Sunday, September 30, 2018

Collecting the 1986 Calbee Set

 I have been so obsessed over the past couple of years with trying to finish my 1987 Calbee set (92% of the way there!!) that it kind of escaped my attention that I am also closing in on that set's predecessor: 1986 Calbee.  So I thought I would do a little post on how that project is going since I have started to really get earnest about knocking this one off the wantlist and I might even complete it before I finish the 87s.

From the Calbee mini card era of the 1980s, the 1986 set is probably the easiest to complete (unless you count the 55 card first series of 1990 Calbee as a set on its own).  At 250 cards it is significantly smaller than the 1985 set (465 cards) or the 1987 set (382 cards) that flank it in the Calbee catalogue. It is also super helpful that, unlike those sets, the 1986 set does not have any short printed series, so all the cards are about equally as hard (or easy) to find.

Design wise the set is basically the same as all the others from the 80s and not much need be said about that.  The set is sort of notable for having one of the earliest hot rookie cards in the Japanese hobby, featuring the rookie card of Kazuhiro Kiyohara.  Sports Card Magazine identifies card 81 in the set as his official rookie, but he actually has several regular cards in the set, this one is #97:
 There is a really interesting parallel between the Kiyohara rookie and the other hot rookie card of 1986, Jose Canseco.  I remember when Canseco's 86 Donruss reached a high water mark of 100$ in Beckett and was probably the most popular card in the hobby around 1990 or so.  Kiyohara's rookie card reached a similar peak (8000 Yen).

Canseco of course had his career sidelined by injury and his well known use of performance enhancing drugs.  Despite putting up impressive career numbers (462 home runs, 1 ball bounced off of head to give opposing team home run) these kept him out of the hall of fame and he is basically an outcast in the baseball world today, a perennial weirdo who is probably just as well known for not being able to beat Danny Bonaduce in a celebrity boxing match as he is for being baseball's first 40/40 man.

Kiyohara is something close to a Japanese equivalent of Canseco.  Like Canseco Kiyohara was a power hitting superstar in the late 80s - 90s who had a mix of injuries and drug problems sideline him in the latter half of his career.  And despite finishing with even more impressive numbers than Canseco - being a member of both the 500 home run and 2000 hit clubs - he hasn't been inducted into the Japanese baseball hall of fame and may never be.  In 2016 he made headlines by being arrested and convicted of drug possession.  Since that he has basically been shunned by the baseball world, even having his high school bat removed from an exhibit covering the history of the Koshien tournament.

So the 1986 Calbee Kiyohara rookie is about as prized today as a 1986 Donruss Canseco - kind of a neat throwback card but not one anybody pays serious money for anymore.  Which is a big win for those of us putting this set together on a budget!!!

As with any set from the mid-late 80s, my favorite cards are always those of Randy Bass in one of those awesome 80s Tigers batting helmets!!!

My set is actually quite well along, I have 180 out of the 250 cards, which leaves me just 70 to go.  I added a few of those last week and am scouring Yahoo Auctions to get some more to scratch off my checklist!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fun Fact: The B-52s video for Roam has Sumo Menko in it!

Quick post with a fun fact that I just randomly discovered: the video for the hit song "Roam" by the B-52s has sumo menko in it.

I absolutely love that song and remember it getting heavy airplay when I was a teenager in the early 1990s.  I hadn't seen the video in decades and was just watching it when I noticed a bunch of sumo menko in the background which I thought was really neat.  They appear really prominently from 2:39 in the video when 8 of them are in a kind of artistic background arrangement while Fred Schneider dances in front of them.  They also appear a bit later in the video among a bunch of other random stuff.

I'm not sure who the wrestlers are that are depicted, maybe SumoMenkoMan might be able to identify them?

Even if you aren't a sumo fan, its worth checking it out because you can never get enough of Roam.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Yamakatsu DX cards are pretty cool

 I got something new in the mail the other day:  4 of the big sized Yamakatsu DX cards from the 70s.You can read up a bit more about these sets on Dave's post here from a few years ago.  As you can see from the above photo, with some 1979 Yamakatsu cards for reference, they are pretty huge.
 I particularly like the above one of Kintetsu's Shimamoto Kohei.  The fact that his uniform is almost the exact same color as the bleachers, which are almost the exact same color as the sky, gives it a kind of cool look.  I am also a huge fan of cards with pictures that show a lot of the stadium in the background, which this card does well.

This card of Chunichi's Yazawa Kenichi, a member of the 2000 hit club, is also pretty cool.  I note that there are several different Yamakatsu cards of several different Chunichi players spread across several different sets which feature them batting in front of the same green netting.  I'm not sure why but it kind of works as a backdrop.
 The other two cards feature my least favorite aspect of some Yamakatsu cards from the 70s: the background having been cropped out and replaced with a boring blue (or sometimes green) backdrop.  I have no idea why Yamakatsu did this (seems about 1 in 5 or so of their cards from this era feature this) but it give the cards a very boring and generic feeling. It reminds me a bit of the 1958 Topps set which did the same, resulting in a truly boring set.

