Monday, November 12, 2018

OMFG Don Mattingly is here! And I can't see him!

Don Mattingly was my favorite player when I was a kid in the late 80s/early 90s.  This is an understatement.  He was like a god to me.  My walls were covered with Mattingly posters and cards, my whole room circa 1989 was like a shrine to the man.  It was infectious.  I even became a devoted Magnum P.I. fan because Tom Selleck had a very Mattingly-like moustache.  That's how much I liked Mattingly.

But I never got to see him play live.  I watched Yankees games on TV all the time (even though as a Canadian my favorite team since I was 4 years old was the Expos) but that was as close as I got.

The year he retired (1995) was also the year that I graduated from High School and by then I wasn't into baseball cards anymore and, though I still followed the game and Mattingly, he had been reduced to something approaching mortal in my pantheon (largely replaced by a spiritual void that most former Mattingly fans carry to this day).  

23 years later I'm on the other side of the Earth in a city, Nagoya, that nobody in their right mind ever comes to and I realize while reading the news about the 2018 MLB All Star tour of Japan something that blows me away:  The great one is COMING TO NAGOYA TOMORROW!

I hadn't really been paying much attention to the tour, but Mattingly is the manager of the team and tomorrow they are playing at the Nagoya Dome.  The Dome is just a couple of kilometres from where I am sitting right now as I type this.  I pass near it on my way to and from work everyday. Tomorrow, my former idol is going to be in that really ugly building that I mostly ignore as I ride past it.

My brain isn't really capable of processing this information right now.  I can't go to the game - no tickets and no time (got a baby at home and ton of work to do....) and I just feel like I'm missing something that was meant to happen.  I mean, how often are Don Mattingly and I going to be in Nagoya at the same time together?  Like except for the next couple of days, never.  Its weird.  I'm a grown up adult but the fact that this guy I thought was a god 30 years ago is going to be in the same city as I am has me thinking like an 11 year old again.  I mean:  Holy crap, Don Mattingly is going to be breathing the same polluted Nagoya air that I am for the next two days!  I can't go see him, but I'll take that any day!

Nobody else in the world could actually get me excited about simply being in the same city at the same time as I am but Mattingly.  And really I don't know anything about the guy except that he was a really good first basemen for about 6 years, and he was in a particularly good episode of the Simpsons.  OK, even that isn't true.  I have retained a TON of Don Mattingly trivia in my stupid head that I learned as a kid (like he used to own a restaurant called "Mattingly's 23"), but none of it really tells me anything of substance about what kind of person he is.  But who says you have to be rational about your favorite player when you were a kid? It is f'in Don Mattingly I am talking about!

Sorry, this post is a rambling mess.  I can't think straight. Don Mattingly is here!!!  Probably some other guys too but who cares about them?  DON MATTINGLY IS HERE IN NAGOYA!  Whoa!!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Collecting the 1986 Calbee Set

 I have been so obsessed over the past couple of years with trying to finish my 1987 Calbee set (92% of the way there!!) that it kind of escaped my attention that I am also closing in on that set's predecessor: 1986 Calbee.  So I thought I would do a little post on how that project is going since I have started to really get earnest about knocking this one off the wantlist and I might even complete it before I finish the 87s.

From the Calbee mini card era of the 1980s, the 1986 set is probably the easiest to complete (unless you count the 55 card first series of 1990 Calbee as a set on its own).  At 250 cards it is significantly smaller than the 1985 set (465 cards) or the 1987 set (382 cards) that flank it in the Calbee catalogue. It is also super helpful that, unlike those sets, the 1986 set does not have any short printed series, so all the cards are about equally as hard (or easy) to find.

Design wise the set is basically the same as all the others from the 80s and not much need be said about that.  The set is sort of notable for having one of the earliest hot rookie cards in the Japanese hobby, featuring the rookie card of Kazuhiro Kiyohara.  Sports Card Magazine identifies card 81 in the set as his official rookie, but he actually has several regular cards in the set, this one is #97:
 There is a really interesting parallel between the Kiyohara rookie and the other hot rookie card of 1986, Jose Canseco.  I remember when Canseco's 86 Donruss reached a high water mark of 100$ in Beckett and was probably the most popular card in the hobby around 1990 or so.  Kiyohara's rookie card reached a similar peak (8000 Yen).

Canseco of course had his career sidelined by injury and his well known use of performance enhancing drugs.  Despite putting up impressive career numbers (462 home runs, 1 ball bounced off of head to give opposing team home run) these kept him out of the hall of fame and he is basically an outcast in the baseball world today, a perennial weirdo who is probably just as well known for not being able to beat Danny Bonaduce in a celebrity boxing match as he is for being baseball's first 40/40 man.

Kiyohara is something close to a Japanese equivalent of Canseco.  Like Canseco Kiyohara was a power hitting superstar in the late 80s - 90s who had a mix of injuries and drug problems sideline him in the latter half of his career.  And despite finishing with even more impressive numbers than Canseco - being a member of both the 500 home run and 2000 hit clubs - he hasn't been inducted into the Japanese baseball hall of fame and may never be.  In 2016 he made headlines by being arrested and convicted of drug possession.  Since that he has basically been shunned by the baseball world, even having his high school bat removed from an exhibit covering the history of the Koshien tournament.

So the 1986 Calbee Kiyohara rookie is about as prized today as a 1986 Donruss Canseco - kind of a neat throwback card but not one anybody pays serious money for anymore.  Which is a big win for those of us putting this set together on a budget!!!

As with any set from the mid-late 80s, my favorite cards are always those of Randy Bass in one of those awesome 80s Tigers batting helmets!!!

