Sunday, May 24, 2020

Card about a guy's hair and also a guy is looking at the hair guy's butt and the hair guy is kind of floating and its a weird card and you need to buy this card

You want my advice?  You need this card in your collection.

This is a 1975 Calbee card of Takenori Emoto, ace pitcher for the Nankai Hawks.

The card isn't so much about Emoto as it is about his hair.  The title on the back of the card says "With adequate resolve, he cuts his long hair!"

Emoto is a man who likes his hair.  And can you blame him?

But it almost cost him his career in 1975.  Japanese baseball teams have pretty strict rules on haircuts.  These days a lot of NPB teams have relaxed them, but on high school or college teams its like being in the military: everyone gets a buzz cut.

So back in the 1970s Katsuya Nomura was managing the Hawks and banned long hair.  Emoto wasn't about to let go of his splendid hair and rebelled (nobody else on the team joined him).  I did some looking around and found this archival footage of Emoto giving a press conference to explain the reasons for his rebellion.

The long and the short of it is that Nomura threatened to fine him 500,000 Yen, a massive sum back then, and Emoto backed down and got a hair cut.  The scandal that it caused rocked the nation (well not really but it made the news) and elicited a lot of commentary.  This baseball card is devoted to that incident.

The text on the back says:

"With Adequate Resolve, He Cuts His Long Hair!

Nankai's ace pitcher Emoto.  His long hair became the subject of much discussion and attention even as he was breaking records.  He announced that he would cut this long hair into a new short cut and devote himself completely to baseball, making his manager and team mates say "Ah".  He hussles in the middle of training camp in Tanabe, Wakayama Prefecture."

Inspiring stuff.  I guess. The record it (probably) refers to is perhaps a backhanded compliment, he set the NPB record for balks in 1973.

I like the fact that this card once again demonstrates how ahead of their time these Calbee sets from the 1970s were.  Remember in 1991 when George Steinbrenner and Don Mattingly got into that big public argument over Mattingly's hair?
And then do you remember how Topps, Donruss, Fleer and Upper Deck all made cards about that in their 1992 sets?

Me neither.  Because they didn't.  Because American baseball cards kind of suck in that regard.  Actually Japanese cards kind of suck in that regard today too, no way they would make a card about a similar hair scandal today.  But back in the 70s it was anything goes!  The most glorious card sets ever made.

Also I like this card because there is a guy on it who seems to be totally checking out Emoto's butt, which is also  not something you often see on a baseball card:
Also, if you look at the card photo you have to wonder what is Emoto doing exactly?  He seems to be levitating, with a crowd of people surrounding him.  He is in a baseball pose, but he is standing in front of a hill and I don't think he is on a pitching mound since it is too high relative to the guy looking at his butt.

Anyway, this card has a lot going on in it, all of it fascinating.  Even though Emoto's hair didn't cost him his career, his mouth eventually did.  In 1981 after getting yanked early from a game he publicly suggested that his manager was stupid.  The blowback he received from that (Rule #1 in Japan: Never insult your boss.  Rule #2: no matter how awful something tastes, always say its Oishii even as you are gagging on it) caused his forced retirement shortly thereafter.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Kids and Scissors

This is my 1961 Maruya (JCM 57a) card of Sadaharu Oh.  Its a pretty scarce card from early in his career.  It has a book value of $450.

One of the downsides of menko is that their condition today is highly dependent on the skill level of a 7 year old kid with scissors 60 years ago.  The sheet my Oh was on fell into the hands of a kid with very very low scissors skills.  So low that it is hard to figure - this must have been done by a 4 year old who hadn't yet developed the hand-eye coordination thing.

The downside is that my Oh card is kind of ridiculously miscut.  The upside is that this is my Oh card. If it was cut correctly I probably wouldn't have bought it, but with this cutting I picked it up for almost nothing :)

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Confusing the Kids: What Color Uniform do the Giants Wear Anyway?

One of the cool things about Japanese baseball menko cards from the late 50s to early 60s is that most of them featured black and white photographs that had been colorized.  I like this because whoever was doing the colorizing in most cases either didn't know what color the player uniforms of a given team were supposed to be, or they knew and just decided to make up their own anyway.

I have a stack of about 40 menko from that period sitting next to me right now and I just pulled out all of the cards featuring Yomiuri Giants players, which are in the scan above.  They all come from either Marusho or Marukami sets from the early 1960s.  The Giants uniform colors were (and are) black and orange. But you wouldn't know that from these cards.

