Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Matty Alou Calbee Card

Matty Alou is arguably one of the best foreign players to ever come to Japan, though for some reason he isn`t often mentioned in most lists of the greats of his generation to make the trip like Frank Howard, Clete Boyer or Willie Davis.  He had a long and successful MLB career that included an NL batting crown, a couple of all star selections and the fame that went along with being a member of arguably the most talented baseball family in history.

He played for three years with Taiheiyo in the mid 70s at the tail end of his career, and he appears in the monster 1975-76 Calbee set.  I finally picked up one of his cards from that set, #542, which features him batting against a Hankyu pitcher named Ashikaga on April 28, 1976 in Nishinomiya Stadium (the runner on second is Masahiro Doi, who appears on another card from that set which I have written about before). 

Frustratingly the back of the card, while telling us that Taiheiyo won a come from behind victory, doesn`t actually tell us what the outcome of this at bat was, though it might be inferred that Alou drove the runner in.  Its kind of a cool in-game picture, with the funky Taiheiyo uniforms and Nishinomiya Stadium looking characteristically under-packed - you can count exactly 3 people sitting in the stands in right field.  The all dirt infield looks cool, I wish more stadiums today had them.





Monday, October 3, 2016

1950s Baseball Menko are Neat

 I noticed the other day that I have been blogging about Japanese baseball cards for 3 years now without once having done a post about the most charming type of Japanese baseball cards: menko.  So I thought this would be a good time to remedy that oversight.

I love vintage menko, they are so colorful and child-like it is hard not to be charmed by them.  They are also one of those things that clearly distinguish the history of Japanese baseball cards from that of cards in the United States where no similar item ever existed. 

While most of them are rectangular and look a bit like baseball cards, some are given unique shapes (especially the beautiful early sumo cards). 

This particular set is the favorite of my current collection.  It dates from the 1950s and features likenesses of some of the top players of the era (from top left: Betto, Sugiura, Noguchi, Aoda, Beshho, Kawakami, Uchihori, Doi, Chiba and Yamamoto). 
The artwork is extremely crude but in a really appealing way - the players are easily recognizable and their uniforms are so colorful - look at Kaoru Betto`s Tigers uniform and tell me you don`t think those stripes are awesome!





Tuesday, September 27, 2016

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers Good Will Tour of Japan Schedule

 This is my third post in a row covering a piece of memorabilia from a US team`s goodwill tour of Japan. You can probably tell from that how I have been focusing my recent shopping/collecting activity!

I hadn`t been aware of it until I found this, but in October and November of1956 the Brooklyn Dodgers made a goodwill tour to Japan in which they played 11 games against four different teams (the Giants, an "All Japan" team, a Central League team (I assume this was an all star squad), and an "All Kanto" team).  This is a schedule featuring team rosters from that tour.

According to this detailed write up on Walter O`Malley`s (spits on ground in disgust at mention of name) website about the tour, the Dodgers were invited by Yomiuri owner Matsutaro Shoriki and O`Malley (spits on ground again) accepted.  They played to huge crowds everywhere they went and the same site has some cool photos of the tour (I like this one, I think that is Carl Furillo in the foreground and you can see Jackie Robinson next to the photographer, check out the rest at their site, which also has some amazing looking posters from the tour that probably sell for a billion dollars these days):
My schedule/ roster doesn`t have any interesting artwork on it, but it does have the 1956 Dodgers` roster with each player`s name written in katakana, which is pretty cool.  Most of the big names like Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges made the trip.  A young Don Drysdale, who I guess would have been in his rookie season that year also appeared, though the Dodgers other future ace Sandy Koufax doesn`t seem to have tagged along.  If I recall correctly I think he was a university student at Columbia at the time when he wasn`t pitching and maybe he didn`t want to miss class or something.


The other four team`s lineups are also included:



 And in the centre is the schedule.  They opened against the Giants on October 19 at Korakuen, and closed it up on November 11 against the All Japan team, also at Korakuen.
Anyway, this is a kind of cool thing to stumble upon so I`m glad to add it to the collection :)






Sunday, September 25, 2016

1934 Yomiuri Shinbun American All Star Tour of Japan Photo Insert

 Recently I have been getting into the vintage stuff a lot and last week I picked up a really cool centerpiece for my pre-war collection.  It is a 1934 newspaper bonus insert featuring a picture of the members of the American and Japanese teams that played in the American League all star tour of Japan that year.

It is so awesome.

Its a pretty good sized picture, about the size of a B4 sheet of paper, and printed on cardstock.  According to the text along the bottom edge it was taken at Jingu Stadium on November 25, 1934.  It was distributed by the Yomiuri Shinbun, the paper that organized the tour and shortly shortly thereafter would form the first NPB team, the Giants.



  The American team is full of big name Hall of Famers, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx and Connie Mack. 



The photo features facsimile autographs of each player.  Interestingly there is currently an auction for the same photo up on Yahoo Auctions here which rather dishonestly suggests that the autographs are real, but they are clearly not.  Bidding on that one is up over 54,000 Yen as I write this (about $500 US) with 4 days remaining, whoever wins it will likely be disappointed when they actually have it in their hands. As I have mentioned before, Yahoo Auctions Japan is a bit of a haven for rip off artists selling fake autographs, though at least in this case the photo itself appears to be genuine.  Its an amazing piece and definitely worth something, but nowhere near as much as a photo actually signed by all those guys (one copy, which formed the basis for this photo, must exist somewhere out there assuming it wasn`t burned in the war....wow, what a find that would be).

Anyway, back to the photo.  Moe Berg`s signature stands out among the Americans since he signed his in English and Japanese katakana, which is kind of neat.  Despite being a relatively minor player, his exploits on the tour are best known since he engaged in some spying for the US government while there, taking some photos that would be useful during the War a few years later.



At some point I`ll try to make a list of the Japanese players.  Unfortunately their signatures are pretty difficult to read so I am having trouble identifying the individuals based on that alone.

I should add that this doesn`t seem to have been a stand-alone insert.  I actually bought it as part of a 3 piece collection of Yomiuri Shinbun inserts. One of these features the cabinet of then Prime Minister of Japan Keisuke Okada.  Okada is a really interesting figure in pre-war Japan and his inclusion in a set with the American all stars is kind of fitting.  He was staunchly opposed to any war with the United States and the rising militarism of Japan at the time.  He was the subject of numerous assassination attempts as a result, one of which killed his brother in law and led to his resigning from office in 1936.  He retained this position even after the war began and was part of the faction that wanted to negotiate peace with the US.

The other photo is a bit less fitting, featuring military leaders some of whom probably led the fight against the Americans during the war!




I`m probably going to have the baseball photo framed at some point, its size makes it perfect for a display piece.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Lefty O`Doul and the 1949 San Francisco Seals Good Will Tour of Japan

 I made another interesting find on Yahoo Auctions the other day.  It is  an uncut sheet of playing cards featuring players from the 1949 Goodwill tour of Japan by the San Francisco Seals.

The tour was led by Lefty O`Doul, who had also organized the more famous pre-war tours by American all stars like Gehrig and Ruth in the 1930s.  The 1949 tour is considered quite important in Japan though since it was the first such tour after the war and in fact occurred while General MacArthur was still in charge of the country.

The Seals played 11 games, including exhibition games, during the tour against a variety of teams including the Giants, an all star team from pro yakyuu, American military teams and college all star teams, winning all but one game.  The games were played in Tokyo, Nagoya and the Kansai region in Korakuen stadium (Tokyo), Koshien Stadium (Kansai), Jingu Stadium (Tokyo), Chunichi Stadium (Nagoya) and Nishinomiya Stadium (Kansai). The cards in this set feature players from the Seals and the Giants, who played only one game against each other during the tour (on October 15, 1949, won by the Seals 13-4).

