Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why I like Calbee more than BBM

My Japanese baseball card collection is mainly made up of Calbees.  I like Calbee a lot.  BBM is the only other maker I`ve ever tried collecting, but I have pretty much given up on them.  I just can`t bring myself to actually collecting BBM cards. .

I think my preference for Calbee over BBM simply boils down to the fact that Calbee keeps things simple (good) while BBM makes everything ridiculously complicated (bad).  There are a few different ways in which Calbee`s simplicity trumps BBM`s complexity, here are a few off the top of my head:

1. Card design

Calbee cards have almost always followed the simple equation of a full-bleed photo of the player with a minimal amount of information (name and team) inconspicuously printed in the lower corner.  With a few exceptions (the 1975, 1990 and 1995 sets come to mind) they`ve stuck to that formula and it works great. I mean how could anybody beat the pure awesomeness of a card like this 1987 Calbee Warren Cromartie?
BBM on the other hand has rarely been able to prevent itself from mucking up their card fronts with unnecessary stuff that just distracts from the photo.  Some of the BBM sets aren`t too bad in this regard (like this year`s) but others (like both series of the 2002 regular set) just add some cheap looking graphics to the front that do nothing but detract from the card`s appearance.

And that is just the regular cards, BBM leads the world in producing massively ugly sets covered in foil crap, which leads me to point 2:

2. Production of way too many sets

Calbee in recent years has been pretty consistent in just producing one set a year released in 3 series. There are always a few subsets that go along with the main set, but my only real complaint with these is that they number them seperatly rather than as part of the main set.  Usually one or two of these is a harder to find series of star cards which are almost always distinguishable because they have a bunch of glittery crap on them.  I don`t like those sets but I at least appreciate the fact that they keep it to just one per year.

BBM on the other hand seems to churn out new sets almost everyday.  There are just way more than there can possibly be demand for, with each team getting its own seperately issued set now and a ton of useless and ugly premium sets.  Most of these have atrocious designs like the premium BBM Touch the Game set which just looks awful:

3. Number of cards in the Sets

I guess this is also related to the previous two, but the fact that BBM produces, for a league which only has 12 teams, more regular cards than Topps usually produces for the 30 teams in major league baseball just rubs me the wrong way.  My first abortive attempt to get back into cards actually happened back in 2002 when I tried to put a set of BBM together.  Between the two series I think there were about 800 cards in the regular set alone, which just made me completely lose interest in them.  It is just really obnoxious to put that many cards in a set for a league with so few players.  Calbee sets have varied a lot in size over the years but recently they`ve been in the 300 or so range with about 100-200 more in the subsets, which is way more reasonable.

4. Cablee isn`t actually a baseball card company

This is an admittedly odd reason, but I like the fact that Calbee cards are basically just promotional items intended to boost chip sales. It is just so....innocent.  It harkens back to a day when cards in North America were basically the same - things to encourage people to buy tobacco or gum.

This also makes them popular items among one demographic which BBM seems to ignore: kids.  One of the things that makes collecting a set of Calbee cards in near mint condition so difficult is the fact that so many of them, even today, are collected by kids who put them in their pockets, throw them around and do general kid-like things with them.  While I don`t like getting dinged up cards in the lots I buy, I do really like that fact.

In that sense, Calbee cards have way more in common with American cards from the 60s than today.  They are something that kids buy at the corner store in the summer and play with. And at 90 yen or so per bag they are something kids can easily afford.

BBM cards on the other hand are very clearly marketed at an adult market.  They are sold in packs at high prices and they don`t come with anything else.  Any time you by a lot of BBM cards on Yahoo Auctions they will be in pack-fresh mint condition.  While I like getting cards in nice condition, I also find this fact a bit depressing.  It means no kid has ever played with or loved these cards like they do with the Calbee ones.  They were bought by an adult collector (like me, sigh) and are basically just meant to sit in a box existing in mint condition for the rest of time.  Its just not a very uplifting thought.  Where Calbee cards bring to mind classic American cards like the 1957 Topps set, BBM evokes the dreggs of the 90s like 1992 Donruss or 1995 Score.

Anyway, those are just a few reasons I way prefer Calbee over BBM.  I do have some BBM cards kicking around, but those are basically just ones I bought out of curiousity because they were cheap and not because I wanted to collect them specifically. The ramblings of a thirty something who misses the old days....


  1. I like Calbee's consistency and wish at least ONE product in America would follow suit. The closest (aside from unlicensed Broder cards from the late 80s) would be the first few years of Stadium Club, but even then, they quickly went overboard with subsets and extra, non-essential design elements, abandoning their initial premise that the photo was the draw, not the gimmicks.

    It also annoys me that Calbee has been issuing cards consistently since 1973, yet Bazooka and Cracker Jack have only issued like a dozen sets total in that time. Clearly all American companies have long since abandoned the under-18 market.

