Sunday, September 24, 2023

Card Of The Week September 24

The Orix Buffaloes clinched their third consecutive Pacific League pennant last Wednesday.  While pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Hiroya Miyagi, Sachiya Yamasaki and Shunpeita Yamashita have been getting most of the attention this year, Kohei Azuma's the one who's done something that no one's done for over 80 years.  Azuma has won his first seven decisions as a starter.  That's in "first seven" for his career, not this season.  The last pitcher to start their career with seven winning decisions was Hall Of Famer Hideo Fujimoto in 1942.

Azuma has followed an unlikely path to his current success.  He was the ace pitcher on the Kobe Koryo Gakuen High School baseball team as a second year student but suffered a back injury during his junior year.  He was taken by Orix in the second round of the development player (ikusei) draft in 2017 but didn't play at all during 2018 due to abdominal pain.  He was healthy for all of 2019 and went 5-7 with a 3.84 ERA for Orix's farm team.  He hurt his right arm and shoulder during spring training in 2020 and between that and COVID he only pitched in six games all year, going 0-2 with a 6.87 ERA.  

At this point he'd been a development player for three years so his contract was up and the team released him but resigned him to a new contract afterwards - still as an ikusei player.  He had a strong start to the 2021 season but his performance tailed off until his season came to an early stop when a batted ball fractured his arm in late September.  He pitched well enough last season for the team to finally bring him on to the official 70 man roster in late July, making his ichi-gun debut on July 30th with a start against the Chiba Lotte Marines.  He got his first win in his second start - against the Fighters on August 6th.  He was sent back to ni-gun shortly after that but later made two appearances in relief with the top team.

He opened this season in the bullpen for the ichi-gun team but was sent back to the farm team to start after only a few appearances.  After going 5-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 11 starts on the farm, Orix called him back up in late July.  He's currently 6-0 with a 1.71 ERA.

Since he's been an ikusei player for most of his career, he does not have many baseball cards.  As far as I can tell, he's had five cards in four sets.  He has a card in the 2018 BBM Rookie Edition set, two cards in the 2018 Epoch Buffaloes Rookie & Stars set and a card in the 2019 Buffaloes team issued set.  His only card (so far) that doesn't have him as a development player is in this year's BBM Buffaloes team set.  I expect that he'll have his first BBM "flagship" card in the "1st Version Update" subset of this year's Fusion set.  Here's one of his 2018 Epoch Buffaloes Rookies & Stars cards (#35a):

H/T NPB Reddit

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sadaharu Oh Goes To Charm City

My oldest daughter started dating someone when she was a freshman at the University Of Maryland - Baltimore County (aka UMBC, the destroyer of everyone's NCAA brackets in 2018).  One time when she was visiting her boyfriend's family at their house just north of Baltimore, she mentioned her father's twin odd hobbies of collecting Japanese baseball cards and writing a blog about them.

Her boyfriend's father replied, "Your father might be interested to know that I have Sadaharu Oh's autograph."

Indeed I was.  When I eventually met him, he explained that Oh had attended the "Tops In Sports" Banquet some time in the 1980's and he had gotten Oh to autograph his program.

The "Tops In Sports" banquet was an annual event put on by the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association every January for almost 50 years.  The first one was held in 1954 and I believe the last one was held in 1998 - there's an article behind the paywall at the Baltimore Sun that indicates that the 1999 event was canceled due to some conflict with the Orioles.

My daughter broke up with this particular boyfriend a while ago and went on to marry someone else so I never got to see the autograph.  And I didn't know which year Oh attended.  But still it was cool to discover that he had visited Baltimore...or at least Baltimore County as the event was actually held in Towson, just north of the city.

Fast forward to last week - I discovered that someone on Ebay was selling photos of Oh from the event!  The auction is for a set of five photos featuring Oh.  They are from the estate of Frank Sliwka who ran the banquet for years.  I swiped the photos from the auction but I've done a little cropping to zero in on each photo individually.

This first photo shows Oh, Sliwka and Henry Aaron:

Oh signing a ball for Sliwka:

The three people on the left are Sliwka, then-Baltimore mayor (and later Maryland Governor and Comptroller) Willam Donald Schaefer and Oh.  I think the guy on the far right is Irv Hall, the president of the Maryland Professional Baseball Players Association at the time.  I'm not sure who the other person is - the program for the event (I'll get to that in a minute) lists a couple possibilities - Kensaku Hogen from the Japanese Embassy; Hioroaki Hirano, "Director of International Liaision, Tokyo 'Yomiuri' Giants" (Not sure if his name was spelled right in the program and I think they meant "Liaison"); Dr. Hiroshi Nakazawa from St. Agnes Hospital and restauranteur Lanny Miyamoto.  Or it could be none of those.  Maybe it's Oh's translator.

