Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Calbee's Awesome 1985 Art Contest for Kids


Here is a little pile of 1985 Calbees that I recently picked up.  I have about 200 cards from the 1985 Calbee set which puts me almost halfway to the 465 it has in total, but I'm not seriously chasing it since the vast majority of the remainder are from hyper rare series that are way out of my budget.  

One good thing about the 1985 set though is that there is a pretty big series in it, which also happens to be one of the easier (and thus more affordable) series, that has awesome artwork on the back.  

Calbee had a contest that year in which kids would send in pictures they had drawn of baseball players.  If they won, their picture (along with their name and home prefecture) would go on the back of the player's card.  These are the backs of the 16 cards featured above:

I think there are about 100 cards in the set which have this artwork, these are just a few examples.  

Boomer Wells is looking cheerful:

Kiyoshi Nakahata looks like he is trapped in a Picasso:
Jose Cruz looks like he is grinding his teeth:
Akinobu Mayumi is daringly rendered in profile without any features:
The late Nobuyuki Kagawa's legendary chubbiness is very well captured:

An interesting thing is that at the bottom of all these cards there is a comment from someone called "Yoshimura Sensei" about the artwork.  On Kagawa's for example he/she says "Kagawa is cute. This is a very pleasant picture."

I'm kind of curious about who Yoshimura Sensei was - probably an art teacher of some sort.

These cards are another aspect I like about older Japanese baseball cards in general -  I don't remember Topps or any other US maker having contests like this in 1985.  It must have been so thrilling for these kids to see their pictures on actual baseball cards.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Ron Woods: Who is this Guy?


I picked up card #71 from the monster 1975-76-77 Calbee set this week.  This is from the rare series that was only issued in the Tokai area and is thus a key addition to my set.  

This gives me 23 out of 36 cards in that series, more than halfway there!

The card depicts Ron Woods. He is kind of an intriguing player about which we know very little.  He played parts of several MLB seasons between 1969 and 1974, getting the most playing time with the Montreal Expos between 1971 and 1974.  He then went to Japan for two years with the Chunichi Dragons in 1975 and 1976.

Beyond the numbers: silence.  Nobody has bothered to write a biography of him on his Wikipedia page, or on his Baseball Reference Page, or on his SABR page.  

This is frustrating because there are two intriguing facts about the Ron Woods story that I've been able to glean just from 1) this card, and 2) Googling him, that suggest stories of human interest at work.

The first is from the back of this card.

Japanese baseball likes players who sacrifice everything for the game and their team.  A lot of these Calbee cards from the 70s have write ups on the back which extoll this virtue.  This card, titled "Big league Pride" tells us that Ron Woods is a player who forgets everything else in the world when playing.  To illustrate, it states that he recently got tragic news from his family back in America. While he made a short visit back to the US as a result, he was so serious about the game that (on getting the news) he considered waiting until the off season to go back.

So this tells us that Woods experienced a serious personal tragedy during his stay in Japan and faced a difficult decision about whether to go back home to deal with it or not.  This is a recurring theme that shows up in the stories of many American players here - Randy Bass was famously criticized for returning to the US during the season to be with his son who was having major surgery.  So Woods had one of those too, but we don't know anything about it.

The other interesting thing I learned from a Google search is that in September of 1975, probably shortly after this card was made, Woods was among four members of the Dragons who were injured in Hiroshima after being attacked by fans.  This was mentioned in a very brief article in the New York Times at the time, but I haven't been able to find any more info on what happened.

So anyway, it seems like Woods' two year stay in Japan featured some drama, yet we know very little about him.  

Monday, September 28, 2020

Some more 1997 Calbees


I picked up 15 singles from the 1997 Calbee set this week.  Nobody particularly exciting, the whole  lot only cost me about 4$, but they were all cards I needed for the set.  

These get me to 202 out of 237, just 35 to go.  Unfortunately 19 of those are from the rare high number series, but I'm very close to finished with the low numbers.  

Thus far my Calbee collection has been mainly focused on cards from the 70s and 80s, as well as the obligatory purchase of contemporary sets as they come out each year. This has left the 90s as the decade with the biggest holes in my collection.  I am pretty close to finished with the 1999 Calbee set, which is by far the easiest to complete.  I also have a decent start on the 1998 set, which is also fairly easy to do.  And the 1995 Choco Snack set I  was lucky enough to pick up as a set a year and a half ago ( in retrospect that was an incredible deal, prices on those have gone up a lot since then and there is no way I could replicate that find today).

