Thursday, September 7, 2017

The 1973 Calbee Sadaharu Oh Full Run!

The 1973 Calbee set is pretty awesome.  I don't think I can ever collect it due to the cost, but I did just make a major purchase - the full Sadaharu Oh run from the set.

The set famously begins with card #1 of smiley face Shigeo Nagashima, and in fact the first 6 cards of the set all feature Nagashima.  This is followed by the next 6 cards (7 to 12) which all feature Sadaharu Oh, which I just purchased en masse via Yahoo Auctions.  I've always preferred Oh to Nagashima so its sort of natural that I would get his cards first, but Nagashima's are also on my want list.

The cards are all pretty epic, but card #7 in particular is quite striking, with Oh taking a swing against an all blue sky backdrop (upper right card in the above photo).  The card is (on the back) titled "Monster"and notes that he is often called 怪物 (monster) as a player. The photo is strikingly similar to the one on Nagashima's first card, also against an all blue backdrop, and this is probably not a coincidence.

Card #10 (lower right in the above photo) is the only one that I already have, though this new copy is a bump up in terms of grade. Its interesting to note that card #11 (next to it in the photo) was taken at the exact same time, which is evidenced by the same fans sitting in the same locations in the stands in the background.  The photographer must have just caught him, gave him a bat and said "Pose with this", then tossed him a glove and said "OK, now this." Card #12 (lower left corner) looks like it was also taken at the same time, but since its at a different angle the stands in the background are different.

Anyway, I'm pretty happy to have these in my collection now!

Also, this is my first post in about 5 months.  Work has been busy, but this absence is mostly explained by the fact that my wife and I are expecting a second child (girl this time!) and so my life has gotten much busier.  I might not be posting to this blog (or collecting baseball cards) as much as I used to for a while but will try to clock in whenever I have something interesting to write about and the time to do it!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Some more cool Shonen Club Baseball Cards

 I made another find of something I didn't know existed until I saw it for sale the other day: a set of Shonen Club baseball postcards.

This is my second Shonen Club addition to the collection after picking up my 1929 Shonen Club Babe Ruth last year (coincidentally exactly one year to the day ago).

I haven't been able to find any information on these (anyone out there know?) and I am not sure if these comprise a whole or partial set, but given the player/team combinations it can be inferred that they date from between 1952 and 1957 at the latest.  Its an extremely impressive lot in terms of player selection, all four of them are members of the Hall of Fame.  From left to right in the above photo we have Tetsuharu Kawakami (Giants), Kaoru Betto (Orions), Hiroshi Oshita (Lions) and Shigeru Sugishita (Dragons).

On the backs they are typical postcards.  On the upper left corner is a box with the player's name and team.  The text in the middle says "Shonen Club Special Photograph Postcard", and on the upper right is a spot telling you to put a 5 Yen stamp here.

I like these a lot, the images are colorized black and white photos which have a kind of cool look to them.  As postcards they also make pretty cool display pieces, I might try having these framed at some point.

I am going to try and find out more about this set.  From what I know from other Shonen Club sets, they usually consisted of more than 4 cards so I suspect there are more from this series out there.  They also were usually issued in illustrated envelopes which are nice pieces in their own right and I'm hoping one with some baseball design might exist. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Amazing Treasure Trove from the 1940s

I had one of the most satisfying moments of my Japanese card collecting career the other day.  I came across a seller on Yahoo Auctions who had listed some cards from the early post-war era which were pasted onto black album pages.  The cards were fantastic - many with beautiful action photos of big name hall of famers, ranging in size from small Calbee sized cards (roughly the same size as 1950 Bowmans for American collector reference) to large postcard sized ones.  The album pages had been removed and were being auctioned one by one, each with between 4 and 6 cards on them.