Each player has two cards, one featuring a fairly crude likeness of the player and the other some random close up of the player`s uniform, glove, bat, throwing arm, etc.  Below are the two cards of each team`s manager, Osamu Mihara of the Giants (upper row, two cards with yellow background) and O`Doul (next to Mihara, two cards with blue background). 

Another interesting fact about the above image is the card on the lower left, featuring the scoreboard.  The inning numbers don`t make any sense, they run 7-7-8-9-6-1.  I can`t figure out any interpretation of that order which makes sense, I assume the person who did the artwork probably wasn`t a baseball fan.  Also the Seals` pitcher Dempsey, featured on the cards immediately below O`Doul, is rendered as having a fairly hideous looking 3 fingered set of claws for a pitching hand. 

Its hard to find lineup information for these games on the internet (at least from my 15 minutes of Googling, which turned up lots of generic articles about the series but none that offered any details).  The Japanese Wikipedia page does offer some more information though, so I thought I`d try to translate the lineup of each team featured just so that it would exist in English on the internet somewhere (my transcription of the Seals player names is probably wrong in a few places, its hard to convert katakana accurately back into the original language. If anyone can, please correct these. The Japanese player names I am confident in).

Seals:
1. Tobin
2. Holder
3. Briskey
4. Steinhower
5. Shoffner
6. Roddijohnny (definitely I am getting that name wrong)
 (pinch hitter: O`Doul, replaced at second by Morin)
7. Westlake
8. Jarvis
9.Dempsey
(pinch hitter:O`Teague, replaced as pitcher by Wall)

Giants:
1. Chiba
2. Shiraishi
3. Aoda
4. Kawakami
5. Hirayama
6. Akihara
(pinch hitter: Yamakawa, replaced in right field by Komatsubara)
7. Tetsuka
8. Fujiwara
(pinch hitter: Nagashima, replaced at catcher by Takemiya
9. Kawasaki
(pinch hitter: Bessho, replaced as pitcher by Fujimoto)

Dempsey got the win for the Seals, while Kawasaki took the loss for the Giants.  Westlake and Bessho each connected for a home run.  The game was played in front of a crowd of 45,000 at Korakuen Stadium. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sadaharu Oh 700 Home Run Subset

One of the cooler subsets from the 1975-76 Calbee set is the Sadharu Oh 700th home run cards.  Each card commemorates one of his home runs in the lead up to hitting #700, a feat he accomplished in 1976.  I have several of the cards from this subset, but they don`t appear to be sequentially numbered as some fall in the 700s, 800s and 900s. 

The series culminates with the above card, #927 in the set which commemorates home run #700, the back noting that he joins Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron as the only two in the 700 club.  Its a kind of cool scene, Oh getting interviewed while holding the typical bouquet of flowers.

These are a few of the other 700 Home Run cards of Oh.  I particularly like the one on the lower right, with him swinging away with all his might, eyes closed (card #800 in the set).  It is from a 2 home run game in which he hit his 12th and 13th of the season against Taiyo on May 22, 1976.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Mystery wrapped in a riddle: How is this card supposed to have been centred?


Another week, another 1970s Calbee pickup, in this case card #17 from the 1977 set (famous scenes series).  It features members of the Yomiuri Giants taken on October 16 at Korakuen Stadium singing a "song of victory" after going from worst to first under Shigeo Nagashima`s management.

The card carries a huge mystery to it which I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around. It seems to have been miscut on both the top and bottom, yet on both sides the nature of the miscut precludes the possibility of the other side`s miscut.

Look at the top of the card.  The heads of Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto are cut off from above the eyebrows.  It seems the card should end a bit higher than that, so at least you get the entire faces of the two main players in the centre, right?

But then look at the bottom of the card. The lower, smaller bottom line of text says "巨人V1” but it has clearly been cut in half, with the lower part of the text completely off the card.

The miscut on the top suggests the card was cut too low, while the miscut on the bottom suggests it was cut too high.  Under the laws of physics currently in force in the known universe it is not possible for these to both be simultaneously correct, yet they both exist.  What gives?

In case you are wondering, the card has not been trimmed at all, it is identical in size to a standard card from that set.  I can`t make heads or tails of this.  The only explanation I can come up with is that the image on the card itself was somehow accidentally printed at 1.1 or 1.2 times magnification, making it too big to fit on the card.  But I`ve never seen a card with that before.

Kind of a mystery, I almost feel like I am looking at an MC Escher painting or something.  Anyone else come across similarly weird card cuts?

UPDATE:
Raz in the comments made a pretty good find, locating the above image which seems to show how the card was intended to look when correctly centred.

This just really opens up a whole new can of "what?" worms.  Calbee actually intended this card to have Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto`s faces cut clean out of the photo?  In order to provide more room on the bottom for that lovely image of....the backs of photographers?

I`m guessing there were a few quality control issues related to how images were centred on printing plates with Calbee cards in the 70s, there are a couple of other cards I have with questionably centred images.  On most it isn`t noticeable since moving the centre of the image a bit only crops out a bit of random background, but on cards where some key element (like say the faces of the NPB all time home run king and hit king) is close to the edge, errors like this become really hard to miss.




Monday, August 29, 2016

Busting Japan Post Smart Letter Packs: Better than Busting Wax

For the past couple of years I have minimized my purchases of bags of Calbee chip bags to just a few per series.  This is partly because of a desire to avoid eating potato chips (screw you, salt) and also because of the impracticality of putting together Calbee sets one bag at a time.  I tried that once in 2011 and ended up with less than half a set and so many bags of chips that I didn`t know what to do with them (and it cost quite a bit too).

So these days I try to put my sets together via the purchase of large lots of singles off of Yahoo Auctions, which seem to be getting easier to find (at least for recent stuff).  I like it because getting one of the lots in the mail in a Japan Post Smart Letter Pack is sort of like getting a huge wax pack to open. I picked up one 72 card lot of 2016 Series 1 cards which arrived in the mail yesterday and just cracked it open:
The seller used part of the cardboard box that the bags originally came in as packing material, which is kind of a neat touch (actually the box is from series 2, so maybe the same seller will have some of those soon....):
And the cards are all nicely stored, the seller even inserted them individually into their own flimsies (not necessary but still a nice touch):
Voila.  72 different cards including some from the base set, Title Holders subset and Star Cards subset.  Best of all: no doubles!
With current Calbee cards I like those featuring Hiroshima, Hanshin, Yakult, Rakuten, Lotte and Yokohama the best.  Photos of the players are almost all (in fact, maybe all) taken at their home stadiums (kudos) and those are the teams that don`t play in domes, so the photos don`t have that ugly flourescent sheen/fake grass backdrop like ones of Dragons, Giants, Hawks and other Dome teams do.
I have to admit to still not understanding how the business models of sellers who put these lots up on Yahoo Auctions works.  I paid only 300 Yen for the lot (not including shipping), which works out to less than 5 Yen per card.  Purchased retail at 98 Yen per bag with 2 cards would work out to more than 10 times that much. 

Obviously if you buy bags wholesale in quantity you would pay a lot less, but it would still work out to way more than 5 Yen per card.  The seller seems to make it up by selling the insert and parrallel cards (gold signature  and Wins Leaders) at a premium, but even those don`t seem to sell for too high (250-600 Yen each on the same seller`s listings).  Given the amount of work that would go into it I can`t imagine it being a particularly profitable venture, but I do thank them for making these things available to me!  I am not quite close to finishing the Series 1 base set this year.