My set is actually quite well along, I have 180 out of the 250 cards, which leaves me just 70 to go.  I added a few of those last week and am scouring Yahoo Auctions to get some more to scratch off my checklist!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Fun Fact: The B-52s video for Roam has Sumo Menko in it!

Quick post with a fun fact that I just randomly discovered: the video for the hit song "Roam" by the B-52s has sumo menko in it.

I absolutely love that song and remember it getting heavy airplay when I was a teenager in the early 1990s.  I hadn't seen the video in decades and was just watching it when I noticed a bunch of sumo menko in the background which I thought was really neat.  They appear really prominently from 2:39 in the video when 8 of them are in a kind of artistic background arrangement while Fred Schneider dances in front of them.  They also appear a bit later in the video among a bunch of other random stuff.

I'm not sure who the wrestlers are that are depicted, maybe SumoMenkoMan might be able to identify them?

Even if you aren't a sumo fan, its worth checking it out because you can never get enough of Roam.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Yamakatsu DX cards are pretty cool

 I got something new in the mail the other day:  4 of the big sized Yamakatsu DX cards from the 70s.You can read up a bit more about these sets on Dave's post here from a few years ago.  As you can see from the above photo, with some 1979 Yamakatsu cards for reference, they are pretty huge.
 I particularly like the above one of Kintetsu's Shimamoto Kohei.  The fact that his uniform is almost the exact same color as the bleachers, which are almost the exact same color as the sky, gives it a kind of cool look.  I am also a huge fan of cards with pictures that show a lot of the stadium in the background, which this card does well.

This card of Chunichi's Yazawa Kenichi, a member of the 2000 hit club, is also pretty cool.  I note that there are several different Yamakatsu cards of several different Chunichi players spread across several different sets which feature them batting in front of the same green netting.  I'm not sure why but it kind of works as a backdrop.
 The other two cards feature my least favorite aspect of some Yamakatsu cards from the 70s: the background having been cropped out and replaced with a boring blue (or sometimes green) backdrop.  I have no idea why Yamakatsu did this (seems about 1 in 5 or so of their cards from this era feature this) but it give the cards a very boring and generic feeling. It reminds me a bit of the 1958 Topps set which did the same, resulting in a truly boring set.

Otherwise though I think these are pretty cool cards.  Of course they are a double edged sword:  on the one hand they are great display pieces (at least the ones without the boring blue background) given their size.  On the other hand they are a huge pain to store!  I've already dinged the corners on two of them!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Cool Card: 1973 Calbee Sadaharu Oh (143)

In my previous post I complained a bit about how monotonous Calbee's photography is these days.  I've been going through my old cards from the 70s when Calbee photography was anything but, and thought I would do a few posts highlighting some of the gems.

The first (in no particular order) is this one, #143 from the 1973 set of Sadaharu Oh.  I like the fact that:

1) it shows him on the "agony of defeat" side of things for a change, his flamingo swing having twisted him around so bad after missing the ball that his helmet went flying.

2) horizontal cards are a nice variation on the vertical every now and then!

3) They cropped the photo so as to keep the catcher, ball that Oh missed clearly visible in his hand, in the shot. Not too sure but I think it must be Koichi Tabuchi, who appears on a huge number of cards of other players from the 1970s since he was the Tigers catcher and they took a lot of shots during Tigers games.

4) The packed stands of faces in decent focus watching Oh twist is a nice backdrop.

5) The yellowed color of everything in the photo makes it feel very 1973 to me for some reason.

6) Unlike most Calbee cards from the 1970s this one actually is close to a "regular" card of Oh rather than from some topical subset - the back features a lot of biographical information and no text.  Oddly it doesn't include any statistics, but it does tell you that he weighs 79 kg.

This photo would almost certainly never have appeared in the 2018 set and not just because it was taken 45 years ago, but because it was chosen by someone with a bit of imagination, which is no longer allowed in baseball card photo selection in Japan (judging by recent standards, alluded to in the previous post).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Problem with Calbee: 2018 Series 2 is here! And has the worst photo selection Ever

Series 2 of this year's Calbee set was released a little while ago and as with Series 1 I decided to put the set together all in one go from a re-seller on Yahoo Auctions.

I got them in the mail on Monday and.....much though I love Calbee I have to say that I'm not impressed.  Something has been bothering me about Calbee cards for a while now and I had a tough time putting my finger on it until yesterday when flipping through them I realized the problem: consistently unimaginative photo selection.

The photographs in this year's set are the most abysmally predictable ever (I think, they seem to have been doing this for a while now).  I flipped through the entire set of regular cards and realized that the photograph selection progress is entirely governed by three rules which just make this set frustratingly boring.

Rule #1:  All position players are to be shot at home plate in some stage of a swing.
The above are all the position players from the Hawks in the set.  Everyone of them is photographed taking a swing, all of them in the exact same location - that same damn pink sign is visible in the background of all of them.

This is repeated throughout every single team - they are all pictured taking swings, all of them in the exact same spot, with the exact same background.  There is not a single picture of  a position player actually playing the field at his position (except for covered by Rule #2 below).  Or running the bases.  Or in the dugout, or anything else.  Its insanely monotonous to flip through these horrible cards.

Rule #2: The only Exception to Rule #1 is for catchers.
For some reason catchers are allowed to appear at their position in their catching gear.  They are the only position player so honored, though only five of them get that treatment, the rest being pictured in generic swing pictures.