They had a low starting bid and with one day left on the auctions when I found them, each already had one bid.  I put a bid on all of them for the minimum increment (10 yen) above the existing bid and immediately became the number one bidder.  I anticipated a bidding war would break out during the last hour or so of the auctions as they usually do for stuff like this and carefully calculated my max bid on each, depending on which cards they had and how they looked.  I then upped my max bids on all of them, hoping that the other person bidding on them wouldn't drive them up too much.

Then the weirdest and most magnificent thing ever happened.  The other bidder must have forgotten about them and nobody else noticed them, because they received no further bids and I won all of them for just 10 Yen (about 10 cents US) over the lowball starting bids. Hooray!

They came in the mail the other day and I was not disappointed with them actually in hand.  Check out these beautifes:

Victor Starffin, Japan's first 300 Game winner (with the Stars, which would date this at between 1948 and 1953):
Hall of Famer Kaoru Betto taking a swing with the Hanshin Tigers (which would date this between 1948 and 1949):

Hankyu Braves pitcher Rentaro Imanishi (not a Hall of Famer but I like the picture on this card):

 Takahiro Besho, another 300 game winner and Hall of Famer. This pictures him with Nankai, which would date it to no later than 1948:

 The "God of Batting" Testuharu Kawakami, who appears on several cards in the lot:

 And here are some more highlights, many of these are also hall of famers. I LOVE the photography on these, the in action shots are just as good as the ones you see on my beloved Calbee cards from the 1970s, but with these you have the added interest of seeing very early postwar stadiums in the background.
 This is what they look like altogether, the cards were pasted onto the backs and fronts of each album page:

The cards obviously come from different sets, but judging from the player team affiliations these probably date from the immediate postwar years, no later than about 1948.  From what I have been able to see from peeling them away from the album pages a bit, the backs are blank, though they are all printed on standard baseball card-thick cardstock.  I am guessing these have been catalogued, and they now provide me with yet another excuse to finally buy a catalogue.  I think I will keep them on the album pages for now, they actually seem to display better like that.

This is yet another thing I am starting to love about collecting cards here - if you are a budget conscious collector (ie not rich) you will never find something this neat, this rare, from this era featuring so many big name hall of famers selling for a reasonable price (total cost to me including shipping was less than 50$ US) in the United States.  In Japan though its still possible.  This is the type of find that makes collecting so worthwhile. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Finding Cards in the Most Unexpected of Places

 Last weekend my wife and I took our son out to the above Book Off Bazaar way out in the southern suburbs of Nagoya.  It is by no means an attractive location to spend a Saturday afternoon, but Book Off Bazaars are a very good place to go if you have kids since some of them, including this one, sell a lot of used toys, children's books and clothing for very reasonable prices. 

My son walked away from this with a new shirt (boring!), a book about dinosaurs (better) and a toy race car (awesome!). 

Unexpectedly I also walked away with something: a big pile of 1991 and 1992 Calbee cards!

This was a really cool find for me.  I was looking through racks of toys with my son when I discovered a bunch of lots of baseball cards, wrapped and put into little baggies containing 10 cards for 100 Yen.  Most of them were stuff I wasn't interested in and likely not worth 100 Yen for 10 cards (beat up BBM commons from recent years, etc), but I was quite excited to find that six of them were full of Calbee cards from the early 1990s (which are worth way more than 100 Yen for 10 cards), so all of them went into the shopping basket.

It was kind of cool opening them since except for the top and bottom card the contents were a mystery.  I wasn't disappointed with what I got, there were quite a few stars in there, including a 1992 Hideo Nomo that alone was probably worth more than I paid for everything.

It was kind of fortunate that these happened to be cards from the early 1990s when Calbee sets had round instead of sharp corners as these would likely all have had dinged corners from being thrown into baggies and tossed haphazardly onto a rack subject to the ravages of bargain hunting suburban children and their parents (the most destructive force on the planet incidentally).  So all the cards were in very nice shape.

If I had bought these anywhere else I probably wouldn't have been so excited about them, but there is something very thrilling about finding somewhat hard to find vintage cards in a totally unexpected place for an extremely cheap price!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Greatest Baseball Card of all Time?