Thursday, August 25, 2016

Yahoo Auction Scams: Watch out for "sign1114306"

 
If you have ever looked for Japanese baseball player autographs on Yahoo Auctions you may have run into one prominent seller, sign1114306, who literally has thousands of signed cards up for auction at any given moment.

I`m going to recommend that you don`t buy from him.  At all. Unless you really like fake autographs, in which case bid away.

A lot of his autographed cards are sold in lots of 9 based on team (ie 9 autographed cards of Tigers players in one lot, etc). In the description of each lot he makes clear that he is only the consignor, the cards themselves were collected by an acquaintance who got the signatures from various sources including trips to ballparks and auction purchases.

The lots start with a starting bid of 3000 Yen.  If they don`t sell he relists them at a reduced price and keeps cutting the prices until they get down to ridiculous levels - 300 Yen per 9 card lot seems to be the minimum.

A few years ago when I was new to buying cards off of Yahoo Auctions one of his auctions popped up in a search I did and I was intrigued. It was a bunch of Tigers player autographs, including a signed card of Randy Bass. He has really good feedback on Yahoo Auction, 99.9% positive on (at the time of writing) over 38,000 transactions (only 9 of which were negative and only one of those raised any issue with regard to the authenticity of the autographs).  The price was cheap so I thought "why not?" and bid. And won.

My suspicions were aroused not by the cards themselves (I am not an autograph expert and they looked plausibly genuine) but by the sheer unlikelihood of one person being able to amass so many signatures - literally thousands and thousands of them in a never-ending stream of new listings - and sell them for so little. 

Suspicion turned to certainty when I noticed the impossibility of some of the signatures.  In mid 2013 he put up one lot of Hankyu Braves players that included a 2013 BBM Foreign legends card of Brad "Animal" Lesley.  Animal passed away shortly after that card was released and had been living in a nursing home receiving treatment for the kidney ailment that (sadly) claimed his life for the entire time that card had been in existence. The likelihood of someone in Japan having taken that card, travelled all the way to the US, somehow getting access to the dying Animal Lesley and asking him to sign it, then returning to Japan and throwing into a random lot to be auctioned off for a few hundred yen was about zero.

Looking around the internet at the time, I discovered a massive thread (in Japanese) on 2 Channel devoted specifically to this guy. Its been up there for over 5 years now, has hundreds of replies and the bottom line is that this guy is well known as a faker (and has been for a long time).

The weird thing is, this guy has been running this blatantly obvious scam in the same way under the same account and with everyone being aware of it for years now, but Yahoo Auctions continues to blithely turn a blind eye to it.  After buying my cards and realizing I had been scammed (but only out of a few hundred yen) I just thought "lesson learned" and assumed he would be banned or arrested (the messages on 2 Channel indicate complaints have been raised).  So I was surprised to notice today, a couple of years after the last time I looked him up, that he is still in business with the exact same con running.

Yahoo Auctions is a pretty good place for some cards, but it is also well known to have a much weaker system of fraud prevention, weaker buyer protection, a weaker feedback system and weaker means of weeding out criminal activity than Ebay. So its worth bearing in mind that at least for player autographs it is rip-off city on that platform and buyer beware.






Sunday, August 21, 2016

1991 Calbee: What is up with the lousy photography?


I just picked up a small lot of 1991 Calbee cards off of Yahoo Auctions.  The set is mainly known for the Hideo Nomo rookie cards in it, which this lot did not contain (though I already have 3 out of 4 of them).

I bought this lot mainly because it was too cheap to pass up and not because I particularly wanted it. To be honest the 1991 Calbee set is probably the only set that Calbee has ever produced which I dislike to the point that I actually prefer the BBM set from the same year.

The main problem is the photography.  As I have stated in a lot of posts here, one of the main attractions of Calbee cards is the wonderful in-game photography that they capture.  That is particularly evident in the amazing sets of the 1970s with the slightly bigger card sizes that really complimented the images.  The mini card era of the 1980s also contained a lot of really high quality photography (the 1988 TV screen grab card fiasco aside). 

In 1991 though something at Calbee went wrong - the photography in this set absolutely sucks.  Look at the above cards (half of the cards in the lot I bought) - its dreadful. Uninspired close-ups, sometimes of players without their hats on and usually against the backdrop of a green wall. Ugh.  Most of the photos in the set seem to have been taken during warm-up sessions at spring training facilities rather than in-game at regular ballparks. While some other sets had the occasional boring photos, these were generally the exceptions rather than the rule.  In 1991 Calbee flipped that on its head - there are almost no exciting action photos anywhere to be found.

The odd thing is that 1991 seems to be the only year where Calbee photography was this bad.  The 1990 set has tons of action photos taken during games.  Same with the 1992 set.

1991 was a kind of transitional year for Calbee, having just moved to the bigger card format in 1990 and facing competition from BBM, but in some ways that makes the poor photography even harder to understand (competition usually encouraging you to step up your game rather than the opposite).  I wonder what happened.  Maybe they moved the release schedule up and had to get the photos really fast, sacrificing quality for speed?  Maybe they cut the budget for photographers in a cost saving move?  I`m not sure what the explanation is but the result is basically the most unattractive set Calbee has ever produced.  Since I`m a Calbee collector I will begrudgingly buy these things when they come along cheap, but I`m nowhere near as enthusiastic about it as I am for their other sets.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Baseball Card Market`s Demographic Problem


One of the sometimes-acknowledged but usually put-putted issues facing the American baseball card hobby is its demographic problem.  This is often approached as a problem of there not being enough young people entering the hobby, but it can also be viewed from the opposite perspective: there are an awful lot of old collectors around.

I was thinking the other day that this is probably going to be the thing that results in the next baseball card market crash.  The baby boomers are the generation of collectors that really started the modern hobby - revisiting nostalgic childhood memories from the 1950s when they reached adulthood in the 1980s.  Its probably no coincidence that the baby-boomers hitting their peak earning years coincided almost exactly with the explosion of vintage card prices in the period from 1985-1992 (there is a pretty good analysis of that here).

Its also probable that the vast majority of baseball card wealth (big vintage collections worth lots of $$$) is currently in the hands of baby boom collectors.  The subsequent generations (Gen Xers and Millenials) generally came along after the market had exploded and thus had limited means of entering - partly because the prices had risen so high on the back of boomers hoovering up the stock, and also because of the general erosion of middle class incomes that limited their disposable income.  With Millenials in particular you also have the fact that collecting baseball cards in general is an activity that they found less appealing in their childhood.

The "problem" (if you want to view it as such) is that the boomer generation is going to be hitting its natural life expectancy within the next 10-20 years, which means that ownership of huge volumes of vintage baseball cards are going to be transferred into estates whose beneficiaries are largely going to be made up of Gen Xers and millenials.  While some of those people may be collectors themselves who decide to keep them, I think it is safe to say that a large majority of them will be entering the market since most people don`t share the same interests as their parents and, even among those who do, sitting on piles of cards worth thousands of dollars may not make financial sense.

So we have a situation now where the market is set to be flooded with vintage cards within a relatively short time frame, and with the people who until now had been most likely to buy them (baby boomers) no longer around to keep demand up. Its hard to come up with any scenario in which prices for most vintage cards do not collapse when this happens.