Rule #3: Every pitcher is to be shot while pitching

Batters have to be batting, so I guess they decided pitchers also always have to be shown pitching.  This again however creates a uniformity of backgrounds that makes the cards boring and monotonous to flip through - all the Nippon Ham Fighters pitchers have that same boring green wall in the Sapporo Dome and bit of artificial turf as the backdrop, all the Buffaloes pitchers have the same....boring blue wall in the Osaka Dome as the backdrop, etc etc.

There are no pictures of pitchers doing anything other than being at some point in their wind up - nobody fielding a ground ball, nobody running over to cover first, nobody batting or running the bases or even just posing....its so insanely boring.

Of the seventy base cards in the set there is only ONE which does not slavishly follow these three rules.  It is this card of Takahiro Norimoto celebrating his 1000 strikeout:

Its stands out so much from the other cards in the set that it is refreshing to look at and see....something other than the dugout or bottom of a boring outfield wall as a background.

This photographic laziness is frustrating given the awesome backdrops that they could work with at places like Koshien or Hiroshima's Mazda Stadium.  Its also frustrating given how quirky and awesome photography on Calbee cards used to be, even in the era where they sometimes resorted to taking stills off of TV screens to fill in their needs.

I wonder what the cause of this is.  One thing I notice is that all Calbee photographs are taken either of a player at home plate or on the mound, both of which can be taken from a single location near the dugout.  This suggests either extreme laziness or perhaps the teams have started limiting the access of Calbee photographers to just taking pics from one spot, though I could not imagine why that would be the case. Even if true this also doesn't really explain why they couldn't just take a few pics of guys fielding balls or running the bases to mix things up a bit, as such shots could easily be obtained from the same location.

Whatever the reason, I am quite disappointed.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

This Week in Crime Cards: Takahiro Kakizawa

I've decided to take my earlier post on recent upskirt voyeur Koji Yamawaki a kind of series - featuring cards of players who have recently been caught committing crimes.

This week's entry is (now former) Giants 2 gun outfielder Takahiro Kakizawa, who was released over the weekend after it was discovered that he had committed 110 acts of theft against his fellow Giants team mates.  

It seems Kakizawa had started a side gig which involved stealing gloves, bats and other things from Giants players and selling them to a couple of stores in Tokyo, netting about a million Yen.

The scam was busted up when Giants players started noticing their stuff appearing for sale on line, and someone had a look at the security camera footage and found Kakizawa hauling said stuff out of the locker room.

Kakizawa was drafted by the Eagles and traded to the Giants in 2016, though it should be noted he has never played (and now never will play) a game at the Ichi gun level.  Apparently he needed the money to pay off some debts, which I guess would explain the extraordinary stupidity of ruining a career for, relative to the potential earnings from even just playing part  of a single season at the Ichi Gun level, a crime with such a low payoff.

I don't own the card at the top of this post, put out by BBM in 2013 (the image is from an online auction) and I don't think Kakizawa has many.  I should also mention that his cards may not fall perfectly into the crime committing subset genre depending on how you define it.  Theft is definitely a crime, but the article doesn't actually say he was arrested, merely that he was fired after the Giants own investigation.  Whether he faces criminal charges is a separate issue that doesn't seem to have been decided yet!  Given the pathetic nature of the crime and the fact that his career is over at such a young age I would be inclined to say he has already been adequately punished.

Monday, June 25, 2018

My New Favorite Thing: Yamakatsu Blue Train Full Box!

 I was browsing around Yahoo Auctions last week looking for Yamakatsu baseball cards when suddenly something I had never seen before showed up in the list - a full box of Yamakatsu Blue Train cards.  In addition to baseball I am a huge train fan and I just love it when something has interdisciplinary appeal across my various hobby interests so I put a bid in and won.

"Blue Train" is a generic name that describes all long distance sleeper trains in Japan, whose cars are blue (though sometimes the engines that pull them are not).  They used to be extremely common sites, even as recently as the late 90s when I first arrived in Japan.  The spread of the Shinkansen network to almost every corner of the main islands from Kyushu to Hokkaido has basically made them redundant and the last one, the Hokutosei, retired in 2015 to much bittersweet fanfare.
 The box is great, it shows a picture of the "Fujii" - each blue train has its name and distinctive logo on the plaque on the front of the engine.  Inside the box you find right on top you find a mini album which would have been given out to recipients of atari cards.  The one I got features the Hayabusa, which looks similar to the one on the cover of the box but is actually a completely different train.

Two other recipients of atari cards would get these beauties, erasers shaped like Blue Train engines.
 The packs are wrapped in paper, very similar to the 1980 Yamakatsu baseball packs I have, and are stapled shut at the top.  The box contains 30 packs with 2 cards each, which retailed for 20 Yen back in the day.  I'm not sure what year the set was released in but I am guessing late 1970s.  The cards are small size, about the same as 1980s era Calbee baseball cards (or 1950 Bowman baseball cards for American collectors). The packs with atari cards in them are wrapped in plastic so the store owner could know which ones they were.
 I decided to open a pack.  These would be extremely easy for unscrupulous collectors to search through if there were any valuable single cards to chase, since the staples can be easily pried off the pack without damaging it and then resealed.  Not that I plan on doing that, but I wanted to keep the pack looking nice.
 Inside, there they are, about to see daylight for the first time in their 40 years or so of existence.
 Score!!!  I got the Myoujou (the red engine) and the Suisei!
 The backs of the cards show you the train's logo that appears on its engine, how far it travels (967.4 km and 965.9 km respectively), how long it takes (16:23, 15:43) and its average speed (59.3 kmph, 65.6 kmph).