Just look at the headwear.  Everybody has different color schemes.   Basically a kid with these cards who had never been to a Giants game could imagine them having hats with:

Black hat, green bill
Blue hat, red bill
Brown hat, brown bill
Blue hat, blue bill
Green hat, green bill

And the color scheme on the rest of the uniform is equally confused.  Its important to note that some of these cards come from the exact same set (all three cards on the top row are from the Marukami JCM 14 sets).

This holds true not just for Giants players, but also for those of other teams.

This gives these sets a lot more "oomph" than they otherwise would - the actual Giants color scheme is fairly drab and boring.  A lot of these ones look way better - green hats with orange letters?  Love it!  Everybody wearing maroon long sleeved shirts under their jerseys?  Great!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Stamps on Baseball Cards

Here is something you don't see every day: a baseball card with a big red stamp with some archaic Chinese characters on it obscuring the player's image.

This is a card of Tetsuharu Kawakami, Japan's "God of Hitting" and first member of the 2,000 hit club.  It is from one of the 1953 Kobai Caramel sets (catalogued as JF 11, noted for the L shaped border) which is pretty rare (R3).

Kobai was the biggest maker of caramel cards in the 1950s, putting out dozens of sets.  Like my Kawakami caramel card, Kobai ones were small and printed on paper.

According to the back, they were meant to be collected and then sent in to the company to be redeemed for a set of bromides signed by the players.

Not all of the cards had the big red stamp (which I think is the company's official seal), so there are versions of this Kawakami card out there which don't have it.  I think the idea was that you would collect the cards with the stamps on them and send those in to be redeemed.  You had to collect ten of them which consisted of at least the manager (Shigeru Mizuhara), a pitcher a catcher, an infielder and an outfielder and then send those in.

Engel has identified only four cards from this set (Kawakemi, Takehiko Bessho, Shigeru Chiba and Wally Yonamine) but likely there were quite a few more out there back in the day, including Mizuhara who is mentioned on the back but does not appear in Engel.  Their fragility and the fact that they were meant to be redeemed probably contributed to there being so few left in existence.

I kind of like having the seal on this one, it gives the card such a unique and archaic look.  No mistaking this for a modern card, or an American one!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Some Wally Yonamine Baseball Cards

I am not a player collector, but if I was I think I would be a Wally Yonamine collector.

He is just such a cool figure.  He was the first American baseball player to come to Japan after the war, arriving so early that the post war occupation hadn't finished yet (edited to note: first American player to arrive after the war, but not the first American to play in NPB).  His feats have been described elsewhere numerous times so no need for me to go much into them.  But they are impressive.

Perhaps less than his playing accomplishments I like the fact that he was a nice guy.  Sadaharu Oh recalled a story about when he was a kid going to Korakuen Stadium and being in a crowd of kids trying to get autographs of Giants players.  The other kids had placards and regular baseballs, but Oh was a poor kid and all he had was a rubber ball, which the players ignored.  Yonamine noticed this, came over and signed Oh's ball.  Years later when Oh was a rookie team mate of Yonamine he mentioned this to him and Yonamine said he remembered.  He couldn't figure out why all the Japanese players weren't signing.  Because nobody else would, he gave the big eyed kid, who he of course didn't know was Oh at that point, an autograph.

These cards, from the 1958 Marukami set (JCM 31b) and the 1958 Marumatsu set (JCM 32a) which feature him as a Giant.  He also played for and later managed the Dragons here in Nagoya, which gives me another level of interest in him.

I'm not sure how many cards are out there of him, being a star for the Giants he appears on a lot of the tobacco card style sets from the late 50s and early 60s.  But he doesn't appear in as many of the more colorful menko sets from the early 50s, which is a shame because those are awesome.

When I see his name in a Yahoo Auction search for old cards, I usually buy them.  This has become a bit more difficult recently though.  Yonamine is not a common name in Japan. In fact its not a name used in the Japanese main islands, Yonamine's father was Okinawan and the name uses kanji characters that are more commonly used there (my mother in law is from Okinawa so I know this from that half of the family).

So until a couple of years ago if you put the kanji for his name into a Yahoo Auction search it would only turn up stuff related to him.  Now unfortunately there is a garbage J-Pop boy band of some sort that has a member named Yonamine, so when you do a Yahoo Auction search its about 95% J-Pop boy band merchandise, which is a hellish thing to have to browse through.

Just a word for the wise!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Man Cave Confessions: Mine Sucks

There is a pretty long thread over at Net54 in which people share pictures of their baseball card man caves.  Its impressive stuff, guys have whole rooms in their houses devoted to displaying some great collections of cards and other memorabilia.  Its the sort of stuff that would make for a good special issue of Home and Garden.