One card that I have been hunting for a while is #416 from the 1974 Calbee set.  It first caught my eye when I saw it in an auction a few months ago.  I put a bid on it that was a lot higher than what the then current bid was, and then went to bed.  And woke up in the morning to discover someone had sniped me on it.  I've never felt so much regret about losing a card in an auction (admittedly this is not a major thing in life to feel regret about, but it was still noticable).

In the months since I have been regularly checking to see if one came up, but I had to wait until last week for another one to appear.  When one finally did, with a 1000 Yen start bid, I put a much higher bid on it this time...and won!

I think one can make the argument that this is the most beautiful baseball card ever made.  The photograph is perfect.  Shigeo Nagashima crouching in the on-deck circle while Sadaharu Oh takes a mighty swing against a Dragons pitcher.  Korakuen Stadium is packed because this was taken on Nagashima's last game.  The crowded bleachers, the lights and the billboards make the perfect backdrop.  The color of the card is perfectly balanced too, the top half blue sky, the bottom half green walls, grass and dirt infield.  I have never been so taken with the photograph in a card before.  In some ways it is similar to #404 in the same set, which was taken during the same game and shows Nagashima walking off the same field.  I love that card too, but like this one better - its got both Nagashima and Oh in the same picture and is a bit more exciting to look at. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1967 Kabaya Leaf Minagawa Mutsuo

 I finally picked up my first card from the 1967 Kabaya Leaf set.  NPB Card Guy did a pretty good write up about the set a few years ago here, it seems that many of them were exported to the US and thus they are actually pretty hard to find here in Japan and they are quite expensive when they do turn up (hence it taking me so long to get my first).  I won't go into the details of the set much since you can read NPB Card Guy's post, but suffice it to say this is probably the first American style Japanese baseball card set, with a design similar to the 1959 Topps (though there are two design templates, the other looking a bit more like the 1963 Fleer set). 

I absolutely love the design of these cards and this one of Hawks pitcher Mutsuo Minagawa drew me in quickly - I love that photo with all the advertising billboards in the background.  It really looks like something out of 1960s Japanese baseball (which it is) in a way that most posed shots fail to capture.

I picked this one up extremely cheap.  Despite looking about EM on the front, the back looks like this:

 Ouch - the double whammy of glue AND writing in pen.  Thanks to some kid though (perhaps an American, given that they wrote his name in Romaji) I paid about 1/10th what a non-defaced version would have cost me.  And I just wanted it for the front anyway, so its a nice addition to the collection.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Getting oh so Close....My 1987 Calbee Set Saga Continues

 The 1987 Calbee set is getting closer and closer to completion.....yet despite years of effort the finish line remains frustratingly elusive..

I picked up two more cards on my want list last week, #254 (Rick Lancelotti, known as "Lance" in Japan) and #299 (Eiji Kanamori).

According to my trusty hand-made checklist here:
That leaves me 31 cards short of the full set, or 91.9% of the way there.  Except for my complete 1990 low number set, which at 55 cards is a relatively easy one, this is by far the vintage Calbee set I am closest to completing.

This is what the same checklist looked like 3 years ago when I made my last post about putting the 87 set together:

I was about 100 cards short of the set then, which means I have only added about 70 cards in three years.  The closer you get on these sets, the harder it is to find the few that you need.  There are usually 300-400 or so 1987 Calbee singles available on Yahoo Auctions at any given moment,though there is heavy duplication of some of them so you can probably find less than half of the individual cards and not one of my 31 out there.  When the cards I need pop up, I have to swoop down fast since a lot of the remaining ones are pretty hard to find.

10 of the cards that remain on my want list (82, 83, 84, 86, 88, 89, 92, 97, 98 and 99) fall between 75 and 100, which supports the statements I have seen suggesting that run was short-printed.  Its extremely hard to find cards from that series on Yahoo Auctions (and needless to say impossible to find them on Ebay).  So if you have any cards from that series, hold onto them!