It doesn't actually tell you where the train went from, but a little research reveals that the Myoujou went from Osaka to Kagoshima until the line was discontinued in 2008 (shortly before the Kyushu Shinkansen was introduced).  The Suisei went from Kyoto to Miyazaki and was discontinued in 2005 (ridership having fallen from 93% in 1989 to a mere 30% in 2004 - quite the rapid decline).

I'm not too sure how big the set is or how close I am likely to get by opening the box, but I am quite motivated to find out more.  The Japanese language internet doesn't turn up much information on them, save for this blog entry by someone who, like me, just bought a box and was quite excited by them!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Upskirt Photo Taker Card of the Week: Yamawaki Koji

This is kind of a random thing.  Koji Yamawaki was a utility infielder for the Hanshin Tigers in the late 80s-early 90s.  His claim to fame is that he had all of 5 at bats during the 1985 season (getting 2 hits for a .400 average) and thus merited an appearance on this commemorative card honoring the Tigers' championship that year.  He never played a full season, though did appear in about half of the Tigers games in 1990.  He retired after the 1993 season and became a scout for the Tigers, a job he held until Tuesday this week.

On Tuesday he was in Sendai casually riding an escalator behind a 25 year old woman wearing a short skirt.  He then pulled out his phone and started trying to take pictures up said skirt.  The plan apparently worked well until she turned around, saw what he was doing, yelled at him and then a passerby subdued him until police arrived.

"I was simply trying to take a photo from behind her" Yamawaki told police, who were unconvinced and placed him under arrest.

I just read this news and became curious if Yamawaki had any cards, but I wasn't able to find him in any of my Calbee sets.  He had a regular card in the 1991 BBM set, but most of the other cards I could find of him via Google searches were commemorative cards like the above produced well after his retirement (funny how utility infielders appear on so many commemorative cards, I guess its a revenue stream for them).

So if anyone is working on a "guys who have been arrested" themed collection (for whatever reason....) you can add Koji Yamawaki to your want list.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sadaharu Oh's Mirror

One of the more interesting cards from the 1974 Calbee set is this one (#405) which shows Sadaharu Oh practicing his swing before a game in front of a mirror.

According to the back of the card, when Oh switched to using his famous one legged batting stance on July 1, 1962, Shigeo Nagashima expressed doubt as to whether he could hit using it.  But it notes that Oh persevered and (of course) developed it well (it uses a metaphor about blooming flowers that sounds pretty hackneyed when translated into English so I'll just leave it at that).

Anyway, its one of those cool cards that shows an element of Oh's legendary attention to detail in his swing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sachio Kinugasa Rarities: 1975-76 Calbee Hiroshima Regional Issue

As I mentioned last week I am seriously pursuing the monster 1975-76 Calbee set as an active collecting project.  To prove my determination I present my latest pickups: Sachio Kinugasa cards #146 and 180 from the set.

These only get me 2 cards closer to the 1472 in the set, but these are important ones as they are both from the rare series that runs from card #145-180 which were only distributed in Hiroshima and (along with the other Hiroshima and Nagoya only regional issues) are the hardest to find and most expensive in the set.
The card designs are the same as the rest of the set.  Each card features a scene from a specific game in which the Carp defended their lead in the Central League (which is the theme of the series).  Card 146 features a game played on August 26, 1975 in which Hiroshima defeated Yakult 3-2, interestingly played at Okayama Kyujo, which is home to neither team.  Japanese teams often play a few games each year in local stadiums in their region which don't have their own teams and Okayama is right next to Hiroshima so this must have been one of Hiroshima's local series (hence Kinugasa in home uniform).  The image itself was taken during pre-game fielding practice.

Card 180 features a game played on September 13, 1975 in which the Carp defeated the Giants 7-1 at Hiroshima.  The card back also tells us that Kinugasa is one of the Carp's sluggers along with Kouji Yamamoto and that his dynamic running style is impressive to spectators.

This is the sort of hyper-detailed card - commemorating individual games - that goes along with a 1472 card set!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Interesting Thing: How Calbee cards were distributed in the 80s

 There is an interesting thing up for auction on Yahoo Auctions right now.  A pile of about 25 unopened Calbee packs from a 1980s set (which year is unclear) sealed in a little plastic bag.

I had put a bid in on it when it went up a few days ago, but with bidding having exceeded 15,000 Yen it has long since gone over my max so I am resigned to not winning it.  I wanted to do a post about it though because it is quite interesting.

I wasn't here in the 80s so I never saw how Calbee cards were distributed back then.  My first time seeing a Calbee bag of chips was in 2000 and the cards packs were attached to the outsides of the chips bags (as they are today) and I had just assumed they had always come like that.

This item however proves that assumption wrong.  The interesting thing about it is not the packs of cards, but that little piece of paper that comes with it, which says:

"Dear Store owners, we are afraid to trouble you but please distribute one of these per bag to customers who wish to purchase the product."

So in other words, in the 80s Calbee cards were given out by store clerks who (presumably) kept a little pile of them behind the counter. Attaching them to the chip bags presumably came later.
 I though that was kind of an interesting piece of trivia to put out there so I took a few photos of the listing (hence the grainy image quality, I can't save images from Yahoo Auctions listings for some reason).  It looks like about 25 or so packs (or possibly 24 which I think is how many chips bags come per case).

I'm not sure how much this will go for but its extremely rare to find the packs still in an unopened bag like this!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

1995 Calbee Choco Snack Ichiro Suzuki

 I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been collecting 1995 Tokyo Snack which is kind of Calbee's flagship set of that year.  The other set that Calbee released was its Choco Snack set (which as the name implies, came with a product called Choco Snack).  The Choco Snack set was only released in Tokyo and Saitama, though despite being a limited regional issue they seem to be only slightly rarer than the Tokyo Snack (though it is worth mentioning that Tokyo Snack is pretty hard to find).

