Monday, February 24, 2014

The Real Mr. Baseball?

Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck has long been one of my favorite movies about both baseball and Japan.  I`m not sure why that is.  As a comedy, its only somewhat funny with most of the gags being pretty obvious and I don't think I ever laughed out loud at it.  As a sports drama its not quite up there with the classics in the genre.  Still though, this is one of my faves. 

I may be biased since it was filmed in Nagoya and I live there, but I think its mostly because its just an enjoyable movie that does a decent job of simplifying differences between Japanese and American cultures. That is a delicate thing to get right without being offensive or annoying.  I sometimes compare it with Selleck`s Magnum P.I.  I love the character of Magnum, but if you ever watch an episode when they have an `Asian` guest star then you are going to see an example of how awful it can be when they get that balance wrong.  Those episodes are cringe-inducingly awful.

Another good thing about the film is that it is mostly filmed on location.  They actually went to Dragons games and filmed the fans in the stands.  Hardly any of it was shot in a studio and so you get a pretty good look at 1992 Japan in the movie, which gives it a more authentic feel than others.

Anyway, I have a baseball card in my 1987 Calbee set that features a player named `Gary` (no other name given) who bears an uncanny resemblence to Selleck`s Jack Elliot character.  Almost every detail is right.  He is wearing a Chunichi Dragons hat which has the same design as the one they wore in the film (they have since changed the logo a few times).  He has dark hair and a Magnum moustache.  Even the look in his eyes says "Yup, my girlfriend is the daughter of the manager and we went through a rough patch after I found out but, you know, its all good now."

I have no idea who Gary was, or even what his full name is.  I wonder though if his stint with the Dragons was anything like Jack Elliot's.  Did he not want to be in Japan at first, but then have a change of heart?  Did he lay down the sac bunt for the team in a clutch situation even though his instinct told him to swing away?

These questions come to me as I look at this card.  Perhaps one day we will learn the truth of the real Mr. Baseball.

Friday, February 21, 2014

My 1987 Calbee Set and the Difficulty of Collecting Japanese Cards from the 80s

Behold my partially complete set of 1987 Calbees.  It is the crown jewel of my Japanese baseball card collection and the only vintage set that I am anywhere near close to actually finishing.

Close is I guess a relative term, I have about 3/4 of them so there are still plenty to go.   I keep track of them the old fashioned way, with a hand written paper checklist that I mark off with each one I get:

I started on this quest a couple years ago when I bought a starter set of 60 different cards.  Since then I have been painstakingly tracking them down one by one, which is the only way to find them.  I love doing this because I feel it is the closest you can get to a `pure` baseball card collecting challenge these days.  There aren`t any gimmicky rare insert cards to track down, it is all just about finishing the set.  They are hard enough to find that it poses a challenge - singles pop up every now and then, usually just a handful at a time, and I have to whip out my checklist and go through them to find ones I want.  At best I might luck into 3 or 4 that I need at a time.

Fortunately despite their rarity, the prices aren`t too steep.  I pay on average between 50 and 100 yen per card, a bit more than that for some of the short printed ones (the Japanese collector term for those is レアブロック - `rare block`). 

 The 1987 set is probably the ideal vintage set to try to collect.  Unlike some of the other pre-1990 sets it doesn`t have any near-impossible to find cards (the 1989 set in contrast is notorious for those). Also the player selection is pretty good.  If you have read Robert Whiting`s You Gotta Have Wa, he wrote that shortly after 1987 so a lot of the players mentioned are in it.  That includes some former MLB stars who only played in Japan for one season like Ben Oglivie (Kintetsu Buffaloes):

 And Bob Horner with the Yakult Swallows:
In terms of condition, 1980s Calbees are very hard to find in top shape.  My set has a fair number with corner wear and other blemishes.  As I`ve mentioned before, I`m pretty flexible about condition with older cards, I just try to avoid ones with heavy creases or names written on the backs of them (which a lot of Calbee cards from the 80s have).

There is a Japanese collector who is trying to finish all the Calbee sets from the `mini card` years that lasted throughout the 1980s, right up to the 1990 set, and kept an interesting blog about it.  I thought some of what he said was interesting enough to be given an English explanation, so I thought I`d mention a few of the highlights.

