Saturday, April 26, 2014

1963 Topps Blazer

I finally got it!  A 1963 Topps common!  Number 518 of the somewhat difficult semi-Hi numbers!

OK, Japanese baseball fans and nobody else will know that this is more than a mere 1963 Topps common but the card of a relatively important figure in foriegners-in-Japan baseball history.

Don Blasingame has the honor of being the only player to have an entire chapter of Robert Whiting`s classic You Gotta Have Wa devoted to him.  Wally Yonamine?  Randy Bass?  Warren Cromartie?  Reggie Smith? Nope.  They all got talked about, but didn`t get a chapter named after them.

Blasingame is most noted (in addition to having led NL second baseman in double plays in 1957 as the card back informs us) for having been one of the first (after Yonamine and Joe Lutz) Americans to manage a Japanese team.  In fact, he managed two of them - the Nankai Hawks and Hanshin Tigers.  Whiting in his book mostly talks about Blasingame`s days with Hanshin when he started Dave Hilton instead of fan favorite Akinobu Okada at the beginning of the season, which caused a huge furor for which he recieved numerous death threats and a ton of unwarranted criticism in the sports press. It eventually led to his being driven out of the Tigers.

In this 1963 Topps card though we see him when he was still relatively young and all that stress was years away.  In 1963 he was a major leaguer, married to a former Miss Missouri who was probably pretty hot (?) and living in Cincinnati, a city about which I know nothing other than it was the setting for the awesome WKRP in Cincinnati (which would have been on the air when he was in Japan but thats neither here nor there).

A 1963 Topps common to treasure.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gets: 1988 Calbee Bill Gullickson with a photo taken from a TV screen

 A few days ago NPB Guy and I were discussing the photography on 1988 Calbees and he noticed that according to the Japanese Wikipedia page for Calbee, in 1988 the company was pressed for time to get pics of some players in time for the set`s release.  So they hit on a great idea: just point a camera at the TV when a game was on you could get some awesome, completely out of focus, in action shots of the stars.

He did a post about it on his blog which inspired me to go on Yahoo Auctions and pick up one of the `TV photo` cards: Bill Gullickson. 

It arrived yesterday. There isn`t actually anything on the card which says they got the photo by pointing the camera at the TV, but it seems pretty certain, given how out of focus the photo is, that this is one of them.

I like the idea of collecting these TV-shot cards from the 1988 set as a sort of subset.  It will be interesting to try to figure out a complete list of the ones that are.  Some like Gullickson here are obvious given the fuzziness (NPB guy`s blog post has a few other dead giveaway ones), but others might be a bit harder to spot.

Gullickson is probably a good one to start on.  I hate the Giants, but he started his career with my beloved Montreal Expos and was a pretty solid pitcher during his MLB career, probably one of the most succesful of those who played in NPB. He, along with Cecil Fielder, are also among the few who had their best MLB seasons after playing in Japan rather than before, leading the AL in wins in 1991 (ironically playing on the same team as Fielder).

Monday, April 14, 2014

True Confessions: What the Kitchen Cupboards of Baseball Card Collectors in Japan Look Like

 Every spring my kitchen cupboards go through a ritual known colloquially as "the rite of having too many bags of chips in them." It is a time honored tradition followed by all baseball card collectors here, or at least those with wives nice enough to allow it (or short enough that they can't reach the top shelf in the cupboard anyway and decide to just let you have it).

 It is the cross that we all have to bear, for the mathematics just don't work in our favor.  By my rough calculations my personal demand for Calbee baseball cards is roughly 3 times greater than my personal demand for plain Calbee potato chips.  Therefore as the baseball season wears on my cupboard inevitably becomes more and more packed with bags of chips that have had their baseball cards carefully removed.
This is one of those shared experiences that is unique to Japanese baseball card collectors.  Back in the 80s/early 90s when I was a kid/teenager collecting MLB cards I would inevitably end up with excessive piles of pieces of Topps gum which were completely inedible.  Those were pretty easy to deal with though as they were conveniently designed in such a way that your trash can could hold an almost infinite number of them.

Donruss puzzle pieces and Fleer stickers were a bit trickier in the sense that they seemed like the kind of thing you should hold onto rather than throwing out, but once you had completed the puzzle or gotten all the stickers there wasn't much point in keeping the extras.  Since they were the same size as cards though you could pretty easily store hundreds of them at a time without taking up much space, so it was often a case of throwing them in a 400 card box and forgetting them.  When my parents moved about 4 years ago and asked me to get rid of some of my old junk in their basement among the stuff I threw out (recycled actually) were several boxes of donruss puzzles and fleer stickers that had sat there for 20 years.