My Tokyo Snack set is coming along nicely but I only have one card from the Choco Snack set; Ichiro Suzuki (C-32).
Ichiro appears on two cards in the set (this one and C-4).  The cards have two versions, one with the player name on the front in black lettering and another in gold, which is the more valuable of the two (as you can see, my Ichiro is the black lettered version).

Also as you can see my Ichiro card is still in the original baggie it came in.  This is something that sets the Choco Snack set a bit apart, it is probably the only Calbee set to have been issued in clear packs so you could see who you got.  I'm guessing these were distributed inside the packages of Choco Snacks so as to prevent cherry picking back in 1995, though I'm not certain of that.  Anyway, due to this its actually not uncommon to find cards from this set on Yahoo Auctions still in their packs - I guess people figured they might as well keep them in there!

Anyway, with Ichiro retiring I've decided its high time I started tracking down some of his harder to find Calbee cards from the 1990s and this is one of them (the 1994s will cost me way more).  I like seeing the awkward looking young Ichiro in his Blue Wave uniform, it really brings me back to my first year in Japan when I lived just outside of Kobe and went to see him play at Green Stadium.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Monster: My 1975-76 Calbee Baseball Set

 Last week was the Golden Week holiday and I set about doing something I have been meaning to do for years: Sorting out all the 1975-76 Calbee cards that I have.  Finding time for this is no small task for someone with two very small children, but in the wee hours of the night after they had gone to sleep I was able to sneak into the extra room and do some serious sorting.

I have been collecting the 1975-76 Calbee set for about five years now.  It is a 1472 card monster, probably one of the most difficult baseball card sets in the world to put together (more on that below), though at the same time not so expensive that it would destroy your bank account like some pre-war American tobacco card sets that are also difficult to put together.

I had never really gotten these cards organized until last week. I would just buy them, look at them, and put each purchase in some random box somewhere (a by-product of the above mentioned having two young children).  This wasn't a problem at first since when a set has 1472 cards and you are just buying them in lots of 5-10 cards each  its very unlikely you will get many doubles.  But over time they do accumulate and I was shocked to discover after pulling out all those disparate blocks of cards I had scattered around that I had accumulated more than a thousand of them!  It was time to organize.  So I got myself a huge pile of ultra-pro pages, two binders (there isn't a binder out there big enough to hold this set) and the May, 2010 issue of Sports Card Magazine which has a checklist of most of the set (more on that below too) and got to work.  And voila:
There is something very satisfying about having a partial set in pages organized numerically with empty pockets for the cards you are missing.  Its just so motivating.  With every card that goes into a pocket from now on I will feel a great sense of accomplishment, which will just spur me on to the next.  Set building is addictive.

I was also very surprised to discover just how close I am to the set.  I had roughly estimated I probably had 500-600 different cards, meaning I was less than half-way there, but actually I am already over the halfway point at 843 different cards!  This actually seems like it might be a do-able thing rather than just a pipe dream.  Wow!

Anyway, I thought I would do a little write up about the set here, highlighting some of the basics, why it is one of the most difficult sets in the world to collect and why it is also one of the greatest.

1975-76 Calbee: The Basics

The set is numbered #1 to #1436.  Cards #1 to #324 were issued in 1975 while from #325 up they were issued in 1976, hence the confusing "1975-76" moniker. This confusion is compounded by Sports Card Magazine, which lists the 1975 and 1976 cards separately despite obviously being part of the same set, a convention I reject since it makes zero sense.

The set is basically broken down into series, each of which has some sort of topical theme.  The first series for example features scenes from the all star game.  For this reason there aren't really any regular player cards in the set, though most cards do feature a single player on them.  Some players are featured on numerous cards - Sadaharu Oh even has an entire series (#789 - 824) devoted just to himself (in honor of his 700th home run), and additional cards in most of the other series as well.

There are four series within the set that are more difficult to find than the rest.  They are:

#37-#72 - These cards, featuring Dragons players, were only distributed in Nagoya and are extremely rare.  Three of these cards feature Hall of Famer Senichi Hoshino (45, 57 and 69) which are among the highest value cards in the set.

#145-180 - These cards, featuring Hiroshima Carp players, were only distributed in Hiroshima and are also extremely rare. Hall of Famers Sachio Kinugasa and Koji Yamamoto have cards in this series, but the most expensive (for some reason) are #157 and 174 which feature....(drumroll)....Hiroshima Municipal Stadium!

#609- 644 - These cards also feature Hiroshima Carp players and were also only distributed in Hiroshima and are also extremely rare..  They are the "red helmet" series (named after the Carp red batting helmets), but not to be mistaken for another similarly titled "red helmet" series (#289-324) which is not rare.

#1329-1436 - these are the high number final series and they are a bit of a mystery to me.  For some reason Sports Card Magazine doesn't list them (its checklist ends at 1328) and Calbee collector's write up about the set also ends at #1328. They definitely exist, however - I have several of them and some are available on Yahoo Auctions right now (usually with descriptions like "High series" or something in the title).  I'm not sure why they aren't in the SCM checklist but they seem to command a bit of a premium over the common cards based on Yahoo Auctions prices, but are quite a bit less expensive than the Nagoya and Hiroshima regional issues.

