorated:


UPDATE - I somehow missed that Joey Meneses of Mexico (and former Orix Buffalo) had a card for his two home run day against Team USA.  Like Murakami's card above, this card was one of handful that had a photo on both the front and back:



In addition to the "regular" Topps Now WBC cards, Topps also issued two 12 card sets that were available for $49.99 each for a week after the tournament ended.  The first one of these was the All Tournament team.  There were two Samurai Japan players on this team although one of them - Shohei Ohtani - has two cards since he made the team as both pitcher and DH:




The other set was a partial set for the WBC Champion Samurai Japan team.  In addition to the eight players who had been featured on the "regular" Topps Now WBC cards, this set included Sosuke Genda, Shota Imanaga, Kosuke Kondoh and Shugo Maki.  I'll only show two of these cards - if you want to see all of them, Zippy Zappy has you covered:



In addition to the Topps Now cards, Topps has also issued a 50 card "Global Stars" set via boxes of 20 cards that you could only order online.  These have just started shipping in the last week or so - I'm anticipating getting mine tomorrow.  There will also be a 60 card insert set in the Topps Series Two set which will be released in the next few weeks.  The Topps Series Two set will also include autographed parallels of the WBC inserts.  I don't know if any of the later sets this year will feature memorabilia cards the way a lot of the later 2017 issues did.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Card Of The Week May 28

With Muentaka Murakami and Chusei Mannami both homering today there's now a six-way tie for the NPB lead in home runs.  Murakami, Mannami, Shugo Maki, Toshiro Miyazaki, Kazuma Okamoto and Yutaro Sugimoto each have hit nine this year.  Here are cards of all six:

2021 Epoch Baystars Rookies & Stars #22

2022 BBM Icons - Rough Diamond #33

2021 Calbee #202

2018 Epoch Swallows Rookies & Stars #58a

2016 Giants Players Day (Okamoto)

2022 BBM Buffaloes #MG9

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Lars And The Real Story


2023 Topps Now WBC Champs #WBCJPN-2

A couple weeks ago a commentator suggested during a Chunichi Dragons game that the Dragons needed to go out and sign Lars Nootbaar to a contract.  This got picked up on the NPB subreddit and someone asked if Nootbaar would have to go through the draft because he was of Japanese descent.  I thought that was an interesting question so I sent it off to John E. Gibson of the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast and he and Jim Allen took up the question in last week's installment.

Before I give you their answer, let me go through my thought process on this.  My first thought was, no, he doesn't need to go through the draft.  But then I started thinking about two somewhat similar cases - one from 19 years ago and one from this past year and I wasn't so sure.

2005 BBM 1st Version #118

Michael Nakamura was born in Nara, Japan to a Japanese father and an Australian mother.  He grew up in Australia and signed his first professional contract in 1997 with the Minnesota Twins.  After spending seven years in the Twins and Blue Jay organizations (including 31 games in MLB) he decided to pursue playing in Japan.  The way he tells the story in a Baseball.com.au podcast from a couple years ago, he and the Hanshin Tigers had agreed on a two year deal, only to have Hanshin back out of it at the last minute.  He had a tryout with the Marines that went very well and he and the team were in agreement on a salary.  The Marines suggested that since he had Japanese citizenship, the Marines could draft him and then he wouldn't count against the foreign player quota.  Nakamura agreed to this and the two parties parted ways with the expectation that he would be drafted by the Marines.  He also had a tryout with the Fighters but he still was expecting to become a Marine.  On draft day, however, something unexpected happened.  NPB used to allow teams to come to agreements with players before the actual draft - I think the term usually gets translated as something "free acquisition frame". Any team that signed a player like this however lost their first two picks in the draft and if they signed a second player then they lost their third round pick as well.  The Marines signed two players like this in 2004 and therefore they didn't have a pick until the ninth pick in the fourth round.  The Fighters surprised them and Nakamura by taking him with the seventh pick in that round.  Nakamura would go on to play for the Fighters, Giants and Lions over the next eight seasons before retiring after 2012.

2023 BBM 1st Version #159

The other similar case happened just this past October.  Gosuke Katoh was born in Mountain View, California to Japanese parents.  He briefly lived in Japan but mostly grew up in the San Diego area.  He was a second round pick out of high school by the Yankees in 2013 and spent ten years in the Yankees, Padres, Blue Jays and Mets organizations.  He played in 8 total games at the MLB level, all with Toronto last year.  I have not heard anything about his decision to join NPB - it seemed a bit of a shock to everyone when the Fighters took him in the third round of last fall's draft - so I don't know if he ever entertained the thought of signing with an NPB team as a "foreign" player.  (I believe that Katoh is the only player to ever be drafted in both MLB and NPB but I may be wrong about that.)