But most of the other sets from that decade (particularly the 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996 sets) I only have a smattering of cards each for.  Except for 1991 those are really hard sets to find cards for.  The  1994 and 1996 sets in particular have fewer than 100 listings each on Yahoo Auctions right now, indicating how rare they are.  Once I've finished the 1997s I might move on to one of them, but for now those years don't really exist in "set" form in my collection yet.  

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Dogs Wearing Caps


This is one of the new key pieces of my collection.  Its an uncut sheet from the 1948 set Engel catalogues as JBR 118.  The set was issued in sheets like this, each featuring 10 cards from a team.  Mine features members of the Yomiuri Giants and has a few Hall of Famers like Tetsuharu Kawakami, Shigeru Chiba, Noburo Aota and manager Osamu Mihara.

Engel only lists the sheets for four teams (Braves, Flyers, Hawks and Giants) in the guide and states that only one copy of each is known to exist.  So my Giants sheet is either that one known copy, or it is a newly discovered second copy.  I'm leaning towards the second as being more likely, given that I bought it from an antique dealer located in Kobe who probably dug it up locally.  Either way, these are pretty hard cards to find.  

The backs of the cards have pictures of dogs wearing baseball caps in red.  Hence Engel gave this set the nickname "Dog Wearing Baseball Cap".  Which is pretty cool.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

I've Waited Years To Find This Card


My 1975-76 Calbee set made a massive jump towards completion yesterday with the addition of The Most Valuable Card In The Set (TMVCITS)!

This is card #630 featuring Hiroshima's Municipal Stadium during a night game from the 1976 season.  As I wrote in a post last year about a different card I got (#157 which coincidentally also features Hiroshima's Municipal Stadium)  this is basically the key card in the entire set.  It comes from the extremely rare "Red Helmet" series  which runs from card #609 to 644.  It was only released in limited numbers in the Hiroshima area and is very rare today.  I'm not sure exactly why, but of all the cards in that series, the one featuring the stadium has long been recognized as the most valuable by Japanese collectors.

I have been waiting for one of these to come up at auction for a long time and when this showed up (alongside two other cards from the same series that I need) I pounced.  I ended up winning it for 7500 Yen (about $70 US) which is more than I usually pay for a card (and way more than my 1000 Yen per card limit that I tried to impose on myself earlier this year but have failed miserably at adhering to).  But its the key card in the set, and this basically means that I now know that I won't have to pay more than that for any other card in the set.  The downside of the bidding getting that high was that I had to let the other two cards from the series up in the same auction go, and they sold for about half what this one did.

This is actually a really nice copy of the card, probably in ExMt condition or so with a tiny speck of fluff on two of the corners being the only blemish.  And that makes me happy since I had figured for this card I would have to accept a lower grade copy since higher grade ones would be way too hard to find.  But nope, the marquee card in my set is a looker!  Yee haw!

I'm still not close to finishing the whole set, I'm about 400 cards short right now (out of 1472 total), but this is another milestone crossed!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fake Ichiros and Weird Bidders

There is a seller on Yahoo Auctions who I've been watching for a few years now.  A few years ago I bought one of the rare 1994 Calbee Ichiro cards off of him.  This was relatively early in my Japanese baseball card collecting days and I wasn't aware of how prevalent fakes of those cards (there are three of them) were.  Of course mine turned out to be a fake as I discovered later.  Fortunately I only paid about 25$ so it wasn't a huge write-off.

If you click on the guy's Yahoo Auctions page you'll see a huge list of naked lady cards (very NSFW, proceed with caution).  Those are his specialty.  But about once every month or so he'll put out a few baseball cards for sale.  And almost every time he does so, he has one copy of each of the three 1994 Calbee Ichiros.

Over the years I've been watching his auctions (er...just his baseball card auctions) he's probably put up dozens of those Ichiro cards.  Bear in mind that those cards are so rare that there are probably only a few dozen legit copies of them in existence in the first place.  So this should be a huge red flag screaming "FAKE" to anyone out there paying attention.