Calbee chips though are a whole other ball game, so to speak.  They are way bigger than the cards and are actually an edible source of food which one shouldn't waste.  At the same time though, you can only really eat so many plain chips before you reach the point of being sick of them.

This is one area in which I wish Calbee would show a bit of initiative by taking the radical step of selling their cards with different flavors of chips.  I have no idea why they don't do this, other than the fact that they know collectors will buy the things anyway and plain chips are otherwise a slow seller.  Still though, I would like any Calbee officials who are reading this to go in the corner and consider giving the cupboards of Japanese baseball card collectors a break. We all live in tiny Japanese apartments with very limited space after all.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

I`m just so annoyed with myself right now

I bought a bag of Calbee Yakyu chips at a 7-11 to have after lunch today.  The chips were fine and I was really happy to find that both of the cards, a checklist featuring Kaneko and Morino`s regular card, were ones that I didn`t have yet.

As I was out at the time I had limited options for carrying the cards and just absent mindedly slid them into the breast pocket of the shirt I was wearing.

Fast forward to tonight and as I am retrieving a load of laundry from the machine out pop the two new additions to my 2014 Calbee first series set.  Or at least what was left of them.


Turns out the glossy fronts of Calbee cards are pretty sturdy and can actually survive going through a laundry machine.  The backs of the cards on the other hand were reduced to an annoying veneer of lint sticking to various articles of clothing.

Anyway, I have hastily re-added these two to my 2014 want list.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ugliest Baseball Card Photo Ever: 1988 Calbee #19 Big Egg

I picked up a few more 1980s Calbees on Yahoo Auctions this week.  In addition to scratching off five more cards from my 1987 want list, I also picked up card #19 from the 1988 set, which features the `Big Egg` or as it is more conventionally known, the Tokyo Dome.

I have to say that I hate domes.  And I think the reason I hate domes can be summed up very simply by the photo on this card.  It is quite possibly the most unappealing image of a baseball stadium ever taken.  Everything is grey.  The stadium is grey.  The big concrete retaining wall that thanks to the utter incompetence of the photographer takes up about 25% of the photo is grey.  The utility poles are grey.  The pedestrian walkway is grey.  The sky is grey (because the photo just HAD to be taken on that day, which didn`t happen to have a blue sky).  Even the lone tree in the photo, which has been painstakingly trimmed of all its leaves, is grey. 

It is hard for me to imagine a photographer doing a more effective job of making a stadium  look like  a thoroughly depressing, lifeless and horrible place.  It  almost makes me physically ill to look at this card, which is sort of why I bought it (I`m not working on the 1988 set at the moment so I didn`t really need it).  And remember: Calbee probably has some sort of editorial process in choosing the photos it puts on their cards, which means that this was actually the most appealing photo of that evil domed monstrosity that they had!

Nuf said.  That is one area (among many) where I have to give MLB a lot of credit.  Despite the horrendously corrupt fleecing of taxpayers that most stadiums in the US represent, they sure are nice places to actually watch a baseball game.  NPB is saddled with a ton of domes mostly built in the 1990s - just after most MLB teams wizened up to the lesson taught by Camden Yards which can simply be stated (by fans) as `We hate the domes.  Build nice outdoor stadiums and we will come.`

Monday, April 7, 2014

Collecting cards via Yahoo Auctions Japan: a Rough Guide

At the suggestion of Ryan, I thought I would do a little post about how to use Yahoo Auctions as a source of Japanese baseball cards. 

I should preface this with one unfortunate fact about Yahoo Auctions: if you don`t live in Japan it is almost impossible to use it.  Easily 99.9% of sellers don`t ship overseas or accept paypal, so it is more or less an in-Japan only thing unless you use a proxy.  A proxy is somebody in Japan who will bid on stuff for people overseas.  The downside of using them is that you have to pay them a fee and you also have to pay for shipping twice (once to get the goods to them, then again when they send it to you).  I don`t have any experience using them so I can`t offer any recommendations, but there are a lot of them out there if you do a Google search (people who collect video games and anime stuff use them all the time, so some of them have established track records).  A lot of people do use them though so if you find a bargain you might want to contact one of them.  The rest of this post is mostly directed to people who will use Yahoo Auctions in Japan, but there are a lot of tips for people outside who might use a proxy as well.

That out of the way, I can say that I have found Yahoo Auctions to be a great source for Japanese baseball cards and in fact probably 80% of the cards in my collection come from there.  The selection is much much larger than what you can find on Ebay or elsewhere and prices generally tend to be pretty reasonable.  So I thought I would explain some of the basics of using the site to find cards.