In addition to these it is worth mentioning that there are two versions of all the cards from #289-324.  One version is a Hiroshima red helmet subset while the other is a Star he no Ayumi (Path to stardom) subset featuring childhood photos of the stars next to a current image.  These cards explain why this is a 1472 card set despite the numbers only going to 1432.  Both versions of these cards are about equally common and neither commands a premium.

The card designs are the same almost throughout the set: full bleed photo with a little text at the bottom telling you which series the card is in and the player name.  The big exception to this is 325-396 which have a vivid pink border that looks very similar to the 1975 Topps set. Also there are a few oddball ones like a subset dedicated to artificial turf and some team leaders cards with their own design, though these are few and far between.

Another point of confusion comes from the backs.  The 1975-76 is distinguishable from other 1970s Calbee sets from the back design (the fronts on all Calbee sets from the 70s are basically the same). The backs are white with a border of stars and baseballs in the corner like the above card #580.  There is a confusing exception to this though.  The first series (#1-36) featuring the all star game don't have that star border.  And very confusingly Calbee used that star border on the first series of its 1977 set, so there are low number cards that look like 1975-76 Calbees on the back but aren't.  These are from the famous scenes series and have this on them: 名場面特集.  

Why it is one of the hardest sets in the world to collect

The sheer size is of course a big factor, 1472 cards is a lot.  Mind you, completing the 1989 and 1990 Topps baseball sets would require you to acquire more cards between them so obviously size isn't the only factor at work here. Scarcity is the big one.

The biggest initial hurdle for the set collector is the lack of starter sets out there.  I have a few vintage American sets that I am casually collecting (lower grade, cheap1960s-70s stuff) which I started by buying big starter sets that usually got me halfway or more of the way there.  Basically anyone looking to buy a vintage Topps set, even the 1952 Topps set, has this option since they always pop up on Ebay (with a 52 starter lot money will likely be an object of course, but they at least are available).

This doesn't really happen with the 1975-76 Calbee set.  The biggest lots that ever pop up are usually 50-100 cards and that is barely going to get you 5% of the way to the total IF you can find them.  At the moment the only thing available is this lot of 80 cards which seems to have heavy duplication and may contain some from other 70s sets.  There is also this one of 450 cards, but has cards from several different years...and it costs more than $3,000 (it has some key cards though so not necessarily overpriced).

Needless to say the pickings on Ebay are a lot slimmer.

Ironically while starter sets are next to non-existent, there is a complete set that came up for sale recently and is available.  Its worth looking at if for no other reason than to drool.  The starting bid is 1.28 million Yen (about $11,000 US) so its not cheap, but its there.

If you don't have that kind of cash lying around though, collecting this set means extreme patience, and doing what I have done (only perhaps with a bit more initial organization): pouring over Yahoo Auctions listings, snapping them up in small lots as they appear and over time accumulating enough that you have put a dent into them.  Its a bit more like the way one would collect the harder to find pre-war baseball cards in the US.

A second reason this set is so hard is those Hiroshima and Nagoya regional issues.  Those are really hard to find and they never show up in lots - I have zero of them.

Its a bit funy to read collectors complain about how hard it is to find the high series cards from the 60s and 70s Topps sets because they were printed in smaller quantities.  Oh yeah?  Imagine how hard those cards would be to find if they were only distributed in about 1/100th those quantities and some of them only in Cincinnati and some of them only in Dallas.  If that had been the case, then you could trade war stories with a 1975-76 Calbee collector!

And I'm not even getting into condition here because I'm not that kind of collector.  But if you are, forget about it.  Finding these cards in top grade is very difficult.  Partly this is just due to wear like American cards of the era, but these have an additional problem.  Japan is extremely humid and the white backs on most of my cards exhibit discoloration from that.  I don't care, but if you are a PSA guy, this set is pretty much impossible as even cards that look perfect on the front usually have some discoloration on the back which they'll probably ding you for.

While the regional issues are difficult to find, they aren't impossible as there are some of them available on Yahoo Auctions (for a significant premium of course).  The downside though is that most of them are not - if I bought up all the regional issues available on Yahoo Auctions right now I would only be about 20% of the way to completing them.  Most card shops don't have piles of these available either.

Why the Set is Among the Greatest of All

Right off the bat one of the best things about collecting this set is that despite how difficult it is to find, the prices are still relatively down to earth on most cards.  The commons can be found for 100 Yen or so if you are patient and don't mind mid-grade and even the most expensive cards in the set from the rare regional issues are in the 3 figure range (in dollars) rather than the 5-6 figure range more typical of US sets.  Heck if you are OK with cards in lower grade even the most expensive card in the set could probably be had in the 2 figure range if you use a little patience.

So its not super expensive and the fact that it can take years to put together allows you to spread the amount you spend on it out over time.  Its like a built in self-financing system.  I'm more than half way to completing the set but I've probably only  spent an average of about 1,000 Yen (about $9) per week on it since I started collecting them.

More than that though, the cards are awesome!  You've got:

Full bleed photos - yes!

Amazing photography - tons of action shots, very few posed shots or hatless wonders.

Pictures taken in actual stadiums during actual games - no spring training pictures (except, perhaps not coincidentally, for the cards that look like 1975 Topps ones some of which have a spring training theme)!  I love my 1970s Topps Expos cards but it just infuriates me every time I see a palm tree in the background of a card of a Canadian team.  Calbee shows you what the Japanese stadiums of the 70s look like and they are awesome.

Player selection - I've written about this before, the selection of key hall of famers is pretty deep in this set.

Another thing to like is the challenge.  You have the difficulty level of extremely hard to find pre-war tobacco cards like the T-206 but its still a challenge you can take up (if you live in Japan at least) without having to worry about impossible cards (Wagner, etc) or the fact that beat up commons are expensive.  I love that.