Yet every time he puts them out, people bid on them and buy them.  This post was inspired by me watching three more end last night, all getting multiple bids (the one in the picture at the top got 14 bids and sold for 4501 Yen, about $40).  

It really doesn't make much sense.  They always sell, but they also usually sell in that 30-50$ price range, which is about 1/10th of what a legit copy would probably be worth.  

Its kind of hard to figure out what is going on with the bidders.  If they think the things are real, they should be bidding them up to much higher prices than that.  If on the other hand they think the things are fake, they shouldn't be bidding at all.  Yet everytime they manage to bid it up to a price that is way too high for a fake and way too cheap for a real one.  What do these bidders think these cards are?

In my case when I bid I thought it was real and I put in a higher bid than what I ended up winning it for with that expectation in mind.  Other bidders pushed it up to about the 25$ level, then jumped ship.  Perhaps there are shill bidders, but looking at the one I linked to above it got bids from 4 separate bidders, two of whom have a ton of feedback and are likely legit bidders, and two of whom have less than 100 feedback and might be shill bidders.  It was won by one of the two with high feedback, and one of the two with low feedback placed the second highest bid, consistent with what you would expect if shill bidding was going on.  But at the same time the other "real" bidder came close to winning it and the "shill" bid only bumped it up a couple hundred Yen.  So even if the two suspect accounts hadn't bid, the card would have sold for almost the same price and therefore shill bidding alone can't account for this irrational pricing.

So I kind of wonder if these real bidders are just suckers like me being taken in?  You'd think they would have caught on by now though, this guy has been at it for years now (though he does have near perfect feedback).  On the other hand, maybe they know and don't care - perhaps they are planning to flip these fakes themselves? 

I don't know exactly what is going on but it sure does stink anyway you look at it.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The 1977 Oh Series


One of the hardest Calbee sets from the 70s to find is the 96 card set dedicated entirely to Sadaharu Oh on the occasion of him passing Hank Aaron's 755 career home run total.  

I only have 2 cards from this set, number 38 and 42.  The card above (#42) features a photo taken at exactly 7:10 PM (and 7 seconds!) on September 3, 1977 as the text on the card front tells us.  It shows him high fiving Giants coach Akira Kunimatsu while rounding the bases after hitting #756.

The back of the card is kind of interesting.  It shows some stats on each of his milestone home runs over his career that you don't often see.  For each, in addition to the date, it also tells you how many other players had hit that many (at the time),  the pitcher he hit it off and the number of games it took to get there.  So we can see for example that when he hit his 100th career home run on July 28, 1963 off a Hiroshima pitcher named Ooishi there were only 32 other players in the NPB "100 home run club". When he hit #200 a mere 2 years later there were only 12 other players with as many.  Two years later he joined the 300 home run club, which only consisted of 3 players.  And when he clobbered #550  five years after that he was in a club all by himself.  There seems to be an error in the last two entries of the number of games played column, it seems highly unlikely that it took him 2318 career games to reach 715 home runs, but didn't reach #755 until career game 10,145 (which would take about 70 seasons).  

Card #39 is also pretty neat.  It shows him on August 31, 1977 being interviewed after tying Aaron with his 755th home run.

The back of this card is also pretty cool, it shows a side by side comparison of the careers of Oh and Aaron from 1954 to 1977. The first few years are blank for Oh since he didn't play his first game until 1959, while 1977 is blank for Aaron since he retired after the 1976 season.  Its actually quite impressive that Oh accomplished his feat in four fewer seasons than Aaron, especially given the shorter season in NPB.  

The most famous, and valuable, card from this set is #93, which features Oh with Hank Aaron on the front.  I don't have that card, its pretty expensive (Engel lists it for $750 and I think that is about right, there is a graded copy in EM condition with a BIN price of 78,000 Yen available right now).  Even the regular Oh cards like these two cost a fair bit. Engel lists them at $200 which also seems to be in the right ballpark for the cards in high grade.  Some seem to sell for more, card #29 (which just features Oh, no Aaron) is currently the subject of a bidding war on Yahoo Auctions which currently stands at 36,000 Yen (about $350 US) with 3 days to go.   As you can see from the scans, mine have some condition issues which made them affordable enough to be in my price range!