The first thing you will need is at least an intermediate level grasp of the Japanese written language. Unfortunately the website is Japanese only and when you are buying stuff there is a lot of key information you will need to check before entering a bid.  Also, once you have won something you will be sent messages by the seller.  These aren`t standard form messages like on Ebay, but are personal messages composed by the seller which often  contain specific instructions that they want you to follow.  You will need to be able to read these and, a bit more difficult, respond to them in Japanese.  You don`t need to be fluent in the language (I`m not), but you do need to be able to at least get by.  On the plus side while the language can be a barrier at first for those out there like me whose Japanese is a bit shaky, once you have gotten used to it and know what to look for it becomes a lot less intimidating.

Once you have accomplished that simple task (smile), membership is the next step.  You have two options.  One of these is free and the other (premium) costs 399 yen per month.  The free one allows you to bid on stuff up to a maximum of 5,000 yen and is pretty easy to set up.  The premium (which I have) allows you to bid on anything and also to sell stuff and will require a Japanese credit card.  Since the vast majority of baseball card stuff sells for under 5,000 yen you can probably get by with the free membership at least to start.  In fact I`ve never bought any baseball card stuff that cost more than that on Yahoo Auctions, but I do use the site for other stuff that sometimes does which is why I went for the premium membership.

Once you`ve gotten that taken care of, going to their baseball card category HERE is probably the best place to start. 

Starting from that page you have a few options if you want to search for something.  At the moment there are 73,000 items in the baseball card category, so you have a lot to choose from.  If you are looking for cards from a specific set you can narrow down the search by maker using the sub-categories on the left of the screen, which allow you to search for cards from Calbee, BBM or Upper Deck sets.  One of the inconvenient things of that route is that it won`t give you a list of actual items for sale until you have gone all the way to the lowest level of sub-category.  So if you click on カルビー for example it will then take you to a list of Calbee sets for each year.  When you click on a year - say for example 2004 - only then will you finally be given a list of items for sale.

The best deals on Yahoo Auctions are usually for bulk lots of cards rather than singles.  With singles the cost of shipping (usually 80 yen) can eat up a lot unless you are combining several at once, but for larger lots the shipping often works out to almost nothing per card.  The best way to find those lots are to go to the overall baseball card category I linked to above and enter the kanji 枚 which is a counter for flat objects in Japanese and is the equivalent of entering `lot` into an Ebay search.  This will give you several hundred lots to browse through, but it will include a lot of 2-3 card lots.  If you want to look for really large lots another useful search term is 大量 which means `large volume` and will usually turn up 50 or 60 results, most of which will be lots of 100s or 1000s of cards.  A third useful search term is セット which means `set`, but sometimes sellers will use it to mean a lot of cards rather than an actual complete set.

Once you have found an item you have to be careful to read all the information to make sure you are able to actually bid on it.  Like Ebay some listings are auctions that you bid on (入札はこちら), while others have Buy it Now options (今すぐ落札)  so be careful to distinguish these.  

The first thing you will want to check is the blue box on the upper right of the screen which has most of the pertinent information about the seller.  You can see his/her feedback (評価) and, more importantly, what methods of payment they accept (支払について).  There is no standard method of payment so you`ll want to make sure that you have the ability to actually send them money via whatever method they accept.  In my case I have a postal account (ゆうちょ) which probably 75% of sellers accept payment from.  Postal accounts are quite useful since they don`t charge any fees if you are sending money to another postal account (incidentally that is one of the reasons why Ebay never took off in Japan, nobody wants to use Paypal with its fees when they can just use the postal system for free).  Unfortunately not all sellers accept that though so I always have to double check before I enter a bid.  Another useful piece of information in this blue box is the seller`s prefecture, which may affect what shipping will cost.

If you scroll further down the screen there will be a large picture of the item and under that a message from the seller regarding the sale.  This part is also critical to read since there might be important information in it, but they vary widely depending on the seller.  Some will write almost nothing in there other than `baseball card, thank you for looking` while others will write detailed messages describing the item in detail, setting out conditions of the sale (no claim, no return is a common one) and providing a breakdown of the shipping options and costs.  Unfortunately some sellers refuse to deal with first time users and will usually state if they do here as well.

Once you have actually bought something you will usually receive a message from the seller within about 24 hours of the end of the auction via the site`s messaging system (取引ナビ).  Typically they will ask for a basic set of information (name, address, phone number, how you will pay, when you will pay, what shipping method you want).  When you send this to them they will usually reply with a total including shipping and their bank account information.  Once you have paid it is customary to send them a further message telling them you have done so.  And with that, your transaction is basically complete.  You can leave feedback for the seller once the item arrives.