Oh was the recipient of the "Babe Ruth Crown" so here's Sliwka holding over his head as they pose with the unidentified gentleman from the previous photo.

Here's Oh holding the crown while flanked by Sliwka and yet another unidentified person:

Here's one last photo from the auction showing all five photos at once:

I mentioned earlier that I'd seen a program for the event.  After I saw this auction last week I did some searches on the internet to see what I could find out about the event.  I hit pay-dirt twice.  I found an article on the banquet from the Washington Post written by Tom Boswell which established that the event was in January of 1985.  Then I found an archived Ebay auction over at Worthpoint for a program from the event.  It looks like it's the same seller who's selling the photos.  It establishes that the date of the event was January 11th, 1985.  I've again swiped the photos from the program:

Looks like it was an interesting lineup of people.  One of the players at the event - Jim Traber (mispelled "Trabor" in the program) would eventually spent two seasons in Japan with the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

I always enjoy discovering the intersections of Japanese and American baseball and as this was so close to home, it was particularly satisfying.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

2023 Calbee Series Two

Calbee's second and apparently final set for 2023 was released about a month ago.  That's about two months later than normal and usually right about now is when Series Three would be getting released but for reasons that still don't make a whole lot of sense to me Calbee decided this year to delay Series Two until August and do away with Series Three altogether.  This was on top of their previous decision to lower the number of "regular" player cards in each Series from 72 to 60.

The total number of cards in the set,,,er, Series is 76 - 60 player cards, 12 "First Win" subset cards and four checklist cards.  Let's dive into the player cards first.  Calbee has continued their dedication to finding the blandest, dullest photographs possible for their cards.  Almost every photo is either a pitcher pitching or a batter batting.  There's some variety in the batting photos - a couple shots at the end of the player's swing or the batter starting to leave the batters box or even one guy bunting - but they're still pretty boring.  There's exactly one card showing a fielder fielding and - just like Series One - only one card that uses a horizontal format.  There's also one card showing a player apparently celebrating a walk off hit which may be the best photo in the whole set.

Judging a Calbee Series on the players it contains is always dicey since it's normally only a third of the set but given that there's no Series Three this year, I feel somewhat justified in criticizing the player selection.  On the plus side, the set contains some stars like Roki Sasaki, Yuki Yanagita, Koji Chikamoto, Teruaki Satoh, Hiroya Miyagi, Sosuke Genda, Takeya Nakamura, Shota Imanaga, Shugo Maki, Sho Nakata and Tomoyuki Sugano.  There's only one rookie (in the "2022 draft pick" meaning, not the "eligible for the Rookie Of The Year Award" meaning) - Takuya Hiruma of the Lions.  There are a handful of guys who switched teams over the winter - Hisayoshi Chono, Hideaki Wakui, Toshiki Abe, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Yota Kyoda.  But neither of the two biggest names to move to new teams last winter - Tomoya Mori and Kensuke Kondoh - have cards.  Mori at least appears in the "First Win" subset but Kondoh won't have any Calbee card this year at all.  Neither will Chusei Mannami.  Neither of last year's league MVPs - Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Munetaka Murakami - will have a "regular" player card although they are both in Series One's "Title Holder" subset and Murakami appears on a Series One checklist card and has a "First Win" card.

Here's some example player cards:






I should probably point out that the cards are numbered 61 to 120 in continuation of the numbering from Series One.

The "First Win" subset commemorates each team's first victory of the 2023 season.  Three of the cards feature the first wins for the three first time managers - Kazuo Matsui of the Lions, Masato Yoshii of the Marines and Takahiro Arai of the Carp.  The remaining nine cards all feature players including the aforementioned Mori and Murakami as well as Masahiro Tanaka, Sho Nakata, Shuhei Takahashi, Kotaro Kiyomiya, Ryoya Kurihara, Koyo Aoyagi and Kentaro Taiga.  One thing odd about this subset is that typically Calbee doesn't have multiple cards of a player in a Series so if a player has a "regular" card they won't be in a subset and vice versa.  But there's four players in this subset who also have "regular" cards in the Series - Nakata, Takahashi, Kiyomiya and Kurihara.  The photos used in this subset are the best in the whole set as this card of Murakami shows:


The last four cards in the set are the four checklist cards which are numbered 05-08 in continuation of the checklist cards from Series One.  Each card features a highlight from the first week or so of the season - Kaima Taira's first career start after over 200 relief appearances, Yuki Matsui getting his 200th save, Shota Morishita making the Tigers' Opening Day lineup as a rookie and Takayuki Kajitani playing in his first game since July 10th, 2021.  Here's Matsui's card:


So to sum it all up, I give this set a hearty "meh".  The "First Win" subset's not bad - the topic's a little dull but at least a lot of the photos are good.  But the rest of the set is pretty dull.  And not to sound too much like the odd joke about the two guys complaining about a restaurant where the one guy gripes that the food is terrible and the other one laments that the portions are too small, I really wish Calbee was still doing a Series Three this year.  They'd have a better player selection and with more cards they;d have more chances of picking better photos.  Hopefully things will be back to normal next year.  In the meantime you can see all the cards in this Series over at Jambalaya.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Samurai Japan 2023 Women's Baseball World Cup Roster

The Women's Baseball World Cup was last played in 2018.  The next one was supposed to be played in Tijuana, Mexico in 2020 but was postponed a year due to COVID and ultimately canceled.  The newly rescheduled tournament is being handled a little differently than previously.  The 12 participating teams were split into two separate groups with completely separate group stages.  Group A consisted of the US, Canada, Mexico, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea.  They played their stage last month in Thunder Bay, Ontario with the US, Canada and Mexico moving on.  Group B consisted of Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba and France playing in Miyoshi, Japan.  That group wrapped up today with Japan going undefeated.  Taiwan and Venezuela also advanced.  The top three teams from each group will meet in the final tournament that will be played in Thunder Bay at some yet to be scheduled date in 2024.

Japan historically has dominated this tournament.  There have only been eight tournaments had Japan has won gold in the last six of them after winning silver in the first two.  I expect them to win next year as well.

I thought I'd do a quick post on the team's roster for the Group B portion of the tournament.  There are twenty players on the roster and I have cards for thirteen of them from when they played in the Japan Women's Baseball League (JWBL):

2017 AIAIO #D17-11-02

2015 AIAIO #A15-02-01

2018 Epoch JWBL #52

2018 Epoch JWBL #11

2015 AIAIO #F15-10-01

2015 AIAIO #R15-42-01

2010 BBM Real Venus #34

2016 AIAIO #F16-03-01

2016 Epoch JWBL #74

2018 Epoch JWBL #27

2017 AIAIO #D17-18-05

2018 Epoch JWBL #78

2016 Epoch JWBL #17

As far as I can tell, the autographs on Bandoh and Izumi's cards are authentic.

After the demise of the JWBL after 2020, at least three NPB teams have established women's teams - the Lions, the Tigers and the Giants.  The Lions and Tigers each contributed three players to the team (Ayaka Deguchi, Kae Iwami and Ayami Sato from the Lions; Mizuki Bandoh, Iori Miura and Erika Nakae fromt the Tigers) while the Giants contributed two (Kana Onodera and Miwa Tanaka).  Yuki Kawabata had retired as a professional player after the 2018 season so I was a little surprised to see her on the roster (although she's only 33).

Additionally I have cards for the team's manager Rise Nakashima and two of the three coaches.  Both Katsuhiko Kido and Hiroki Fukutome played in NPB.  Fukutome also coached in the JWBL so I'm showing a card of him from one of their sets.

2016 Epoch JWBL #41

1995 BBM #214

2018 Epoch JWBL #45

There were at least two players on other teams who had experience in the JWBL.  Australian infielder Shae Lillywhite played for South Dione in 2013 while Taiwanese infielder Hsieh Yu-ying played for Kyoto Flora in 2018.  I don't have any cards of Lillywhite but I have this card of Hsieh:

2018 Epoch JWBL #64

Card Of The Week September 17

There were two events that I thought would make a good "Card Of The Week" topic this week but since I couldn't decide between them, I decided to do both of them.