Since baseball card collecting is a relatively "young" hobby, it has no experience with this (its founding generation dying off), so its hard to predict exactly how it will play out.  The dynamics of a market crash based on a big demographic shift like this are likely to be way different from those associated with the previous market crash of the 1990s (caused by a lot of things but mostly over-production by card-makers). If you look at older collecting hobbies like stamps though it looks pretty simple - the stock in online auctions and brick and mortar stores is almost entirely made up of estate sales (very easily identified since they are often sold as such).  A collecting hobby where the market is dominated by mass dumping of lovingly built up collections of old and hard to find pieces is way different than a hobby in which the market is dominated by intra collector sales and trading (of course estate sales are also a source of cards even now, but on nowhere near the same scale as in the stamp collecting hobby).  Prices for everything outside of the very elite stamps have collapsed (in fact several times over the stamp collecting industry`s long lifetime), including on a lot of stuff that was once considered high end.  Probably something similar will happen with baseball cards. 

When the baseball card world enters that phase when the market is little more than an estate-sale dumping ground (and I don`t see any way of avoiding it), prices will be affected accordingly.  My general predictions are:

Pre-war cards (tobacco, Goudeys, etc): Prices on this stuff might actually be relatively unchanged since supply is so low and there is probably enough latent demand for it among the "elite" collectors with cash to burn.

Modern stuff (post 1980): Most of this stuff is worth so little now that prices probably won`t change much.  The contrived scarcities of some parrallels, etc follow a different market logic than vintage stuff, so I`m not sure how they will be affected (long term I view them as having a value of zero, but I don`t think they will realize that price collapse because of the baby boomers leaving the hobby).

Post-war vintage (1948-1979):  This is where I think most of the collapse in prices will happen, particularly for sets in the latter years of this era.  Partly this is because these are the cards that boomers themselves prized the most - the prices they command is partly a result of the boomer nostalgia factor, which will become irrelevant in the future.  Partly its also question of numbers: this stuff is way less common that post 1980 modern stuff, but there is still a lot of it out there as any random Ebay search (or of PSA population reports) will reveal.  Stuff from the late 40s/early 50s might not be too badly hit since there are fewer of them out there, but for sets from the 60s and 70s where there are probably 10-20 thousand copies of most cards still in existence (except for some high number series) the prices will probably drop pretty far. How far I`m not sure, its equally possible they might drop only 10-20% or that they really collapse by 90% (or that different cards fall at different rates).  It depends a lot on how many new collectors come along to stimulate demand (once prices fall and the hobby becomes more affordable it might become easier to entice people into it, which will stabilize prices at some point).

An interesting side question is whether the passing of the boomer generation might resolve some of the odd relative price discrepancies that exist in post-war cards.  The comparative value of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays cards is usually held up as example #1 in this regard - by most measures Mays was the superior player (perhaps the best of all time) but Mantle`s cards are always valued several times higher.  This price differentiation is based solely on the fact that baby boomer kids in the 1950s and 60s were much more likely to be Mantle rather than Mays fans.  For post-boomer collectors this factor is probably way less important - personally as someone who grew up after both players retired I find myself much more interested in Mays cards than Mantle ones.  My prediction is that most post-war vintage cards will go down in value, but I`m thinking Mantle cards in particular will see their values level off at a greater rate than other stars from the era.  The 1952 Topps Mantle might be an exception since the market for that one follows a totally seperate logic than that for any other post-war card.  But I don`t see a more run of the mill Mantle card like his 1966 Topps one continuing to command 3-4 times what 1966 Topps cards of similar or even superior stars from the era (Mays, Aaron, Clemente, etc) go for.

I guess this story can be interpreted in two ways.  If you want to build up a big collection of post-war vintage cards then just wait - they`ll probably be a lot cheaper in a few years than they are now.  Conversely if you have a big collection of post-war vintage cards, now might be a good time to sell - its hard to see how prices on those will go anywhere but down. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Interesting 1970s Japanese Baseball Stuff: Backwards Pink Uniforms


One of the things I find particularly interesting about Calbee sets from the 1970s are cards of the Lions.  The Lions today play in Saitama and are owned by Seibu, but back then they played in Fukuoka and had several owners (Nishitetsu, Taiheiyo and Crown Lighter).

What interests me most about them though is that they went through an experimental period in which their uniforms were designed backwards - with the front of the jersey looking like the back and vice versa.  One of the cards that best presents this unique style is #911 from the 1975-76 set.  Its from the 1976 All Star game series and features Lions outfielder Masahiro Doi rounding the bases. 

The front of his jersey has that big 3 in the middle and looks exactly like the backs of most conventional jerseys (and the backs of Lions jerseys feature the team name or sometimes "Fukuoka" like the fronts of most look like).  At the time the Lions were officially the Taiheiyo Club Lions.

I`m not sure why the Lions experimented with this interesting design - it didn`t catch on (no other contemporary team had their jerseys like that) and the Lions abandoned it not long after this card was made. The Lions weren`t a particularly popular team in the 1970s and this may have been an attempt to spur some interest in the team by giving them a radically different look from others.  Sadly it didn`t work and the team relocated from Fukuoka to Saitama in 1979.  A friend of mine who was a kid in Fukuoka in the 1970s has regaled me with stories of how devastated he was when they moved. Being a Montreal Expos fan I was able to relate.

Another appealing point is that in addition to the backwards look, the pink color of the uniforms also really stands out - not many baseball teams have gone that route and it makes Lions cards really noticeable when you are flipping through a stack of 1970s Calbee cards. 


Wednesday, August 3, 2016

1977 Topps O-Pee-Chee Steve Rogers Moustache Variation


Fellow Japanese baseball card collector Jay and I just completed a trade, I sent him some of my Calbee doubles and he sent me a mixed lot of cards, mostly Expos cards from the 1970s that he was kind enough to hunt down for me (I remain a huge Expos fan despite their no longer existing). Most of them were Topps cards but there were also a few O-Pee-Chee ones.

Among the cards he sent me were the above two 1977 cards of Steve Rogers, one Topps and the other O-Pee-Chee.  O-Pee-Chee cards in the 70s and 80s were released a bit later than the Topps set so they would sometimes catch off-season trades that the Topps sets missed out on.  On occasion this would mean a picture of the player in his new uniform, but more often than not it involved just putting a little "Now with Dodgers" notation on the front of the card.

Anyway, the 1977 Steve Rogers O-Pee-Chee card I discovered was able to capture the most awesome off season change in the player: a new moustache!  The Topps card (on the right) shows him clean shaven as he had appeared in 1976, but the O-Pee-Chee card on the left shows the new look Steve Rogers avec moustache that would appear on all post-1977 O-Pee-Chee cards of him.  

It makes me very proud as a Canadian to know that our baseball card sets were on the cutting edge of moustache related developments in the 1970s.  I`m curious if they were ahead of the curve on other well known changes in that field (like Rollie Fingers and his A`s team-mates) from that era. 

(Edited to note: I just checked and sadly the O-Pee-Chee cards of Rollie Fingers during his 1972-1973 Moustache transition era use the same photos as the Topps cards).






Thursday, July 28, 2016

1990 Calbee Warren Cromartie


As I mentioned a few months ago, the first series of 1990 Calbee cards are the first (and thus far only) of the vintage Calbee series that I have completed.  Though its still a bit hard to track down singles, the 1990 first series is the easiest of the Calbee mini-era sets to complete owing to the extremely small number of cards in it (55, though if you are going for the entire 1990 set there are actually 217 cards, but from #56 up they are bigger dimension cards and thus not technically part of the mini-era). It also helps that there aren`t any super rare single prints to track down.  Most singles can be had for $1-$3 each (depending on condition), so its also pretty affordable.

One of the more interesting cards in the set is #37, Warren Cromartie`s last Japanese baseball card.  He was coming off one of his best seasons, having hit .378 and won the Central League MVP in 1989,   but his production tapered off considerably in 1990 and it turned out to be his last in NPB.

