Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Shane Mack is one of those names I remember from my high school days. He had a brief period in the early 1990s where he arguably attained the status of minor star with the Twins, playing a key role in their memorable 1991 season.
After his days with the Twins he played for a couple of years in Japan with the Giants and has a card in the 1995 Tokyo Snack set (the de facto Calbee set from that year).
The front of the card is pretty cool, showing Mack taking batting practice. The back though is strange:
It gives his statistics from the 1992-1994 seasons with the Giants. Its not very impressive, he went 0 for 0 in each of those seasons for a cumulative .000 batting average.
The reason for this lacklustre performance is that he didn't play for the Giants in any of those seasons, he was still playing for the Twins in Minnesota. But the card clearly says "巨" next to each of those years in brackets, which is the kanji for "Giant".
It definitely gives him short shrift as in the 1992 season, where he hit .000 in NPB, he also hit .315 for the Twins and finished 5th in the AL batting race.
Anyway, this is just a kind of odd thing, I have no idea why they did it. Other cards in the set with new players don't have 3 years of fictitious statistics on the back. One possible explanation is that this set is one of the first Calbee sets where they featured a player's full career statistics (maybe the first? I have to double check that). Perhaps, being new, they simply weren't very good at it. This is evident in the confusing order they put the stats in, with the most recent season at the top and going down from there, the opposite of what pretty much all other card makers do.
The card incidentally seems to have been released relatively late in 1995 as the text on the back makes reference to a game played against the Dragons on May 21st in which he hit a 2 run sayonara home run.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
I decided on O'Doul to be my big intro to the 1933 set (and likely my only card from it given the prices) because he is such a big figure in Japanese baseball history. He has two cards in the set, I much prefer this one in part because it has a more attractive image of him in his Dodgers digs and in part because it actually mentions his contribution to Japanese baseball on the back:
"Last winter went to Japan and taught batting to University of Tokio players. Likes to play golf and does it well."
Finding American cards which mention Japan like that might be an interesting (and difficult to catalogue) collecting goal.
O'Doul is the holder of one interesting MLB record. He has the highest career batting average (of players with more than 3,000 ABs) of anyone not in the Hall of Fame. He was a 349 career hitter, which is absolutely insane, but did that within the span of a relatively small number of extremely dominant seasons. When you add to that his importance in promoting the connections between the Japanese and American games though I think he might be worthy of consideration for the Hall.
This one is a nice mid-grade one. Its graded by PSA, which I am not a huge fan of but I think I will leave it in that holder for the meantime since he is basically safe in there.
Thursday, February 9, 2017
I am kind of a fan of cards featuring Sadaharu Oh's swing and his distinctive stance. Mainly because he used them, usually in combination, to hit a baseball a lot. The above two cards are #418 and #420 from the 1974 Calbee set, both from the "ON Series" (O for Oh, N for Nagashima = ON) which fall into this category.
They are kind of cool because they were obviously taken during the same at-bat - the three photographers visible in the upper background are all in identical positions and poses in each so they likely display different instants in the same swing of the bat. The cards themselves make no mention of this fact, card #420 describes his "flamingo" stance while #418 just says this is Oh taking a full swing. He is in a home uniform but these weren't taken at Korakuen, so I assume they were taken during spring training.
My collection is currently missing the card that numerically falls between these two (#419), I am curious if it features another shot from the same at bat, with his swing about halfway between the two. It would be cool if it did, having a series of cards going through his whole swing would look really neat displayed side by side.
So finding that card is my collecting goal for this month.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Card #360 in the 1975-76 Calbee set is an interesting one. It is from the pink (fuschia?) series in the set whose design is a bit evocative of 1975 Topps.
There are a lot of regular player cards in this series but also a few special multi-player cards. Looking at the picture you would think this was one of the multi-player cards, but its actually the regular card of Fighters first baseman Yoshito Oda.
The text on the bottom of the card says "Oda Yoshito Infielder", which is standard enough. Then in parentheses below that it says "Third Guy From Right".