On Thursday the Hanshin Tigers clinched the Central League pennant with a win over the Giants.  Manager Akinobu Okada's team won their first pennant since 2005 when they were managed by...Akinobu Okada.  The Central League didn't start doing playoffs until 2007 so the Tigers also clinched a spot in the Nippon Series that year by winning the pennant.  Here's Okada's card from the 2005 BBM Nippon Series set (#26) - that's Bobby Valentine, manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines on the right side of the photo.  The Marines swept the Tigers that year 4-0:

Yesterday, Chusei Mannami of the Fighters led off the bottom of the first inning against the Hawks with a solo home run.  The Hawks tied the game with a run in the fifth inning and the game remained knotted at 1 until the bottom of the ninth.  With one on and one out, Mannami stepped to the plate and did this:

Mannami became the first player in Pacific League history to both lead off and walk off a game with a home run.  The only other player to do it was Alonzo Powell of the Dragons in 1993.  Here's Mannami's rookie card from the 2019 Epoch NPB set (#105):

Friday, September 15, 2023

2023 BBM 2nd Version set

2023 BBM 2nd Version Set Summary

Size: 330 cards (cards numbered 337-600, the 30 cards of "Ceremonial First Pitch" subset are separately numbered FP01-FP30 and 36 cards for the "Cross Moon" subset are separately numbered CM37-CM72)
Cards Per Team: 19 (team card + 18 players)
Team Card Theme: Early Season Candids
Number Of Leader Cards: N/A
Checklists: 0
Subsets: 1st Version Update (36), Ceremonial First Pitch (30), Cross Moon (36)
Inserts: Mr Franchise (12), Fireworks (24), Kirinji (24), Combo Cross Foil Signing (12, #'d to 10), Treasure (12, #'d to 25), Foil Picturesque (12, #'d to 15)
Memorabilia Cards: Jersey cards for Kosei Shoji, Kota Yazawa and Shion Matsui plus a combination jersey card featuring all three of them.  I'm guessing that these are serially numbered and there's a rarer patch version of all of them but BBM's checklist doesn't indicate that.  There are autographed cards for players that use a landscape version of the "Cross Moon" cards that have print runs between 5 and 30 cards and other autograph cards that are #'d between 3 and 5.  There are autographed versions of sixteen of the "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards with print runs between 24 and 55 with a silver parallel autographed version that are #'d to 5.  There are also 8 players with autograph cards using the format for the autograph cards in the player's team set - these are mostly for players who BBM was not able to include autograph cards in their team set.
Parallels: 12 cards (one per team) have a "Secret" version which is a short printed photo variation.  12 other cards (also one per team) have an "Ultra Secret" version which is an even shorter printed photo variation.  12 addition cards have a "Super Ultra Secret: version which is a yet even more short printed photo variation.  108 of the "regular" and "1st Version Update" cards have SEVEN different facsimile autograph parallels - silver (unnumbered), gold (#'d to 100), blue (#'d to 75), hologram (#'d to 50), red (#'d to 25), purple (#'d to 10) and sky blue (1-of-1).  Each of these 108 cards also have a "kira" parallel - no signature but just a "kira" finish.  Note - the various "Secret" versions do not have the parallels.  Each "Cross Moon" card has two parallels - one that's #'d to 100 and a "1 of 1" version.  There are five different parallels for the "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards - holo (#'d to 300), silver (#'d to 200), gold (#'d to 100), silver holo (#'d to 50) and gold holo (#'d to 25).  The "Fireworks" inserts have seven parallels - "Gold" (#'d to 300), "Kiwi Green" (#'d to 200), "Blue" (#'d to 100), "Holo" (#'d to 50), "Red" (#'d to 25), "Royal Purple" (#'d to 10) and "Sky Blue" (1-of-1).  There are four parallels for the "Kirinji" inserts - "Gold" (#'d to 200), "Light Green" (#'d to 100), "Shrinking Gold" (#'d to 50) and "Shrinking Light Green" (#'d to 25).  The "Mr Franchise" inserts also have four parallels - "Gold" (#'d to 200), "Green" (#'d to 100), "Blue" (#'d to 50) and "Pink" (#'d to 25).
Notable Rookies: Tokumasa Chano, Hayate Matsui

BBM released their 2nd Version set, the middle installment of their annual three flagship sets back in the first week or so of August.  I received my set last week but I'm just now getting around to writing about it.

There aren't any surprises with this set as it pretty much follows the pattern of almost all the 2nd Version sets going back to 2015 - 216 "regular" player cards with 18 cards per team?  Check!  12 team checklist cards?  Check!  36 "1st Version Update" cards?  Check!  36 "Cross Something" cards?  Check and in this case Something is "Moon".  A random collection of Japanese celebrities throwing out the first pitch at a game?  Check!  The base set has a total of either 300 or 330 depending on whether you want to count the 30 short printed "First Pitch Ceremony" cards as part of the base set.