His career is kind of an interesting reverse example of the "washed up MLB players go over to Japan" stereotype.  When he came over to the Giants in 1985 he was still in the prime of his career and had been a pretty decent starter for the strong Expos teams of the late 70s and early 80s.  Then, when his career in Japan was in decline, he actually went back to the majors and had a really good year with the Royals, albeit in  a part time role, hitting .313 in 1991 before retiring.

Cromartie has a lot of really great cards from the late 1980s Calbee sets, many of which have him in interesting poses.  This is the only one of him that has a design other than the sort of standard full-bleed photo Calbee design of the 1980s, which makes it kind of unique.  The border on the lower part of the card, with his player number in the big circle, looks pretty cool.

Cromartie is also the only one of the big name foreign players from the 1980s who appears in this set.  Randy Bass had already left NPB by that point and Boomer Wells, though he was still playing in NPB, isn`t in this series (though I think he appears later in the larger sized Calbee upper number series from this year).  The only other foreign players with a card in this one are Ralph Bryant of the Kintetsu Buffaloes (#43) and Matt Keogh of the Hanshin Tigers (#41).

Anyway, its kind of a cool last card of a cool player. 


Monday, July 25, 2016

Casual Day at the Ballpark


Another interesting card I picked up recently is this one of Dragons pitcher Takamasa Suzuki from the 1974 Calbee set (#596). It is from the Camp Series and the photo was taken in spring training at Hamamatsu that year.

Suzuki, still a rookie at the time, actually had a pretty decent career, lasting until 1989 with the Dragons and winning more than 100 games.  But the real star of this card to my mind is this guy:


Gotta love the way he is just casually dangling those feet over the wall, nonchalantly flaunting that white-socks-on-brown-shoes combination for all to see.  He also seems to be remaining consciously aloof of the other two spectators in attendance that day, who chose to perch themselves a bit further up on the grassy hill beyond left field.

These two seem to be sporting matching black jackets/grey pants combos, not sure if that was just coincidence or they planned it that way so as to distinguish themselves from the other guy.  Either explanation is equally plausible.

It must have been pretty cool to have lived near a spring training facility that had a policy of allowing passersby to literally dangle their feet over the area of play while the players were warming up.  I wonder if they had a staff member who was specifically tasked with going around and telling people to get their feet of the proverbial stage before gametime, or if this was left to the outfielders to take care of when they went out to take their positions.

The 70s in Japanese baseball: what a cool decade.



Sunday, July 24, 2016

1994 Calbee Hideki Matsui

I`ve been doing a lot of posts about 1970s era cards recently, but I`ve also added a few beauties to my early 1990s Calbee collection, including a 1994 Calbee Hideki Matsui.

The 1994 Calbee set is, along with most pre-1998 Calbee cards - kind of a hard one to collect since there isn`t a huge supply of them out there.  Yahoo Auctions only has 115 listings for 1994 Calbees at the moment, and these actually come from two different sets.  The main set, which this one is part of, has the player and team names written in diagonal stripes on the lower left and upper right corners of the card.  A second set, which I think was only sold regionally and is thus even harder to find, lacks these stripes, has colored backs (the main set has a black and white back) and each number begins with c. 

This Matsui card (#47) isn`t his rookie card since he appeared in both BBM`s 1993 set and also on a 1993 Calbee card (which has a similar design to this one), and he also has a couple of more cards in the 1994 set.  This makes it a reasonably affordable buy, they seem to go for around 500-1000 Yen each when they show up in auctions (which is how I go this one).  Not sure how much they go for on Ebay.

Anyway, its a cool card - showing Matsui when he was barely out of high school - and is the earliest calbee card I have of him so I`m glad to add it to the collection!





Thursday, July 14, 2016

Beautiful Cards: 1975 Calbee #714 Kaimaku Series with Shigeo Nagashima getting flowers


I`ve had a big stack of recently acquired 1970s Calbee cards sitting next to my computer/scanner this week so the temptation to do posts about one of them each day has been too great to pass up.  Today`s subject is the above beauty, mainly focused on Giant`s manager Shigeo Nagashima.

The picture in the card was taken on April 5th, 1975 before the opening day (kaimaku) game at Korakuen Stadium between the Giants and Taiyo Whales (whose manager Akiyama can kind of be seen behind Nagashima). Needless to say, as with the Oh card I wrote about yesterday the main subject (Nagashima) is less interesting than the rest of the stuff in the photo, particularly the two women in kimono.

They are presenting the two managers with bouquets of flowers just before the game, which is something that happens a lot in Japanese baseball games (not necessarily always flowers, but some sort of ceremonial gift).  I did get to learn the Japanese term for that from the title on the back of this card (花束贈呈 - bouquet presentation). 

Its interesting that the two women presenting the flowers, who totally steal the show on this card, aren`t named or even referred to on the back text.  I wonder if they are even aware that they were featured on it, and that forty years later a foreigner would pick it up, find their images interesting, and write a blog entry about it.  Probably not.  Interesting how life works out sometimes.

The card`s provenance is a bit confusing, since there are actually two seperate Calbee sets from 1975.  This card is from what might more accurately be called the 1974-75 Calbee set since numbers 1 to 504 were issued in 1974 while numbers 505 to 935 were issued in 1975 (this one is #714).  Then after that they began another set starting from card #1, which continued into 1976 and forms the massive 1975-76 set of over 1400 cards.  The two are distinguishable mainly on the back, the 1975-76 set having a border made up of stars and baseballs, while the 1974-75 set to which this one belongs has no border. 

Anyway, its kind of a cool card, depicting a scene that is rarely featured on baseball cards.



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Beautiful cards: 1973 Calbee #10 Sadaharu Oh


I certainly have been posting a lot this month, for some reason I have re-caught the collector`s bug and have been adding a lot of new cards to my vintage Calbee collection.

The above card is one of them, which just arrived in the mail yesterday (its a Yahoo Auction purchase).  It is card #10 from the inaugural 1973 Calbee set and features Sadaharu Oh.

I like this card a lot, that picture is just really cool.   Recently NPB Guy picked up the iconic #1 card from this set featuring Shigeo Nagashima   and I think this can be considered a pretty good companion to that one (which I don`t yet have) - since it is sort of the first Calbee card of the other member of the ON combo.

 The picture was taken on a different day from the Nagashima picture, since Oh is wearing a home uniform in his while Nagashima has an away uniform on in his, but both appear to have been taken at a spring training facility.

What I mainly love about the card is all the clutter in the background. The big pile of bats scattered around in the lower left of the card are a nice touch.  And its really interesting to see just how primitive NPB spring training facilities were 40 years ago, the fans are basically just sitting on concrete steps with no grandstand, roof or even a fence separating them from the playing field.  The little metal tower rising from behind Oh`s head has a loudspeaker perched atop it and also appears to be holding up a backstop net to prevent foul balls from hitting the spectators.  Other than that, its basically just a really basic concrete shell.

And Oh`s pose is kind of a classic in a similar manner to the one in Nagashima`s - its obviously posed, but its distinguished enough from the typical posed shot to give it its own flavor.

The back of the card is titled "Oh: The player`s journey" and provides a chronological list of career highlights, beginning with his NPB debut batting seventh in a game in 1959 to hitting his 500th home run in 1972.

As you can see from the scan my copy of it is pretty beat up - the corners are heavily rounded but fortunately it doesn`t have any creases so the picture looks great (and the rounded corners provide a kind of interesting frame to it, reminding you that some kid in the 1970s probably carried this card around a lot).







Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Calbee Cards on Ebay: 1975-76 Calbee Sadaharu Oh

Every once in a while I go on Ebay to see what Calbee cards are listed, mainly just out of curiosity since the prices are usually more than what I can get cards for here in Japan.