This must be unique in baseball card history - a regular card where it is so hard to tell where the player depicted is on the card that they literally have to tell you in writing where to find him. I wonder why they chose this photo to appear on his card. They must have had limited options, he isn't even looking in the direction of the camera, while the guy next to him is (not sure who that is, but this might have worked better as the photo for his card).
Monday, February 6, 2017
One of the more interesting subsets in the 1975-76 Calbee set are the artificial turf cards. The Giant's home stadium Kourakuen had just had it installed at the time and I guess it was a subject of some interest as they made at least 3 cards devoted to the subject (I have cards #406, 408 and 422 pictured above which are all artificial turf cards, there might be more that I have yet to come across.
Card 406 has a photograph of the turf being installed in the stadium (right card in the above photo). Card #408 has an illustration of the different hops that balls take off of artificial turf compared to natural turf (first bound is higher on artificial turf, but decreases in height faster with subsequent hops than on natural grass in case you are interested). Card #422 in turn (left card in the photo) shows you the structure of the installation below the artificial turf, which consists of a mix of sponge, concrete, sand, soil and something called "asucon" which I am unsure of the meaning of.
Anyway, this is kind of an odd subset, I don't think there were ever any similar cards produced when astroturf was introduced in the US about a decade earlier (though I could be mistaken about that?)
At the same time though they aren't exactly the most exciting cards in the set - except for #406 they are basically just boring diagrams. I imagine if I had been a kid in 1975 opening one of these packs hoping to see a card with an action photo of Sadaharu Oh on it I would have been massively disappointed to find one of these in it!
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Above are a few cards from the 1975 Calbee set (not to be confused with the 1975-76 set) that I have. You have cards of Japan's all time hits leader (Harimoto), its top three home runs leaders (Oh, Nomura and Kadota), its Iron Man (Kinugasa), its most popular player ever (Nagashima) and one of its best pitchers (Yamada). I didn't have one handy when I scanned these but if I wanted to I could have added its all time stolen base king (Fukumoto) to the group if I had wanted to.
If you think of the concentration of key figures in the Japanese game into one set (in fact, most sets issued that decade) it is really hard to fathom - almost all of the key career record holders in Japanese history are represented here since their careers overlapped (Nagashima admittedly appearing as a manager rather than player in sets after 73, but still there). Its like having a set with (career contemporary) cards of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron,Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, Cal Ripken Jr and Mickey Mantle.
The interesting thing is that no NPB set in the future will ever come close to this because almost all of those records are now effectively unbreakable. Any player who can collect hits, home runs, wins or stolen bases at the pace necessary to challenge any of them is going to be offered a lucrative contract from MLB years before that happens, so it is hard to imagine any player capable of doing so sticking around long enough. The current active career home run leader is Shinnosuke Abe, whose career is already winding down and might not even reach the 400 plateau before the end. Harimoto's hits record would likely have been obliterated by now had Ichiro not gone to the Majors and nobody else is even close.
So the 1970s in NPB are kind of a unique era in the history of any baseball league. I can't think of any era in MLB history that comes close. The dead ball era produced some pitching records that are more or less out of reach (Cy Young's 511 wins) and some non-home run batting records that will likely never be matched (Sam Crawford's career triples), while the 1920s and 1950s produced some of its most iconic figures, but the 1970s in NPB is a bit like if the top players in all those eras competed against each other and all the major career records that they set (as opposed to just a few) became impossible for subsequent generations to break.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
I picked up another cool 1970s Calbee card over the holidays that I thought I'd share, its #404 from the 1974 set (in the ON Series) and features Shigeo Nagashima.
Its a fantastic photo of him, taken on October 14 as he left the field for the last time in his career. The composition is perfect, the way he is looking over his shoulders at the field really drives home the finality of it. The blue sky contrasted against the green grass and brown dirt, with the packed grandstands in between provides a perfect backdrop. I am not a Nagashima fan, but I absolutely love this card.