Otherwise though I think these are pretty cool cards.  Of course they are a double edged sword:  on the one hand they are great display pieces (at least the ones without the boring blue background) given their size.  On the other hand they are a huge pain to store!  I've already dinged the corners on two of them!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cool Card: 1973 Calbee Sadaharu Oh (143)

In my previous post I complained a bit about how monotonous Calbee's photography is these days.  I've been going through my old cards from the 70s when Calbee photography was anything but, and thought I would do a few posts highlighting some of the gems.

The first (in no particular order) is this one, #143 from the 1973 set of Sadaharu Oh.  I like the fact that:

1) it shows him on the "agony of defeat" side of things for a change, his flamingo swing having twisted him around so bad after missing the ball that his helmet went flying.

2) horizontal cards are a nice variation on the vertical every now and then!

3) They cropped the photo so as to keep the catcher, ball that Oh missed clearly visible in his hand, in the shot. Not too sure but I think it must be Koichi Tabuchi, who appears on a huge number of cards of other players from the 1970s since he was the Tigers catcher and they took a lot of shots during Tigers games.

4) The packed stands of faces in decent focus watching Oh twist is a nice backdrop.

5) The yellowed color of everything in the photo makes it feel very 1973 to me for some reason.

6) Unlike most Calbee cards from the 1970s this one actually is close to a "regular" card of Oh rather than from some topical subset - the back features a lot of biographical information and no text.  Oddly it doesn't include any statistics, but it does tell you that he weighs 79 kg.

This photo would almost certainly never have appeared in the 2018 set and not just because it was taken 45 years ago, but because it was chosen by someone with a bit of imagination, which is no longer allowed in baseball card photo selection in Japan (judging by recent standards, alluded to in the previous post).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Problem with Calbee: 2018 Series 2 is here! And has the worst photo selection Ever

Series 2 of this year's Calbee set was released a little while ago and as with Series 1 I decided to put the set together all in one go from a re-seller on Yahoo Auctions.

I got them in the mail on Monday and.....much though I love Calbee I have to say that I'm not impressed.  Something has been bothering me about Calbee cards for a while now and I had a tough time putting my finger on it until yesterday when flipping through them I realized the problem: consistently unimaginative photo selection.

The photographs in this year's set are the most abysmally predictable ever (I think, they seem to have been doing this for a while now).  I flipped through the entire set of regular cards and realized that the photograph selection progress is entirely governed by three rules which just make this set frustratingly boring.

Rule #1:  All position players are to be shot at home plate in some stage of a swing.
The above are all the position players from the Hawks in the set.  Everyone of them is photographed taking a swing, all of them in the exact same location - that same damn pink sign is visible in the background of all of them.

This is repeated throughout every single team - they are all pictured taking swings, all of them in the exact same spot, with the exact same background.  There is not a single picture of  a position player actually playing the field at his position (except for covered by Rule #2 below).  Or running the bases.  Or in the dugout, or anything else.  Its insanely monotonous to flip through these horrible cards.

Rule #2: The only Exception to Rule #1 is for catchers.
For some reason catchers are allowed to appear at their position in their catching gear.  They are the only position player so honored, though only five of them get that treatment, the rest being pictured in generic swing pictures.

Rule #3: Every pitcher is to be shot at some point in their windup.

Batters have to be batting, so I guess they decided pitchers also always have to be shown pitching.  This again however creates a uniformity of backgrounds that makes the cards boring and monotonous to flip through - all the Nippon Ham Fighters pitchers have that same boring green wall in the Sapporo Dome and bit of artificial turf as the backdrop, all the Buffaloes pitchers have the same....boring blue wall in the Osaka Dome as the backdrop, etc etc.

There are no pictures of pitchers doing anything other than being at some point in their wind up - nobody fielding a ground ball, nobody running over to cover first, nobody batting or running the bases or even just posing....its so insanely boring.

Of the seventy base cards in the set there is only ONE which does not slavishly follow these three rules.  It is this card of Takahiro Norimoto celebrating his 1000 strikeout:

Its stands out so much from the other cards in the set that it is refreshing to look at and see....something other than the dugout or bottom of a boring outfield wall as a background.

This photographic laziness is frustrating given the awesome backdrops that they could work with at places like Koshien or Hiroshima's Mazda Stadium.  Its also frustrating given how quirky and awesome photography on Calbee cards used to be, even in the era where they sometimes resorted to taking stills off of TV screens to fill in their needs.