Everytime I do, the above card of Sadaharu Oh is usually near the top of the list that Ebay displays and has been for years.  The current asking price is $280 US, which is on sale from its usual price of $350.  The seller has 100% feedback and seems to have been an Ebay seller for a very long time with a lot of satisfied customers.  But there are a few things that kind of bother me about this listing.

For starters, this isn`t a particularly rare card.  The listing prominently notes that it has a PSA population of only 2, but that statistic is meaningless since almost nobody ever gets Japanese cards graded (there are only a handful of Calbees from the 1970s even listed on the PSA registry).  I have a copy of the exact same card in roughly the same condition which I think I paid  about 400 Yen ($4) for a few years ago, which I think is close to the market price.  While the 1975-76 Calbee set is a bit hard to find cards for, the pink bordered series which this Oh card belongs to isn`t one of the short printed ones and can be tracked down without too much difficulty.  Even giving a bit of leeway for the fact that I may have gotten a good deal on mine and that this copy is graded, offered by an Ebay seller who needs to pay fees and had to import it from Japan I don`t see how this gets to be anywhere near a $280 card.

There seems to be an interesting disconnect in baseball card hobby logic that might be at work here.  In the US the most valuable cards from any vintage set from the 1970s are always the big name hall of famers, particularly if it is a rookie card.  In Japan though there is this odd thing which I think actually makes the cards of hall of famers worth less than those of common players (at least sometimes).  Since Calbee in the 1970s was in the habit of stuffing each set with multiple cards of star players like Oh (and Harimoto, Nagashima (manager), Kinugasa, Yamamoto, etc) its actually way easier to get a card of Oh than it is for some journeyman middle infielder who played for a less popular team in the Pacific League, who might have only had one card issued in his entire career.  So demand for that one guy`s card might actually be more than it is for some random Oh card from the same set.  With the exception of short printed cards of common players, I don`t think this same dynamic ever really existed in the US, so taking a fairly common card of Oh and asking a ton of money for it kind of makes sense by US vintage collecting logic, but not by Japanese vintage collecting logic.

Anyway, I`m not accusing the seller of doing anything wrong here, though I do think the card is overpriced.  My point is more just that I think it provides an interesting example of how applying the logic of the American card market (placing importance on PSA population reports and big name stars) produces strange results when applied to Japanese cards.

And one more thing I want to mention about this card: PSA lists it as a 1975 Calbee, but the pink border cards in this set were actually released in 1976.  As I`ve mentioned before, PSA doesn`t seem to know much about Japanese baseball cards. 






Sunday, July 10, 2016

2016 Calbee Series 2 are here!

 The second series of this year`s Calbee cards are out.  I bought my first bag on Friday at a convenience store at lunch, but I think they`ve been out for a while now, I haven`t been keeping tabs as closely as I usually do this year.

The bags are green and basically look the same as Series 1.  I got Shouhei Ootani and Nakamura in my first pack:
I am glad to see they stuck with the kanji on the front again with series 2, it makes them look pretty cool.

I`ll probably pick up a few more packs as the season wears on.  I`m nowhere near to completing Series 1 yet but thats OK since I`ve more or less given up on trying to complete sets bag by bag like I used to (the human body can only take so many potato chips).  I`ll probably hit Yahoo Auctions up for the ones I need!





Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Beautiful Cards: 1975 Calbee Takagi versus Kouno

I picked up a few more cards from the 1975-76 Calbee set the other day, mostly from the Dagekisen Series (Slugger Series might be the best translation) subset.

As I have mentioned before, I absolutely love Calbee cards from this set.  It comes about as close to a perfect set as they go - full bleed photo with fantastic photography throughout (all the more impressive when you consider there are almost 1500 cards in total).  The kanji on the front of the card add to the appeal, while not being overly obtrusive on the image.  The set also has the advantage of probably being one of the most difficult in the world to collect owing to its size and the scarcity of some cards in it (in fact all the cards in it are, while not necessarily rare, also not particularly easy to find either).  I guess that last thing might be a questionable benefit, but the point is that as a collecting challenge it can keep you going for years on end (without necessarily breaking the bank if you are in Japan, until you get to the point where the expensive ones are all you have left on your want list).

This one card above is number 774, it pictures Kazumasa Kouno of the Giants sliding safely back into first base under the tag of the Dragon`s Morimichi Takagi.  According to the card back the next batter (Horiuchi) grounded into a 6-4-3 double play, eliminating him from the basepaths.  I like that kind of detail.

Its a pretty great photo, taken at the the Nagoya Baseball Stadium which was the Dragon`s home until their move to the horrendous Nagoya Dome in 1997.  That same stadium was the location where most of the baseball scenes in the Tom Selleck movie Mr. Baseball were filmed, which did a really good job of capturing the feel of an old style Japanese baseball stadium (I`ve attended games at Koshien, which is similar, and the Nagoya Dome that replaced this one.  The former is amazing, the latter is lifeless).

Five things I like about the photo on this card:

1) The all dirt infield that extends as far as the eye can see;
2) Old school umpire uniform that made them look like they were wearing a business suit;
3) Old school Chunichi uniforms with the dash of red that was removed in the 1980s when they switched to a blue/white color scheme.
4) Big ad for insurance printed on the wall in the background.  Pretty mundane product but the bold lettering provides a cool backdrop
5) Everything has a yellow-greenish tint.  Most of the cards in this set featuring photos taken during night games have that effect. I guess it was the nature of the lighting they used back then.  I like the look a lot better than what you get from the flourescent white lighting in modern Domes.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Story of a Bubble Era Baseball Card Store: The Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium


Its kind of trite to begin a baseball card related blog post with the observation that during the late 80s/early 90s bubble era a lot of people opened sports card shops that ultimately ended up closing within a few years when the bubble burst.  I nonetheless open with such a hackneyed observation because that is what this post is actually about - a sports card store that opened (and closed) during the peak of the bubble years.

The store in question was called the Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium and it operated in a strip mall in the suburbs of Kingston, Ontario from April of 1991 to June of 1993.  The name is a mouthful and there is a small story behind it which I`ll elaborate on below.  First though I`d like to back up a bit and describe how this card shop came into existence in the first place.  Its basically the story of this awkward kid here:

...and his dad discovering a shared interest in baseball cards.  Then that awkward kid becoming a surly teenager and the whole thing coming crashing down, but not before giving the kid and his dad some great memories which I`ll try not to dwell on too much in this post since sentimentality can really kill an otherwise decent story. 

1. In the beginning....

The earliest roots of the store date back to 1985 when my dad, an officer in the Canadian army, was posted to an American base in Ramstein West Germany.  Until that point in my life I had been raised in a purely Canadian environment in which baseball cards were almost non-existent.  On the playgrounds of Ramstein Elementary School, however, I was introduced by my American classmates to my first baseball cards, which were treated  as a form of currency among my fellow 4th graders.

West Germany wasn`t an ideal place to begin a baseball card collection since there were no stores that sold them, so during the four years  that I spent there I mainly bought or bartered them from friends. When we returned to Canada in the summer of 1989 I had only accumulated about 40 cards, but almost as soon as my feet returned to North American soil my collection exploded.  There were two catalysts for this occurrence.  One of these was my very first visit to a baseball card store - Cosmic Comics and Baseball Cards.  Cosmic Comics was THE store that every boy in the city of Kingston Ontario knew about since it catered to our two main obsessions (comics and baseball cards).  It was an eye opening experience for me to suddenly have every pack imaginable available, along with monster boxes full of cards for sale - my mind almost exploded.  Within a couple of months I had amassed a pretty good size pile.