The regular player cards in the set look...ok, I guess.  Don't get me wrong, I like designs with mostly borderless photos but there's something that kind of annoys me about this design.  Maybe it's the big uniform number that dominates the nameplate part of the card.  I think this might have looked better moving the number to the lower right corner next to the nameplate rather than superimposed over the top of it.  The photos are a bit of a mixed bag as well - not nearly as many interesting photos as 1st Version had.  I do like that they have a number of horizontally formatted cards.  Here's some examples:







Here's what the backs look like - they the player's stats from this season up until May 15th:

35 of the 216 players with "regular" cards did not appear in 1st Version.  Most of these are Japanese players who had maybe more of an impact on the first two months of the season than BBM had expected while some of the others are new foreign players like Frank Schwindel and Jharel Cotton of Orix.  As always I'm not sure why BBM decides to give some players who weren't in 1st Version "regular" 2nd Version cards and others "1st Version Update" cards although I kind of feel like BBM treats the "1st Version Update" cards as more of the "cards of record" for a player so I think they try to put the "bigger" players there.

That's a good segue into the "1st Version Update" subset.  The "1st Version Update" subset contains 36 cards (3 per team) using the 1st Version design featuring players who didn't appear in that set.  A couple of these are new foreign players - Luis Perdomo of Lotte, Marwin Gonzalez of Orix - but there's a lot fewer of those this year than there's been the last couple seasons.  The subset also includes Ariel Martinez of the Fighters who I think didn't make the 1st Version set since he was playing in the WBC for Cuba and Hirokazu Sawamura of Lotte who apparently signed with the team too late for 1st Version.  None of the guys who are most likely to win the Rookie Of The Year awards - Shunpeita Yamashita of Orix, Shoki Murakami of Hanshin and Yuto Akihiro of Yomiuri - were in 1st Version but all three show up in this subset.  There's a number of veterans included like Shingo Kawabata of Yakult, Yuito Mori and Ryuya Kurihara of Softbank, Ryuhei Matsuyama of the Carp and Kazuki Mishima of DeNA.  There's a couple former development (ikusei) players who were moved to their team's 70 man roster.  Two of them - Hayate Matsui of Yomiuri and Takumasa Chano of Orix - were 2022 draft picks and so feature the "rookie" icon on the front of their cards.  Here's a couple examples from this subset:




Once again the theme for the team cards can best be described as "Early Season Highlights".  A little more than half of them appear to show a post game victory celebration:


For the roughly billionth year in a row, BBM has done a cross set subset and this year's iteration is called "Cross Moon".  Half of it was in the 1st Version set and the other half is in this one.  As I said when I wrote about it in my post on the 1st Version set, the "Cross Moon" cards aren't unattractive but I'm more than ready for BBM to move onto the their next gimmick.


At 30 cards, I think this year's "First Pitch Ceremony" subset is the largest one ever.  This is the fourth time that the subset has been short printed and it probably accounted for 40 to 50 per cent of the 5000 yen I paid for the set.  As usual most of the people in the subset are Japanese celebrities who have no relationship to baseball although I was pleased that four cards featured baseball subjects - Randy Bass, Hideki Kuriyama, Hideki Matsui and Wakana Mori of the Tigers' Women's Team.  The other celebrities are Idols Shiori Kubo and Haruka Kaki from Nogizaka46 and Karen Hara from NMB48; Gravure Idols Risa Yukihira and Honoka; actors Akiyoshi Nakao, Katsuhiro Higo and Junpei Mizobata; actresses Rika Adachi, Yuna Taira, Ayano Kudo, Minami Sakuma and Akane Sakanoue; singers Nanase Aikawa and Marina Kawano; voice actors Ryota Osaka, Yuki Ono and Machico (the latter two are also singers); comedian Keisuke Okada; comedy duo Pekopa; YouTubers Toshimitsu (from Tokai On Air) and Koyakky's Studio; MMA fighter Hideo Tokoro; climber Yoki Tanaka; golfer Kumiko Kaneda and figure skater Kaori Sakamoto.  Several of these celebrities were in earlier "First Version Ceremony" subsets - Kubo was in 2020 Fusion and 2021 2nd Version, Honoka was in 2022 2nd Version, Rika Adachi was in 2013 2nd Version; Kudo was in 2017 and 2022 2nd Version; Sakamoto was in 2019 2nd Version and Okada was in 2009 2nd Version.  Here's a couple examples from this subset:




You can see all the cards over at Jambalaya.  I also need to point out that Jason has translated the checklist and put it up at the Trading Card Database - I found it very helpful in identifying all the memorabilia, autograph and parallel cards.