That is about it, but I thought I should mention a few important other points when buying cards on Yahoo auctions:

1) Do NOT bid solely based on the picture.  You have to read the listing carefully.  For example, this listing HERE has a picture of what looks like a large lot of 1988 Calbees for a low starting bid, but what you are actually bidding on is the right to buy one card from that photo and not all the cards in it.The key phrase to look out for there is バラ売り (sold seperately).

2) Beware of prices that are too good to be true.  There are some shady dealers out there just like Ebay.  For example THIS GUY has a bunch of nice Calbee singles for the incredible Buy it Now price of only 1 yen!  But if you read the fine print this scumbag (and I don`t use that term lightly) has a bunch of hidden fees (a 200 yen packaging fee, plus an inflated 160 yen for shipping and he DOES NOT combine shipping), so that 1 yen card would actually cost you 361 yen.  This is why checking the feedback is important, this guy has a ton of negatives but his auctions always appear at the top of the list if you look for stuff in the cheapest-most expensive order.

3) It is important to heed the above 2 pieces of advice because unlike Ebay, Yahoo Auctions offers absolutely no dispute resolution mechanism or buyer protection.  If you get screwed over by a seller you are basically out of luck (the Yahoo Auctions rules specifically says `its not our problem`).  You are left to either plea with the seller or leave negative feedback and with a dishonest seller neither of these are useful. 

That said, I have completed about 250 purchases on Yahoo Auctions and only had 2 of them go bad.  They were both, however, extremely aggravating experiences.  In one of them the seller sent my card to the wrong address (his fault) and then made me pay his shipping expenses the second time to correct his mistake.  Since it was either that or lose the item completely I had little choice but to comply. The second time was more aggravating as the seller sold me a product that arrived broken (it was a piece of electronics rather than baseball cards that time) and refused to give me a refund.  When I left him negative feedback he retaliated and left me a scathing bad feedback which included a racist anti-foreigner comment.  Whereas Ebay prevents sellers from retaliating like that Yahoo Auctions doesn`t.

4)  A couple of honest sellers that I have had good transactions with are these guys:


There are a lot more out there but those are a couple I have dealt with recently, I might add to that list.

5) On the positive side one thing I really like about Yahoo Auctions is that probably more than 90% of sellers charge you the exact amount that shipping actually costs and not a yen more.  Ebay is well known for the inflated shipping costs many sellers charge, a practice more or less forced on them by the fees they get charged by ebay and paypal.  The fees for sellers to use Yahoo Auctions are much lower and the transfer fees for postal accounts are zero, so the costs of stuff is relatively much lower than similar items on Ebay are.

That is about all I can think of.  I hope this information might be useful to some of you, I can probably answer questions in the comments.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Finally! My first bag of 2014 Calbees at lunch in the office

 It has been more than a week since Calbee officially released its 2014 set.  And we are already several days into the 2014 regular season.  Until today, however, I have been completely unsuccessful in my efforts to obtain an actual bag of 2014 Calbee Yakyuu chips.

I have looked long and hard.  Pretty much every conbini or grocery store I have passed by (and there have been a lot) I have gone in and taken a look through their snack sections.  Every time it was the same: a bunch of bags of non-baseball-card-having chips. 

Just when I was about to give up hope of ever getting a bag, however, today it started raining.  This forced me to abandon my plans to have Chinese (long walk) and get lunch at the last place I would have thought to look for yakyuu chips: a university Co-op store. 

The second I wandered in I did a double take: they had a rack full of 2014 yakyuu chips right there near the front entrance!  I was so excited I almost forgot to buy my lunch.

Anyway, I bought the bag and went back to my office for lunch, which I am currently eating while writing this post.  The sandwich I bought sucks, but the yakyuu chips are great.  As has been usual in recent years, the 2014 Calbees come with 2 cards per bag:

Opening them up I am pleased to see that I got Yuya Hasegawa, who had a big breakout year for Fukuoka last year, winning the batting title and coming a hair shy of reaching the 200 hit mark:

The design of the cards on the front is basically identical to last year`s.  The backs are slightly different from 2013, but I think they basically recycle the back design from another recent set that I can`t recall off the top of my head.  Maybe 2012 or 2010?  I know I have seen this type of card back before.

Anyway, I`m glad that my 2014 Calbee set has finally begun.  I`ll see how far I get with the first series.  Unfortunately the bags are a bit more expensive this year - 98 yen.  The consumption tax just went up 3% on Monday, which probably contributed to that, so it might cost me a bit more than last year (which as usual I came nowhere near finishing)!