I am hoping that this year will finally be the year that I complete this thing and shift attention to some other sets (1975-76 is another major Calbee project underway, but its nowhere near completion.  1984 and 1986 are also works in progress).  The 1987 set is a great one - cool photography and player selection throughout.  And it will be a major mark of pride to have put one together, there are probably only a handful of collectors out there who have done it so this is one of those little niches in the hobby where you can brag about stuff like that (in part because so few even bother trying, though this is legitimately a very hard set to piece together regardless).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Some 1940s Menko Beauties

I have really been getting into the old menko cards from the 1940s-1960s era recently.  It is hard to resist their bold colors and simple designs.

I picked up the above four on Yahoo Auctions the other day and am quite pleased with them. I don't have a copy of Engel's guide (it is on my shopping list....) so I don't know which set they are from but they seem to be from the late 1940s as the one in the upper right corner features Kiyoshi Sugiura as a member of the Chunichi Dragons, a team he played for between 1946 and 1950.

The cards are numbered (I have 3, 1, 7 and 4), are printed on fairly thick card stock (since they were meant to be thrown at the ground) and display varying information about the player.  Sugiura in the upper right is the only one which identifies his team.  The one in the upper left features Toshio Kawanishi, who played for Nankai and Osaka between 1946 and 1955.  The card has his name and "Stolen base king" on it, which is appropriate since he led the league in stolen based three years in a row from 1946 to 48.

I don't know who the player on the lower left card is since it has no name or other information on it, though you can tell from the picture that he is a pitcher.  Next to him is Hiroshi Ohshita, who played for the Flyers and Lions between 1946 and 1959.  He is identified as the "home run king", presumably in reference to the fact that he led the league in homers three times.  He is the biggest star in this group (well, at least among those I can identify), leading the league in numerous categories throughout his career, winning the 1954 MVP award and being inducted into the Japanese baseball Hall of Fame in 1980.

You'll note that each card has a box with some numbers in it just below each player's chin.  It took me a moment to figure out what the significance of those were, they seem to just be math problems that kids were meant to solve.

One interesting piece of social history attached to these cards is that they were (likely) issued during the occupation period (1945-1951), during which Japanese society was at its poorest in modern history and at times bordering on famine.  These pieces of cardboard would likely have been the most valued plaything of whichever kid owned them since all the other materials toys are made of (metal, wood, etc) were being requisitioned for  more urgent needs.

If you think about that, it makes these cards pretty unique in baseball card history.  American kids who collected cards at the same time (say early Bowman or Topps sets) no doubt cherished their cards, but unless they were really poor they probably had other toys to play with as well. The same holds for Japanese kids from the mid-1950s onwards, when the Japanese economy took off and people had money to buy toys for their kids again.

So these cards likely weren't just a plaything to their owner, they were the plaything. 

The closest parallel I can think of would be American cards during the depression, like the 1933 Goudey set, which also might have been the only plaything of the kids who owned them.  But even in the depression American society wasn't facing the same dire situtation that Japan did in the immediate post-war period - where people were literally starving to death on inadequate rations and the economy had completely collapsed.

Related Post:  1950s Menko are Neat

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Weird Shane Mack Card

Shane Mack is one of those names I remember from my high school days.  He had a brief period in the early 1990s where he arguably attained the status of minor star with the Twins, playing a key role in their memorable 1991 season.

After his days with the Twins he played for a couple of years in Japan with the Giants and has a card in the 1995 Tokyo Snack set (the de facto Calbee set from that year).

The front of the card is pretty cool, showing Mack taking batting practice.  The back though is strange:

It gives his statistics from the 1992-1994 seasons with the Giants.  Its not very impressive, he went 0 for 0 in each of those seasons for a cumulative .000 batting average.

The reason for this lacklustre performance is that he didn't play for the Giants in any of those seasons, he was still playing for the Twins in Minnesota. But the card clearly says "巨" next to each of those years in brackets, which is the kanji for "Giant".