  2. I agree with you on several points. Calbee's cards are more beautiful with their simplicity, though I'm okay with BBM doing designs if they can produce just one beautiful photo-based set a year. However, I really understand where they come from with the team sets. Japanese baseball fans are frequently very loyal to their teams and would be more interested in buying packs, boxes, or sets of just the players they support. Plus, that's something else to sell in team stores and at the stadium!

    Touch The Game is pretty ugly, and as you mentioned in another post, the meaningless pose is hilarious. But like US premium sets, the issue is about the great memorabilia and autograph cards and base cards are just filler.

    And yes, the flagship two-series issue is kind of ridiculous. Too many players have multiple cards in the set to make it larger, with most if not all starters having base cards in both series, plus subset and insert cards. However, looking at both versions just a little bit more this year, I noticed that the second version cards focus more on the current season's accomplishments (at least, at the start of the season). I understand it a little more as a result.

    The fact that Calbee is still about a fun, attainable add-on for kids instead of a hobby-based "product" for adults really is a big selling point for me, and if money wasn't so scarce I'd certainly attempt to complete Calbee sets.

    Yes, that Cromartie card is awesome!

  3. Jason - I agree about the Stadium Clubs. I really liked their first 1991 set and the 1992 wasn`t too bad but the 93 set was a big let down. The only thing I really didn`t like about those early ones were the card backs, which had a bunch of useless stats and a picture of the guy`s rookie card for some reason. Totally true your point about Bazooka Joe and Cracker Jack too.

    Ryan - Very true. I agree that some of the BBM designs are actually not bad, I liked the look of this year`s first series base set.

    That is a good point about the team sets and team loyalty driving that, which is a good thing. I guess my problem is more related to the fact that they are releasing these sets for each team with completely different designs each year, meaning there are now hundreds of differently designed BBM sets, most of which only have 100 cards or so. I bought a 3500 card lot of random BBMs off of Yahoo Auctions a month ago and trying to sort through all those different designs was the biggest headache in my card collecting life!

    True too about the premium sets, which is why I don`t buy them (I`ve gotten all the ones I have in big lots mixed in with other cards).

    I don`t know about that second series thing including information about the current season. Calbee does that too with their third series set - just including the player`s stats for the first half of the year - and it has always kind of bothered me. Like if I pull out a 2006 Calbee card from the third series the only info I will get about him is his stats for the first half of 2006, which is pretty useless now. At least the oother cards have the full career stats line.

    Anyway - yeah, that Cromartie card is awesome!!

  4. I think it is amazing that the Japanese market can absorb multiple individual team sets for every team, every year. Each team has a pack-based set of 90-120 cards, and at least one small boxed set of 27-36 cards. That would be unheard of in the US where all the teams get individually are those blister pack team sets of 20 cards or so from Topps that retail for $10 (and are identical to the regular Topps base set in all but card numbering).

    I wish Lotte would issue some kind of yearly set for the KBO, even if it were just a food-based premium. They've issued sets in Japan before, but as far as I can find, they haven't done anything in Korea since an unusual set of Topps cards packaged with Lotte Choco Pies in 1980. Apparently they've never done an actual KBO set.

  5. Sean - yes, there are way too many designs because of the multiple team sets with unique designs, though that does make things more interesting for me. And thankfully BBM lists the set name on the back of every card, which really helps at card shows.

    Speaking of card shows, do you ever go to the small one in Nagoya? And what do you think of your local card shops? (I think this could be good blog post stuff for later, if you don't want to answer now...)

    Jason: not every team has its own boxed set, though I guess it averages out that way. The Hawks are getting two boxed sets because of their 25th Anniversary. And the Carp are getting a lot lately too.

    I too wish there were KBO releases. I didn't find anything at all (even the older releases, except for some extremely-overpriced phone cards) when I made a serious effort last year. I hope to return to Seoul next summer and I might have better luck.

  6. Jason - yeah, it is pretty amazing, especially considering the disparity in fan bases between some teams. The Giants and Tigers I can understand, but for teams like the Buffaloes and Baystars with much smaller fan bases they must not sell too many (though as Ryan mentions I guess the boxed sets are a bit limited). And yeah, it would be cool if Lotte released some food based KBO sets, I would definitely be interested in those.

    Ryan - its a fair point about the unique designs.

    I actually haven`t been to any of the shops or shows in Nagoya. I just moved here from Fukuoka about a year ago and haven`t had the time to check them out. I have been to shops in Fukuoka and the Kansai area, but these days I`m mostly getting my cards off of Yahoo Auctions (and buying bags of Calbee at lunch). I feel a bit guilty about not visiting the shops though, having worked at one myself back in the day I feel I should be supporting them. I will probably take some in at some point (and bring my camera along so I can do some posts on here about them).