Other Oddball Stuff about the set

One other thing to like about 70s  Calbee sets is the lack of rookie cards.  From a set collector's point of view, the concept of a rookie card serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily make one or two cards in the set much more expensive than the rest.  Since Calbee sets from this era usually had dozens of cards of the same player, its pretty much impossible to assign a rookie card to anyone.  Those didn't really appear in Japan until the mid 1980s.

That said, there is a bit of a premium in this set places on some players who were early in their careers. Cards of Masayuki Kakefu, who debuted in 1974, are more expensive (SCM lists all of them at 3,000 Yen).  Yutaka Enatsu's cards are also listed for 3,000 Yen, though he had already been playing for a few years so I'm not sure why.

Davey Johnson who played for the Giants for a couple of seasons is featured on numerous cards and is probably the foreigner with the most (Clyde Wright is on a lot too though).  Clete Boyer despite being probably the biggest name among foreign players in the set, only appears on one card (374) which is a bit expensive.  Matty Alou is the only other big name former MLBer in the set, appearing on a couple of cards including this awesome one of him batting at Nishinomiya Stadium.

Also, as is typical with Calbee sets from the era, the Giants are way over-represented with their players appearing on a whopping 440 cards (according to this).  In contrast members of the Nippon Ham Fighters only show up on 27, and the Lotte Orions on zero (since Lotte and Calbee were snack food rivals, Calbee banished their team from cards completely, which is a real shame).

There were some albums Calbee made as redemptions for this set which look pretty cool, I put some pictures of those up on an earlier post here.

Where I go from here

So now that I am really motivated to get this thing complete my big milestones I'd like to hit are getting to the 1,000 different card threshold (just 157 to go) and getting some of those regional issues.  The regional issues are a glaring hole-of-shame in my binders now since they are hard to miss.  3-4 blank pages in a row sitting in a sea of "an average of 6 cards per page" pages is a really discouraging site.  So I'll put some money aside to get a crack at some of them, though I suspect it'll be at least a decade before I've got those pages looking more populated, by which time hopefully the other pages will be complete!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Jackpot! Unopened Box of 1980 Yamakatsu!

 As I mentioned in a post last month I have recently developed an interest in Yamakatsu cards, particularly the 1979 and 1980 sets which are a bit smaller sized.  I was browsing Yahoo a couple weeks ago for acquisitions and came across the coolest thing: an unopened box of 1980 Yamakatsu packs.

I've seen the odd unopened pack of these pop up from time to time but have never come across a whole box of them before, so I put a bid in and ended up winning by a hair.
The box is not quite complete.  As it says on the front, originally there were 60 packs for sale at 20 Yen each.  My box has only 50 packs, so whatever store this sat in back in the day must have sold the other 10.

 The packs come with 3 cards each so I now have 150 cards (in addition to ten that I already had).  There are only 64 in the set so I likely have all or most of the set already!  

The packs are made of paper and decorated with the team logos.  They are stapled shut at the top end.  This looks like it would invite cherry-pickers to try to pry open the tops and have a peak at the cards but its not possible to do this (I tried, they are in there pretty good)!
 You may have noticed in one of the above photos that there appears to be three baseballs in the box.  That is because there are three baseballs in the box.  On the cover of the box it says ライナーボール当て which means "Win a Liner Ball"!  These would have been prizes given out by shopclerks to kids who pulled "当たり" (atari) winner cards.  I am not sure if the boxes came with just three or if there were originally more and some were already given away, though it doesn't appear that you could fit any more into the box so I'm guessing three is complete.  Each Liner Ball has a picture of a player on it.  I haven't taken the time to figure out which three players I got but one from the Carp, Tigers and Giants.  The balls are made of soft rubber and are pretty neat, I've never seen them before and I assume since most of them have long since been played with they are probably considerably harder to find than the cards themselves.
 According to the seller there were also two atari winner packs of cards in the box.  I assume that those were these two packs, which being wrapped in plastic are the only ones distinguishable from the rest.  The seller said there were originally three of these but one is missing, presumably claimed by a kid back in the day.  I'm not sure how the atari winner card system worked, perhaps kids could choose between getting a liner ball or a pack of cards, or maybe the atari winner cards themselves state that?  A subject for future research (unless any of you can tell me).
 The 1980 Yamakatsu box comes with all you see here (and ten more packs):

So there you have it, probably this is the coolest vintage thing that I have in my collection now.  I have not opened any of the pack in this nor do I intend to - they've survived almost 40 years in this condition and it would be almost sacrilegious to open them, given how few probably are out there. Also the cards themselves are, while not super common, definitely obtainable for a reasonable price.

I do really want to open them though.  It just feels weird trying to leave packs unopened.  I am going to have to work hard at this.

For a great write up about all of the Yamakatsu sets of the late 70s-early 80s, see NPB Guy's article here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

1987 Calbee: Entering the Home Stretch

 Every year for the past four year I have made a new year's resolution to finally finish my 1987 Calbee set.  This year for the first time I am actually making a serious effort to make that happen.

The above three cards (#48, 98 and 346) are recent pick ups which get me a bit closer to that goal.  I am now a mere 18 cards short of finishing the 382 card set (383 cards if you count the two versions of card 371).  That puts me about 95% of the way there!

Most of the cards I still need (11 out of 18) are in the short printed series that runs from numbers 51 to 100, which are noticably harder to find than the rest.  They sell for a bit of a premium but are not outrageously expensive like the short printed series in some other Calbee sets from the 70s and 80s, which is one of the things that makes the 1987 set do-able (though still difficult).  The middle card of Mizuno in the above picture (#98) is from that series and set me back just 400 Yen  (its in a bit lower grade though).