I wonder what the cause of this is.  One thing I notice is that all Calbee photographs are taken either of a player at home plate or on the mound, both of which can be taken from a single location near the dugout.  This suggests either extreme laziness or perhaps the teams have started limiting the access of Calbee photographers to just taking pics from one spot, though I could not imagine why that would be the case. Even if true this also doesn't really explain why they couldn't just take a few pics of guys fielding balls or running the bases to mix things up a bit, as such shots could easily be obtained from the same location.

Whatever the reason, I am quite disappointed.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

This Week in Crime Cards: Takahiro Kakizawa

I've decided to take my earlier post on recent upskirt voyeur Koji Yamawaki a kind of series - featuring cards of players who have recently been caught committing crimes.

This week's entry is (now former) Giants 2 gun outfielder Takahiro Kakizawa, who was released over the weekend after it was discovered that he had committed 110 acts of theft against his fellow Giants team mates.  

It seems Kakizawa had started a side gig which involved stealing gloves, bats and other things from Giants players and selling them to a couple of stores in Tokyo, netting about a million Yen.

The scam was busted up when Giants players started noticing their stuff appearing for sale on line, and someone had a look at the security camera footage and found Kakizawa hauling said stuff out of the locker room.

Kakizawa was drafted by the Eagles and traded to the Giants in 2016, though it should be noted he has never played (and now never will play) a game at the Ichi gun level.  Apparently he needed the money to pay off some debts, which I guess would explain the extraordinary stupidity of ruining a career for, relative to the potential earnings from even just playing part  of a single season at the Ichi Gun level, a crime with such a low payoff.

I don't own the card at the top of this post, put out by BBM in 2013 (the image is from an online auction) and I don't think Kakizawa has many.  I should also mention that his cards may not fall perfectly into the crime committing subset genre depending on how you define it.  Theft is definitely a crime, but the article doesn't actually say he was arrested, merely that he was fired after the Giants own investigation.  Whether he faces criminal charges is a separate issue that doesn't seem to have been decided yet!  Given the pathetic nature of the crime and the fact that his career is over at such a young age I would be inclined to say he has already been adequately punished.

Monday, June 25, 2018

My New Favorite Thing: Yamakatsu Blue Train Full Box!

 I was browsing around Yahoo Auctions last week looking for Yamakatsu baseball cards when suddenly something I had never seen before showed up in the list - a full box of Yamakatsu Blue Train cards.  In addition to baseball I am a huge train fan and I just love it when something has interdisciplinary appeal across my various hobby interests so I put a bid in and won.

"Blue Train" is a generic name that describes all long distance sleeper trains in Japan, whose cars are blue (though sometimes the engines that pull them are not).  They used to be extremely common sites, even as recently as the late 90s when I first arrived in Japan.  The spread of the Shinkansen network to almost every corner of the main islands from Kyushu to Hokkaido has basically made them redundant and the last one, the Hokutosei, retired in 2015 to much bittersweet fanfare.
 The box is great, it shows a picture of the "Fujii" - each blue train has its name and distinctive logo on the plaque on the front of the engine.  Inside the box you find right on top you find a mini album which would have been given out to recipients of atari cards.  The one I got features the Hayabusa, which looks similar to the one on the cover of the box but is actually a completely different train.

Two other recipients of atari cards would get these beauties, erasers shaped like Blue Train engines.
 The packs are wrapped in paper, very similar to the 1980 Yamakatsu baseball packs I have, and are stapled shut at the top.  The box contains 30 packs with 2 cards each, which retailed for 20 Yen back in the day.  I'm not sure what year the set was released in but I am guessing late 1970s.  The cards are small size, about the same as 1980s era Calbee baseball cards (or 1950 Bowman baseball cards for American collectors). The packs with atari cards in them are wrapped in plastic so the store owner could know which ones they were.
 I decided to open a pack.  These would be extremely easy for unscrupulous collectors to search through if there were any valuable single cards to chase, since the staples can be easily pried off the pack without damaging it and then resealed.  Not that I plan on doing that, but I wanted to keep the pack looking nice.
 Inside, there they are, about to see daylight for the first time in their 40 years or so of existence.
 Score!!!  I got the Myoujou (the red engine) and the Suisei!
 The backs of the cards show you the train's logo that appears on its engine, how far it travels (967.4 km and 965.9 km respectively), how long it takes (16:23, 15:43) and its average speed (59.3 kmph, 65.6 kmph).

It doesn't actually tell you where the train went from, but a little research reveals that the Myoujou went from Osaka to Kagoshima until the line was discontinued in 2008 (shortly before the Kyushu Shinkansen was introduced).  The Suisei went from Kyoto to Miyazaki and was discontinued in 2005 (ridership having fallen from 93% in 1989 to a mere 30% in 2004 - quite the rapid decline).

I'm not too sure how big the set is or how close I am likely to get by opening the box, but I am quite motivated to find out more.  The Japanese language internet doesn't turn up much information on them, save for this blog entry by someone who, like me, just bought a box and was quite excited by them!