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!