Of the cards outside that short printed series, some of them may also be harder to find, at least based on my experience.  Card #346 (right card in above photo) is not short printed but I hadn't seen one in years of regular searching on Yahoo Auctions until last week.  Other set collectors must also be after it because I got into a minor bidding war over it which bumped the price up to 340 Yen.  OK, that isn't exactly a lot (about $3) but the going rate for 1987 Calbee commons outside the short printed series is usually closer to 100 Yen, so there was some additional interest in that one which drove the price up a bit.  The same holds for card 222, which I bought I also bought a little while ago after finding one for the first time in years and ended up getting into a mini bidding war over.

Anyway, my set is tantalizingly close to completion.  Which has me considering how I am going to store it - a problem for all 1980s Calbee collectors owing to the small size of the cards (about the same as 1950 Bowmans).  At the moment I have them in 10 pocket pages (pictured above) that I bought at the 100 Yen shop.  These are completely inadequate since the cards are constantly falling out of the big pockets (and they don't really look good in there either).  I'm not too sure if there are any album pages out there that are the right size for these.  I have the same problem with boxes, which are all designed for standard sized American cards that are about twice the size.  Anybody out there have any tips on storing 1980s Calbees?

This is my want list for the set, if any of you have these I am VERY interested in them.


There is actually a complete set of these that is up for sale on Yahoo Auctions right now for 145,000 Yen (about 1300$ US).  That works out to roughly 350 Yen or so per card.  They look like they are in pretty good shape (in keeping with Japanese collectors lower level of concern with condition the seller is very vague about this, just noting that they are mostly in nice shape except a couple that have writing on them).  Unless I way overpay for my last 18 cards though I'll have put mine together for a lot less than that.  My set is probably what would be called "mid grade" with cards ranging from good to near mint, probably averaging in the vg/ex to ex range for most of them.

Monday, April 30, 2018

More (not) Autographed Bats From the 1979 Calbee Promo!!!

I've had to edit this post a bit. I thought these things were really autographed, but it turns out they are printed signatures on them (see comments). Doh! Still a cool item, but not THAT cool!

Isao Harimoto was the first I acquired and I've already written about it (his is the top one in the above photo). This week I added two more to the collection: hall of famer and former manager of the Chunichi Dragons Morimichi Takagi (middle bat in the above photo) and former Hanshin Tigers all star third baseman Masayuki Kakefu (bottom bat in photo).  All three have come courtesy of Yahoo Auctions, the Takagi from the same guy who sold me the Harimoto and the Kakefu one from a different seller.

The Takagi one is particularly interesting since it isn't in the Calbee collector's collection and thus not on the list of known ones I am compiling, so I can add him to it.  The list of guys who have bats are:

Shoji Sadaoka (Giants)
Shigeru Takada (Giants)
Kiyoshi Nakahata (Giants)
Isao Harimoto (Giants)
Kazumasa Kono (Giants)
Suguru Egawa (Giants)
Sadaharu Oh (Giants)
Masayuki Kakefu (Tigers)
Koji Yamamoto (Carp)
Sachio Kinugasa (Carp)
Akio Saito (Whales)
Yasushi Tao (Dragons)
Morimichi Takagi (Dragons)
Kouichi Tabuchi (Lions)

My enthusiasm for these has waned a bit now that I know they aren’t actually signed, but they are still pretty cool items for the collection!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Calbee was (almost) way ahead of its time: 1979 Calbee (not) Autographed Bats!

The thing I love about collecting Calbee, and vintage Japanese baseball cards in general, is that every time you think you have already found all the awesome old stuff there is to collect you find something new to fall in love with.

In 1979 (and possibly also 1978) Calbee ran what was probably their greatest promotion ever.  If you were lucky enough to find two randomly inserted "Home Run Cards" in packs then if you sent them along with 300 Yen to Calbee you would get an autographed ball of an un-named star player.  I originally thought these were really autographed, but it turns out they are facsimiles. If you only had one Home Run Card you could send that in and get an autographed mascot bat of an also un-named star player.  You can see a picture of a 1979 Home Run card which describes the promo on this post by Ryan.  

I only really became aware of these last week when I was looking up info on the Calbee collector's website and stumbled onto his amazing list of Calbee promo items over the years, which included photos of his awesome collection of balls and bats that were redeemed in 1979.  I knew that I had to get one!!  The bats in particular are so awesome!

So I went auction hunting and found a beautiful one of none other than all time hits leader Isao Harimoto!  It arrived yesterday and is the awesomest-est thing I have in my Calbee collection now.  
According to the Calbee Collector there might have also been the same promotion run in 1978, though I haven't seen any 1978 Home Run Card to confirm that.  

The bats aren't big, I put a card of Harimoto from the 1975-76 Calbee set in the above photo for scale.  There isn't any definitive checklist of players who are in the set there that I know of, but Calbee collector has the following ones so we at least have a partial list. The list is pretty heavily skewed towards Giants players but given the era that is typical.  

Shoji Sadaoka (Giants)
Shigeru Takada (Giants)
Kiyoshi Nakahata (Giants)
Isao Harimoto (Giants)
Kazumasa Kono (Giants)
Suguru Egawa (Giants)
Sadaharu Oh (Giants)
Masayuki Kakefu (Tigers)
Koji Yamamoto (Carp)
Sachio Kinugasa (Carp)
Akio Saito (Whales)
Yasushi Tao (Dragons)
Kouichi Tabuchi (Lions)