It definitely gives him short shrift as in the 1992 season, where he hit .000 in NPB, he also hit .315 for the Twins and finished 5th in the AL batting race.

Anyway, this is just a kind of odd thing, I have no idea why they did it.  Other cards in the set with new players don't have 3 years of fictitious statistics on the back.  One possible explanation is that this set is one of the first Calbee sets where they featured a player's full career statistics (maybe the first? I have to double check that).  Perhaps, being new, they simply weren't very good at it.  This is evident in the confusing order they put the stats in, with the most recent season at the top and going down from there, the opposite of what pretty much all other card makers do. 

The card incidentally seems to have been released relatively late in 1995 as the text on the back makes reference to a game played against the Dragons on May 21st in which he hit a 2 run sayonara home run. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

1933 Goudey Lefty O'Doul

I finally picked up my first card from the 1933 Goudey set the other day.  It was an Ebay auction purchase from PWCC. 

I decided on O'Doul to be my big intro to the 1933 set (and likely my only card from it given the prices) because he is such a big figure in Japanese baseball history.  He has two cards in the set, I much prefer this one in part because it has a more attractive image of him in his Dodgers digs and in part because it actually mentions his contribution to Japanese baseball on the back:

"Last winter went to Japan and taught batting to University of Tokio players.  Likes to play golf and does it well."

Finding American cards which mention Japan like that might be an interesting (and difficult to catalogue) collecting goal. 

O'Doul is the holder of one interesting MLB record.  He has the highest career batting average (of players with more than 3,000 ABs) of anyone not in the Hall of Fame.  He was a 349 career hitter, which is absolutely insane, but did that within the span of a relatively small number of extremely dominant seasons.  When you add to that his importance in promoting the connections between the Japanese and American games though I think he might be worthy of consideration for the Hall.  

This one is a nice mid-grade one.  Its graded by PSA, which I am not a huge fan of but I think I will leave it in that holder for the meantime since he is basically safe in there. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Oh what a swing.

I am kind of a fan of cards featuring Sadaharu Oh's swing and his distinctive stance.  Mainly because he used them, usually in combination, to hit a baseball a lot. The above two cards are #418 and #420 from the 1974 Calbee set, both from the "ON Series" (O for Oh, N for Nagashima = ON) which fall into this category.

They are kind of cool because they were obviously taken during the same at-bat - the three photographers visible in the upper background are all in identical positions and poses in each so they likely display different instants in the same swing of the bat.  The cards themselves make no mention of this fact, card #420 describes his "flamingo" stance while #418 just says this is Oh taking a full swing. He is in a home uniform but these weren't taken at Korakuen, so I assume they were taken during spring training.

My collection is currently missing the card that numerically falls between these two (#419), I am curious if it features another shot from the same at bat, with his swing about halfway between the two. It would be cool if it did, having a series of cards going through his whole swing would look really neat displayed side by side.

So finding that card is my collecting goal for this month.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Third Guy From the Right

Card #360 in the 1975-76 Calbee set is an interesting one.  It is from the pink (fuschia?) series in the set whose design is a bit evocative of 1975 Topps.

There are a lot of regular player cards in this series but also a few special multi-player cards.  Looking at the picture you would think this was one of the multi-player cards, but its actually the regular card of Fighters first baseman Yoshito Oda.

The text on the bottom of the card says "Oda Yoshito  Infielder", which is standard enough.  Then in parentheses below that it says "Third Guy From Right".

This must be unique in baseball card history - a regular card where it is so hard to tell where the player depicted is on the card that they literally have to tell you in writing where to find him.  I wonder why they chose this photo to appear on his card.  They must have had limited options, he isn't even looking in the direction of the camera, while the guy next to him is (not sure who that is, but this might have worked better as the photo for his card).  