The second event was a discovery I made in our garage while going through a box of stuff that had been in storage while we were in Germany.  There was a paper bag full of old baseball and hockey cards that had been my dad`s when he was a child. There were over 100 cards, the baseball cards being Topps ones from the 1952, 53 and 54 sets while the hockey ones were Parkhurst cards from the same years.  The 1952 Topps cards were all common ones, but the 1953 and 1954 ones included some big name hall of famers like Roy Campanella and Ted Williams:

The above are actual scans of two of my dad`s cards.  You`ll note that they seem a bit narrow.  When he was a kid he had a wallet that he liked to keep his favorite player`s cards in, but they wouldn`t fit so he took a pair of scissors and cut the edges off of them.  He only did that with the star players, so while his lot contained a big pile of commons in nice condition, he destroyed a couple thousand dollars worth of cards of the name players (Duke Snider, Ed Matthews and a few others got similar treatment).

Finding these cards was not only a big deal to me, but also to my dad, who caught a clear case of childhood nostalgia from them.  A glance at the Beckett values of these cards also got both our attentions and my dad started accompanying me on trips to Cosmic Comics and browsing the selection himself.  Soon we were also taking in sports card shows which seemed to crop up once every couple of months in the area.

Our mutual venture into the hobby was thus born.

2. From Collectors to Dealers

Within a few months we had amassed a pretty sizeable collection, mostly putting together sets from the late 80s pack by pack.  With my own meager allowance this would not have progressed very far, but with my dad on board our purchasing power was pretty decent.  We also began accumulating doubles in large quantities which I am guessing was the genesis of most baseball card businesses back then.  In the spring of 1990 our neighborhood garage sale gave our father-son joint venture its first market test.  We laid out a door that for some reason we had lying around on two saw-horses and voila - instant card shop!
 I have a lot of fond memories of preparing for that garage sale with my dad in the basement of our house. It was a pretty big job, sorting commons from stars and putting them into the monster boxes.  Then putting the star cards into either sleeves or binders and putting little price tags on them.  My dad had better hand writing than me so he was in charge of putting the prices on.  He had also picked up some wax boxes of a few sets so we could try our hands at selling individual packs too, just like a real store.

Business was pretty good that day.  I have no idea how much we sold, but I do remember saying bye to the rookie cards of Vince Coleman and Matt Williams, which were kind of hot at the time.  The only thing that really hurt us was a lack of hockey cards (Canada being Canada).

Over the course of 1990 there was a slow transition as our collecting hobby gradually morphed into a business.  We started buying cards from other sports, particularly hockey, not so much because we wanted to collect them but because a sports card business in Canada couldn`t survive on selling baseball cards alone.  We also graduated from garage sales to setting up booths at card shows.  This is me with our stuff at one in Smiths Falls in early 1991:

My dad built the shelves which the wax boxes are perched on, and had bought a couple of portable glass cases (originally intended for displaying jewellery) to put our more valuable star cards in.  Our operation was gradually getting more and more sophisticated.  Over the winter of 1990-1991 we did quite a few shows in Kingston and neighboring cities, each time making enough money to make it worth our while, our selection of cards slowly expanding as we went.  The business model was pretty simple and helped along by the illogical economics of collecting at the time - the Beckett value of the cards you found in a wax box of almost any set would invariably be higher than what you paid for the box, so busting open boxes to sell singles was a viable strategy.  We also started getting boxes from a wholesaler rather than through retail outlets, which allowed us to sell wax packs for a profit.

3. The Store Opens

By the spring of 1991 we were ready for the big time.  Opening a fully autonomous store was a bit beyond our means - my dad still had his day job in the army and I was a student so neither one of us could man a shop during the daytime.  And while our stock was enough to fill up a table at a card show it really wasn`t enough to fill up an entire store.  But my dad came up with an idea that would allow us to get around that.

PVR was the name of a video rental store at a strip mall just up the block from our place.  It was a well known landmark for local kids and teenagers since in addition to renting videos and video games it also had a small arcade in it and stocked comics and junk food.  It was basically the only store that kids in the Grenadier village subdivision could walk to that sold stuff that they wanted.

It also had a bit of extra space.

My dad negotiated a contract with the manager of PVR. For 300$ a month we would set up shop in a corner of their store.  Our little shop would basically be a booth which had two modes.  During the day when my dad and I were at work/school we would be in `closed` mode, which involved pushing the glass showcase we had (something my dad got from a department store liquidation sale) against the wall and hiding all the single cards.  Only wax packs would be visible to customers during those hours and these could be purchased at PVR`s cashier, with the proceeds of any sales being passed on to us at the end of each month.

The second mode was `open` mode, in which we would push the showcase away from the wall to make a little space for someone to stand behind it, adding a little plank on one end that would be covered in merchandise to fully enclose it. The store would be in `open` mode from 4PM until PVR`s closing time at 9PM on weekdays, and all day on the weekends.  In April of 1991 we moved in and officially opened business, this is a picture of us setting up for opening day (my dad is on the left, I`m the guy behind the counter in the middle wearing the black jacket, my sister is on the right.  The person in the red T-shirt must have been one of our first customers).

As I mentioned earlier, the store was called the Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium and my dad had a huge sign made with that emblazened in huge letters (visible in the above photo, it was placed in the window of PVR after that day).  At the time I despised it and was acutely concerned about the ways in which my peers would use such a klunky sounding title that incorporated my last name to mock me.  My dad was firmly committed to it though and no amount of complaining on my part would change his mind.  `The Great McGinty` is the title of a 1940 movie about a fictional depression era politician starring Brian Donlevy as the title character.  It has nothing to do with sports cards, but my dad thought it was a very witty reference.  As he was to discover though the average customer in an early 90s sports card store in a suburban Ontario strip mall was a Philistine with very limited knowledge of obscure early 20th century film history. Nobody ever caught the reference.  In hindsight though I have developed an affection for it - if nothing else it was certainly unique.

Anyway, any problems I may have had with the name were easily offset by the fact that at the age of 14 I had the ideal job: baseball card store clerk!  After coming home from school each day I would head over to PVR and turn the shop into `open` mode and take my place behind the counter.  I usually had a three hour shift, with my dad coming in to take over at around 7PM. 

 Business was pretty good, we had a steady stream of people coming into PVR walking past our stuff and over time we developed a few regulars.  The clientele of a business like ours could be categorized roughly as follows:

Regulars: mostly middle aged to older men who would come in to chat and buy packs of whatever they were collecting. We would hold a monthly raffle for prizes like packs of cards or small boxed sets, usually three prizes were up for grabs each month and the policy being that you could put your name into the raffle with each purchase.  I feel enough time has passed to admit the scandalous fact that we often rigged these raffles so that our regulars would at least get one of these prizes each month.

My high school classmates: Some of my classmates were into cards and on any given day at least one of them would invariably come by, though usually they were just there to buy candy or rent videos at PVR.  Some of these were my friends, who were always welcome though they seldom bought anything.  Some of them were bullies who I had to watch like a hawk because they would steal stuff whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Some of them were girls that I liked, which would send me into spiraling depths of self-loathing and insecurity because of a lack of knowledge on my part as to whether they a) though baseball cards weren`t cool, or b) had seen the sign with the store name on it.

Moms buying stuff for their kids: Pretty self explanatory I guess, these could be pretty lucrative customers.