According to John and Jim, the reason that Nakamura and Katoh had to go through the draft was that they both hold Japanese passports.  Or, perhaps more accurately, NPB knew that they both held Japanese passports.  Both players unofficially have dual citizenship - Nakamura with Japan and Australia and Katoh with Japan and the US.  I say "unofficially" because Japan does not actually allow dual citizenship with adults - people in Nakamura and Katoh's situations are supposed to pick a side when they reach 20.  But as Jim points out, countries aren't in the habit of telling each other who they've issued a passport to so it's not unusual for folks like this to have multiple passports.  From Nakamura's account, it sounds like if he'd signed with the Tigers, NPB would never have found out he had a Japanese passport - it's only because the Marines tried to get creative that he ended up subject to the draft.

So where does this leave us with Nootbaar?  Does he have a Japanese passport?  Is that why he could play for Samurai Japan in the WBC?  Well, no, he didn't need to have a Japanese passport to qualify for Samurai Japan.  There are seven rules for eligibility for a given nation's WBC squad and Nootbaar satisfied two of them -  "The player has at least one parent who is, or if deceased was, a citizen of the Federation Team’s country or territory, as evidenced by a passport or other documentation satisfactory to WBCI and the WBSC; or the player has at least one parent who was born in the Federation Team’s country or territory, as evidenced by a birth certificate or its equivalent".  So we don't know if Nootbaar has a Japanese passport, but it's likely that his mother does - and if she doesn't, she still has a Japanese birth certificate.  Nootbaar would only be subject to the draft if he has a Japanese passport AND NPB knows he has a Japanese passport.

2006 BBM 1st Version #178

One interesting tidbit from John and Jim's conversation about this was Jim commenting that what is commonly referred to as the "foreign player quota" really isn't a "foreign player quota" - it's an "undrafted player quota".  I kind of got wrapped around the axle on that as I started thinking about guys like Koji Akiyama and Takuro Ishii - great players (Akiyama's a Hall Of Famer) who were not drafted.  And these were not "free acquistion frame" signings - up until 1990, NPB limited the number of rounds of the draft to six.  Actually from 1978 to 1980 it was only four rounds.  Any player who had "signed up" for the draft and didn't get drafted was eligible to sign as an amateur free agent with any time they wanted.  Since I was pretty sure that Akiyama and Ishii weren't subject to any quotas, I kind of pushed back and asked for some clarification from John and Jim.  But a few days later something Jim had said sunk in and I realized he was right.  Jim mentioned that players from Taiwan have come to Japan to attend high school and have been subject to the draft despite not having Japanese passports.  Probably the most well known of these players is the Yang Chung-Shou who was the Fighters' (it's always the Fighters in this post) first round pick in the high school portion of the 2005 draft.  He would go on to play 16 years in NPB and the last two in indy ball in the US - you might know him better as Daikan Yoh.  Which means there are "foreign" players on NPB rosters who don't count against the so-called "foreign player quota".

Monday, May 22, 2023

Five For Five

I was on Ebay recently and I noticed something odd about some Epoch NPB cards of Masataka Yoshida that someone had for sale.  Let me show every Yoshida card from the NPB sets - there's only five as Epoch started doing the sets in 2018 - and see if you can pick it out:

2018 Epoch NPB #134

2019 Epoch NPB #134

2020 Epoch NPB #208

2021 Epoch NPB #208

2022 Epoch NPB #241

When I complain about Japanese baseball card companies getting monotonous in their photo selection, this is the kind of thing I mean.  

Sunday, May 21, 2023

2023 BBM 1st Version Set

2023 BBM 1st Version Set Summary

Size: 372 cards numbered 1-336, CM01-CM36
Cards Per Team:  28 (team card, manager + 26 players)
Team Card Theme:  Spring Training
Number Of Leader Cards:  N/A
Checklists:  None
Subsets:  Cross Moon (36)
Inserts:  Japonism (12), Future Stardom (12), Amazing (24, #'d to 50), 3D Cross Moon (12, #'d to 25), Cross Foil Signing (6 - all Giants, #'d to 15)
Memorabilia Cards: Jersey cards for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Roki Sasaki, Munetaka Murakami and Teruaki Sato.  Each jersey card is serially numbered to 200 plus a parallel patch version numbered to 20.  There are also two different two player jersey cards (Yamamoto and Murakami on one and Sasaki and Sato on the other) numbered to 20 each with a parallel patch version of each numbered to 5.  There's also a "quad" memorabilia card with all four players on it serially numbered to 10 with a parallel patch version serially numbered to 5.  There are four different types of autographed card available - "Cross Signature", "Special Signature", "Japonism" and "Buyback Autographs".  The last features "buyback" BBM cards for 16 players or former players - So Taguchi, Yutaro Sugimoto, Hiroki Kokubo, Kenta Imamiya, Kazuo Matsui, Toshiaki Imae, Hiroaki Shimauchi, Tomohiro Kuroki, Shogo Nakamura, Hichori Morimoto, Naoyuki Uwasawa, Tomohito Ito, Takuro Ishii, Keita Sano, Takuya Asao and Shinnosuke Ogasawara.  There are also a couple of cards with multiple player autographs but I don't know if they fall into the "Cross Signature" or "Special Signature" sets.
Parallels:  12 regular player cards have a "secret" short printed alternate photo version.  Another 12 have an "ultra secret" much more rare short printed alternate photo version and 12 others have a "super ultra secret" extremely rare short printed alternate photo version .  108 regular players cards (9 per team) have seven facsimile autograph parallels - silver, gold (#'d to 100), pink (#'d to 75), holograph (#'d to 50), red (#'d to 25), purple (#'d to 10) and sky blue (1 of 1) - this includes the "secret" versions of the cards as well (and I assume the numbering is separate but I don't know that for sure).  Additionally each of the 108 cards also has a "kira" parallel.  69 of the rookie cards (which I think is all of them) have seven numbered parallel versions - "Silver" (#'d to 300), "Gold" (#'d to 100), "Pink" (#'d to 75), "Kiwi Green" (#'d to 50), "Holo Foil" (#'d to 25), "Purple" (#'d to 10) and "Sky Blue Foil" (1 of 1).  The "Cross Moon" cards have two parallel versions - "Holo" (numbered to 100) and  "1 of 1".  There are two parallel versions for the "Future Stardom" inserts - "gold" (#'d to 200) and "light blue" (#'d to 100). The "Japonism" cards have three parallels - "Gold" (#'d to 200), "Blue" (#'d to 100) and "Royal Purple" (#'d to 25).
Notable Rookies: Shota Morishita, Kota Yazawa