According to him, the easiest sets from those years to collect are, in order:

1990 Calbee - due to its small size, they only released 55 cards that year.

1986 Calbee - There are only 250 cards in total, which is a reasonably small number, and none of them  were short printed.  The Kiyohara rookie card and Ochiai cards sell for a bit, but otherwise there aren`t any particularly expensive cards in the set.

1987 Calbee - The cards between number 76 and 100 are short printed, but they aren`t too hard to find relative to short printed cards in other sets from the 80s.  There are some parrallel cards , but he doesn`t take those into account.

The above 3 sets are the ones that collectors have the most realistic shot at being able to complete.  He also mentions the 1981 set as being only somewhat harder, with more short printed cards (201 to 250, 401 to 450), but that they can still be found, while a couple of other series (1 to 50, 150 to 199) are a bit tough to find.

In contrast he puts the 1989 Calbee set as the hardest to complete. The gold border cards from 391 to 414 are incredibly hard to find, with some people expressing mixed opinion as to whether they were eveer actually available in packs at all, or just distributed as presents to people who contacted the company.

His blog has a few other interesting bits and pieces, I might introduce some more later.  Anyway, for now I am content to just focus on my 1987 set!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Blog....ON! 2014 Baseball Card Collecting Season has Begun

 The blog is back!  As always happens in about November I tend to put my baseball card collection to the side when the season ends and distract myself over the winter months with other pursuits.  This naturally spills over into blogging about baseball cards, hence the lack of recent posts.

In about February each year though I start to get a bit antsy about things.  Sometimes in Japan you get these days in February when the climate plays tricks on you - throwing you the odd sunny day with a daytime high of about 15 degrees.  Spring weather.  It throws my internal clock completely off and makes me think of springtime activities, which ever since childhood has meant baseball.

Being too old to play baseball anymore (except maybe in a beer softball league, but there aren`t any around here that I know of), that naturally leads me to the next best thing which is my baseball card collection.

This is all just a roundabout way of saying that I have officially kicked off my 2014 collecting campaign.

 This is several weeks early for the 2014 Calbee baseball cards, which I am eagerly awaiting the appearance of on my local convenience store shelves (or stores I should say, there are about 7 convenience stores within walking distance of my place.  As I am fond of saying, we live in a very convenient location).  So for now I am satisfied to dust off my sets from years past and see what I need.

I have never actually succesfully completed a Calbee set.  I think the only sets I have ever actually completed in my life were some Topps and Donruss sets from 1989 and 1990.  Except for those I have a ton of 90-95% complete sets that I could never be bothered finishing.

The closest I am to finishing a Calbee set would be the 2009 one, which is pictured at the top of this post.  I only need 22 more of the regular cards to complete it, plus about 30 of the subset cards and inserts.  I am going to make an honest try at finishing that this year.

This 600 card box here has all my other Calbee sets from 2008 - 2013 (minus the 2009 set).   If you can do the math you will realize that means I have just over 100 cards each from those years, well fewer than half of each set.  I will try to work on those too.

One thing that I hope to avoid this year is what happened to me last year when trying to piece together the 2013 set.  When series 1 came out all of the convenience stores in my area had bags of them.  Then when series 2 came out they had them for about 2 weeks and then - poof!  They vanished.  Not just from one convenience store but from every one of them.  Even the ones near my work, which had also carried the series 1 cards, stopped carrying them.  And series 3?  I never saw a bag of them in any of my convenience stores.  The only place that I could get them at was at the big Max Value supermarket, which I hardly ever go to.  As a consequence, while I put together a lot of my 2013 series 1 set bag by bag, I only got about 4 or 5 bags of Series 2 and a grand total of 1 bag of series 3.  Much to my shame, I had to turn to Yahoo Auctions to satisfy my need for those series, which to my mind constitutes a form of cheating (though I do it all the time).

 I don`t know if that was the same in other parts of Japan or only a Nagoya thing.  In general it seems like Series 1 Calbees are usually a lot easier to find than the higher series, which is an interesting echo of how things worked in North America back in the 50s and 60s when Topps would cut down the print runs with each series as the season wore on and interest waned.  I hope Calbee doesn`t do that this year, I really enjoy being able to buy a bag of baseball card ships whenever I want to, even in September or October!

Anyway, the 2014 collecting (and blogging) year has officially begun!!