People trying to low-ball you:  There was this one customer whose name we didn`t know but we called him low-Beckett guy because  whenever he wanted a card we had he would ignore the price tag and just say `the low Beckett on that is 2$, I`ll take it for that`.  Being a Canadian store we were in the practice (as were pretty much all Canadian ones) of pricing things a bit higher than Beckett because the Canadian dollar was worth less than the American one, so this was particularly annoying.  We almost never acquiesced to these requests unless it was a card we wanted to get rid of (which rarely happened) and the predictability of the exchange meant that we genuinely began to hate seeing that guy and would say stuff like `Oh crap, low-Beckett guy is in the parking lot` whenever he approached.

4. The Store Expands


Business the first year went well and our stock continued to increase.  Pretty much every family trip we took in that time period would involve stops at places where we might find baseball cards, which was massively fun for me (my personal collection flourished as well).  In the summers of 1991 and 1992 we went down to Cooperstown to scourge the multiple card shops there for vintage stuff that wasn`t available in Kingston, coming back with the family van stuffed with cards and memorabilia. This ultimately created a need for us to expand the business in two ways.  To begin with, the business hired its first (and ultimately only) non-family member employee: my best friend Mike.  Mike was a classmate of mine who lived in a house right behind the strip mall in which PVR was located.  We were both baseball fans and a lot of my high school life was spent sitting in the basement of his house watching games on TV or doing other high-school-kids-without-girlfriends type of stuff.

Balancing the needs of the store with work/school/family commitments had proven too much for my dad and I alone so when he casually inquired if any of my friends might want a job, Mike was an easy choice.

The second way the store expanded was physically.  The little booth we had was nowhere near big enough to house stock that we were building up, so dad renegotiated the agreement with PVR and came away with a pretty good deal.  For an extra 100$ a month they cleared away a much larger space that roughly tripled the size of the shop.  Dad picked up a couple of additional glass showcases (I think from a Zellers that was selling off excess equipment, he was pretty good at tracking stuff like that down) and the store took the form seen in the above photo (of me and Mike) sometime in early 1992.  

These changes served to greatly enhance what was already an ideal job for me - now we had a lot more space to work with and I was working with my best friend.  Things were great, though admittedly discipline waned somewhat as Mike and I tended to treat the store more as a hangout spot rather than a place where we actually did work.  When I saw the film Clerks a few years later the approach to customer service taken by the character Randall seemed like a (somewhat exaggerated) version of our own.  Customers just felt kind of like an annoying distraction when you were trying to have a discussion about Don Mattingly or some girl in your grade that you both liked.  This led to a certain amount of tension with my dad and was part of a general rebellious trend that my fifteen year old self was starting to exhibit.

Our expanded store continued to do pretty well despite these disciplinary issues.  It never turned a major profit but it didn`t lose money either.  Labor costs were kept low by the fact that my dad didn`t pay himself and what he paid me I mostly spent on cards anyway (in retrospect I would have been better advised to have invested it in something a bit sounder than packs of 1992 Donruss...).  Mike and I also set up shop together at a few shows under our own names separate from the Great McGinty store (a conflict of interest that my dad was kind enough to turn a blind eye to).

All told, in a few short years we had gone from buying our first price guide to running one of the biggest sports card shops in town (quite a bit smaller than Cosmic Comics but still pretty big). It was also, by far, the biggest thing I would ever do with my dad, which alone made it a pretty wonderful thing to have been a part of.

5. The End Cometh

The stories of the end of most bubble era baseball card shops generally surround the collapse of the bubble itself in the mid to late 1990s, but the end of the Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium played out quite a bit different than that.  My dad was still in the army throughout the store`s existence and in early 1993 he was informed that he would be transferred to Ottawa that summer for his next posting.

The news was pretty devastating for me.  Uprooting a teenager from his friends and school is tough enough, but uprooting a teenager with a dream job that he did with his best friend is a level up from that.  Mike was pretty bummed about it too.  The staff at PVR, who were mostly teenagers themselves, had also become our friends and we were pretty sad to say goodbye to them too.

But there was no way around it - in June of 1993 the Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium would sell its last card.  We made the announcement publicly a couple of months before the end came, using that time to have some sales to try to get rid of as much stock as we could.  The regulars we had come to know came in a lot during those last days.  My main memory of that time is basically just stewing in melancholy and depression while awaiting the inevitable.  The last day we packed everything up into a van and the space that played such an important role in my life for more than two years reverted to its old role as shelf space for videos at PVR.

We brought all of the remaining stock and even some of the equipment (shelfs, etc) with us when we moved to Ottawa a month later, but the business was more or less over at that point.  I was 16 years old at that time and my interests quickly moved away from baseball cards, probably because I was so disappointed (and in typical teenage fashion, angry at my parents) about having to move and leave my friends and the happy little niche I had carved out for myself behind  that I just wanted to forget about it.  My dad tried setting up the shop at a regular flea market that was held on Sundays using the old stock and even the Great McGinty sign, but I didn`t want to have anything to do with it anymore and after a couple of years of middling sales (the bubble was bursting by that point) he packed that up and the family business was truly gone for good.

6. Postscipt September 2015

22 years after the Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium closed I found myself, 38 years old and with a son of my own, standing in a garage behind a house in Victoria, BC.  After the completion of his posting in Ottawa dad had retired in 1997 and the family moved out to the west coast.  I didn`t join them, instead staying in Ottawa to finish my university studies and then moving to Japan a couple of years later, where I started my own family and find myself today.

Before doing so my life had given me one last look at PVR.  In 1995 I joined the army reserves (had to pay for university somehow!) and was sent of all places to Canadian Forces Base Kingston to do my General Military Training (boot camp), just up the road  from our old store.  Somehow towards the end of the course I got a precious day off and was able to meet Mike, who was still living next to the strip mall, and we walked over to PVR to see Teri, one of the staff who had worked there with us.  We chatted a bit about the old days (which were only 2 years behind us at that point) and I got my last glimpse of the place.  A few years later PVR itself went bankrupt, Mike left Kingston and I lost all connections to the place.  I`m not sure what business occupies that storefront now.

Anyway, as I stood in that garage last September I was looking through old boxes of stuff that survived through the years and I stumbled upon this:


It is the baseball stars box in which the Great McGinty Sportscard Emporium sold cards of the stars.  My dad actually made this, the player`s names are written in his handwriting, before the store even opened and reflects the names of players who were considered stars in 1990. If you look in the photo of me at that card show in Smiths Falls above you can see this same box in the middle of the table.  Its a weird thing to find, almost like a time capsule frozen in that moment.  We updated it a bit during the store`s lifetime but even in 1993 it had a lot of guys who were no longer stars in it.  Looking through easily half the players are guys who never made it big or did so only briefly - Kevin Maas, Ben McDonald, Eric Anthony, Glenn Davis, Chris Sabo and Mark Langston to name a few.  I pulled out cards of the 1989 Rookie of the Year award winners, Jerome Walton

And in the American League Gregg Olson

Each still had the handwritten price tag my dad put on them a quarter century earlier.

Seeing it frozen like that for the first time since I was a teenager brought the memories flooding back.  I wanted to keep it, this felt like something really important whose survival in this form for so many years almost warrants its preservation.  But alas my task as I sorted through those boxes was to get rid of stuff - my parents, now in their 70s, need more storage space, and devoting space to what is essentially a box full of worthless baseball cards isn`t particularly rational.  So I grabbed a few cards of hall of famers and put the rest, box and all, into a pile to be disposed of.  Before doing so I took the above photos for the sake of posterity.

All is not lost though, the big sign for the store my dad had made back then is flat enough that it can be stored in a sliver of space against a wall without obstructing anything, so it lives on as the last physical remnant of our little store.  Perhaps when my son is a teenager I will take it out and open a store just for the sake of embarrassing him with its ludicrously klunky name, being sure to quiz his friends to see if they get the movie reference when I do so.