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.