The above is my man cave.  Its our extra room.  Actually its not really "extra" anymore now that we have two kids, sometime in the near future this will be my daughter's room.  But since we moved into the house almost 4 years ago, its been the room where all my hobby stuff goes.

Um, yeah.  Its.....well, it is what it is.  A random mess of boxes and junk piled up everywhere.  There are actually some good pieces in there, basically every vintage card I've ever posted on this blog is somewhere in this picture, probably in one of those 800 card boxes.  You can kind of see a baseball in a ball holder in there too, roughly in the middle of the photo, that has my Hank Aaron autograph that is nearly faded to nothing after 28 years, which I think still counts for something.

I really like the concept of a man cave and I also like interior decorating, but since I've always known that I would have to give this room up at some point, I've never bothered to try to spruce it up into a neat cave.  Thus, my man cave room sucks.

This is also kind of a problem with Japanese housing: its way too small for man caves to begin with.  They don't have basements or studies, they come with exactly as many bedrooms as you have people and no extra space for anything at all.  This is a problem not just with residences but also work spaces, if you've ever been to any kind of Japanese office you've probably been overwhelmed by the sense of clutter since the people using it just don't have the space to properly store stuff.

Which isn't to say this is just a Japan thing, I'm sure a lot of people are pressed for space in North America too. I'm curious if anyone else out has a man cave like mine that by all rights they should be ashamed of due to its complete and absolute lack of any sort of attempt to make it presentable?  I suspect we may be the silent majority in the collecting community.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Warren Cromartie and Bill Gullickson: A Card From Another Era

I have a few international baseball card trading relationships which usually involve Americans sending me American cards (mostly of the Montreal Expos, my favorite team) in exchange for Japanese ones.  Jay, who doesn't have a blog I can link to, is one of them and he sent me an envelope recently that included this 1982 Topps card featuring Warren Cromartie and Bill Gullickson, the Expos' leaders in batting average and ERA in 1981.

This card has a pretty strong Japan connection since both of these guys would be re-united as team mates with the Yomiuri Giants a few years later.  Cromartie played for the Giants from 1984 until 1990, and was joined by Gullickson in two of those years (1988 and 1989).

I had a thought when I saw this card that it was possible that not only were they team mates, but perhaps they both also led the Giants in batting average and ERA together, thus recreating their performance with the 1981 Expos depicted on this card.

Sure enough, Cromartie led the Giants in average (in fact he led the entire league in average with a .378 mark) in 1989.  He probably would have in 1988 too (.333), but injury limited him to just 201 at bats that year.

Gullickson had a really solid year in 1988 and finished 8th in the Central League in ERA, but unfortunately didn't lead the Giants, finishing second to Masumi Kuwata.  In 1989 he fared far worse, with his 3.65 ERA not coming even close.

So while they came really close to re-creating their 1981 team leading combination, they weren't quite able to pull it off.

Despite that unfortunate near-miss, the card is also interesting because both of these guys bucked the stereotypes of American baseball players who made it big in Japan, which usually follow one of two models:

1) Washed up former big leaguer nearing the end of his career who wants to extend his playing days (and paydays) a bit longer.  Guys like Willie Davis, Frank Howard, Reggie Smith and Bill Madlock come to mind.

2) Really promising younger guy who tore it up in Triple A but was never able to break in to a regular spot on an MLB team.  Guys like Randy Bass, Boomer Wells or Tuffy Rhodes.

Neither Cromartie nor Gullickson fit either of these.  They were both established major leaguers who were still in their prime when they came to Japan.

Cromartie had been a solid and consistent starter in Montreal for seven seasons when he signed with Yomiuri and would hit over .300 in a part time role for the Kansas City Royals after leaving the Giants in 1991.

Gullickson had double digit win totals in each of the six seasons preceding his arrival in Japan. In fact, Gullickson was so "in his prime" that his best MLB season came after, rather than before, his time in Japan.  Two years after returning to the US he led  the American League with 20 wins while playing in Detroit alongside fellow returnee Cecil Fielder.

Such was the 80s.  Its easy to forget that  for a short moment back in that decade it looked like Japan might actually catch up to the US in terms of economic power (despite its much smaller population) and this was reflected in the fact that NPB teams were actually able to competitively poach MLB players still in the prime of their careers.

The Japanese economy tanked in the early 1990s and NPB stopped doing that, and the trend reversed itself with MLB starting to poach NPB players in their prime.  Today the salary imbalance between the two leagues makes it all but impossible for Japanese teams to do anything like that, so they've reverted to getting American players more closely resembling the above two stereotypes which, tough stereotypes, are pretty accurate.

But this one card from the 1982 Topps set does hark back to an era when NPB was able to get the best two players of a competitive MLB franchise while still in their prime!