The 22nd annual edition of BBM's annual 1st Version set was released about a month ago.  This is the largest part of BBM's three headed flagship set (with the other two sets - 2nd Version and Fusion - expected to be released in August and November respectively).  Fore the ninth straight year the base set contains 372 cards - 324 "regular" player cards (27 per team including the manager), 12 team checklist cards and 36 "Cross Moon" cards.  

My frequent gripe about NPB sets over the past eight years or so is the monotony of the photographs with a lot of "pitchers pitching, batters batting and catchers catching" shots.  I've felt that BBM has really been making an effort to improve their photography over the last couple years and I feel like they've really done a great job with this set.  It was difficult to pick just a handful of cards to show so I ended up picking one from each team.  These aren't necessarily my favorites from each team but I think this selection shows the variety of photos in the set:













While some of the photos were likely taken last season, there's a couple of teams who changed uniforms over the winter (the Baystars and Carp and I think the Dragons and Giants) and the photos on all of their cards were taken this spring.  And unlike Topps, they have cards of most of the players who switched teams over the winter with their new teams - Kensuke Kondoh with the Hawks, Tomoya Mori with the Buffaloes, Yota Kyoda with the Baystars, etc.  The photos of the rookies were all taken in training camp as well:


The backs look like they pretty much always do:

Back of #180 (Munetaka Murakami)

One nice thing about this set is it includes a number of new foreign players.  There hadn't been many in 1st Version the last two years due to COVID-related visa issues.  This year's set though includes Matt Davidson, Courtney Hawkins, Sheldon Neuse, David MacKinnon, Mark Payton, Maikel Franco, Dillon Peters, Foster Griffin and Lewis Brinson (among others).  I know there's a couple new foreign players like Marwin Gonzalez and Frank Schwindel who didn't make it into the set though,

Besides Gonzalez and Schwindel there's a couple other odd omissions that I noticed.  Hirokazu Sawamura doesn't have a card even though I would have thought he would have been in camp with the Marines early enough.  I think the other omissions may be related to the WBC - Ariel Martinez, Raidel Martinez and Wu Nien-ting were on WBC rosters and are not in the set.  On the other hand, Sung Chia-hao, Livan Moinelo, Neftali Soto and Edwin Escobar were also on WBC rosters but are in the set so maybe not.

I do have my OTHER usual gripe about the set - it's too small.  BBM includes a card of every player taking the "regular" phase of last falls draft which cuts into the 26 cards that each team has for its players.  BBM has to make tougher decisions about who to include then and guys like Shoki Murakami of the Tigers and Yuto Akihiro of the Giants end up without cards.  I wish they'd go back to 36 cards per team but they haven't had that many since 2010.

The photos on the team checklists were all taken during training camp.  They're all nice although I don't think any of them really stand out.


The "Cross Moon" cards are half of BBM's annual "cross set subset" - the other half will be in the 2nd Version set.  As usual the fronts of these feature a photo of a player superimposed on some common background while the backs show the original photo.  The background this year appears to be a lake in a forest with a huge full moon in the sky.  They're not unattractive but I got bored with this concept ten years ago so I'm pretty much "meh" about them.  The one twist this year is that instead of all 36 cards being of players, two of them depict new managers Takahiro Arai of the Carp and Kazuo Matsui of the Lions as players.  Here's the front and back of Arai's card:


Back of #CM31

The set I picked up included all 12 cards in the "Future Stardom" insert set.  This insert set features the first round pick from each team on a shiny card that doesn't necessarily scan well.  Here's an example:


As always you can see all the cards (along with inserts and parallels) over at Jambalaya.