Monday, February 6, 2017

1975-76 Calbee Artificial Turf Cards

One of the more interesting subsets in the 1975-76 Calbee set are the artificial turf cards.  The Giant's home stadium Kourakuen had just had it installed at the time and I guess it was a subject of some interest as they made at least 3 cards devoted to the subject (I have cards #406, 408 and 422 pictured above which are all artificial turf cards, there might be more that I have yet to come across.

Card 406 has a photograph of the turf being installed in the stadium (right card in the above photo).  Card #408 has an illustration of the different hops that balls take off of artificial turf compared to natural turf (first bound is higher on artificial turf, but decreases in height faster with subsequent hops than on natural grass in case you are interested).  Card #422 in turn (left card in the photo) shows you the structure of the installation below the artificial turf, which consists of a mix of sponge, concrete, sand, soil and something called "asucon" which I am unsure of the meaning of.

Anyway, this is kind of an odd subset, I don't think there were ever any similar cards produced when astroturf was introduced in the US about a decade earlier (though I could be mistaken about that?) 

At the same time though they aren't exactly the most exciting cards in the set - except for #406 they are basically just boring diagrams.  I imagine if I had been a kid in 1975 opening one of these packs hoping to see a card with an action photo of Sadaharu Oh on it I would have been massively disappointed to find one of these in it!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Another Reason 1970s Calbee Cards are the Best that will Ever Be

Above are a few cards from the 1975 Calbee set (not to be confused with the 1975-76 set) that I have.  You have cards of Japan's all time hits leader (Harimoto), its top three home runs leaders (Oh, Nomura and Kadota), its Iron Man (Kinugasa), its most popular player ever (Nagashima) and one of its best pitchers (Yamada).  I didn't have one handy when I scanned these but if I wanted to I could have added its all time stolen base king (Fukumoto) to the group if I had wanted to.

If you think of the concentration of key figures in the Japanese game into one set (in fact, most sets issued that decade) it is really hard to fathom - almost all of the key career record holders in Japanese history are represented here since their careers overlapped (Nagashima admittedly appearing as a manager rather than player in sets after 73, but still there).  Its like having a set with (career contemporary) cards of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron,Pete Rose, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays, Walter Johnson, Cal Ripken Jr and Mickey Mantle.

The interesting thing is that no NPB set in the future will ever come close to this because almost all of those records are now effectively unbreakable.  Any player who can collect hits, home runs, wins or stolen bases at the pace necessary to challenge any of them is going to be offered a lucrative contract from MLB years before that happens, so it is hard to imagine any player capable of doing so sticking around long enough.  The current active career home run leader is Shinnosuke Abe, whose career is already winding down and might not even reach the 400 plateau before the end.  Harimoto's hits record would likely have been obliterated by now had Ichiro not gone to the Majors and nobody else is even close.

So the 1970s in NPB are kind of a unique era in the history of any baseball league.  I can't think of any era in MLB history that comes close.  The dead ball era produced some pitching records that are more or less out of reach (Cy Young's 511 wins) and some non-home run batting records that will likely never be matched (Sam Crawford's career triples), while the 1920s and 1950s produced some of its most iconic figures, but the 1970s in NPB is a bit like if the top players in all those eras competed against each other and all the major career records that they set (as opposed to just a few) became impossible for subsequent generations to break. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

1974 Calbee Shigeo Nagashima

Happy 2017 everyone.  Its been a hectic few months for me with work and a move, so my blogging activity fell off after October but I am back now so hopefully will keep the posts up as well.

I picked up another cool 1970s Calbee card over the holidays that I thought I'd share, its #404 from the 1974 set (in the ON Series) and features Shigeo Nagashima. 

Its a fantastic photo of him, taken on October 14 as he left the field for the last time in his career.  The composition is perfect, the way he is looking over his shoulders at the field really drives home the finality of it.  The blue sky contrasted against the green grass and brown dirt, with the packed grandstands in between provides a perfect backdrop.  I am not a Nagashima fan, but I absolutely love this card.