Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Mystery Duck

 These are my cards from the 1947 set catalogued as JDM 11, one of the first post-war die cut sets produced.

Cool cards, eh?

If you are like me, when looking at the above photo your eye was probably drawn to the card on the lower left, which features Tokyuu pitcher Giichiro Shiraki.  And a duck.
What is that duck doing there?

Ducks don't belong on baseball cards, everybody knows that!

This duck has been bothering me for a while.  I've read up about Shiraki to see if I can find some amusing incident in his career that would explain the duck, but have come up empty.  He had a pretty short career, just 7 seasons, though he did lead the league in wins in 1946 and ERA the following season (though playing for a lousy team, he ended up with a losing career record of 97-98).  He is also notable for his post-playing career as a politician, becoming the first professional baseball player to be elected to the Diet in 1956 and serving until 1986.

But none of that would explain why he appeared on a baseball card in 1947 with a duck.

Google searches for his name and "duck" (in Japanese) don't turn up anything. His Japanese wikipedia page does tell us that team mates used to make fun of his big chin and repeat a very well known Japanese joke about long chins to him.

Would you like to hear the joke?

Well, I'll tell it to you anyway.  The Japanese word for chin is "ago".  So when someone has a long chin, people say to them in English "Long long ago"!  Ha!  Get it?

Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of Japanese humor either.

Anyway I'm not sure what to make of the duck.  Maybe its a pet?  Or it could have been a prize?  Food was very scarce in Japan in 1947 so giving a pro ball player a live duck to eat as a prize probably wasn't as strange back then as it would seem now.

To get back to the non-duck related elements of the set, this is what the backs of the cards look like.
Card #6 is Hall of Famer Tetsuharu Kawakami and the biggest name in the set which I have, though I kind of like the Shiraki mystery duck card too.


  1. "Or it could have been a prize? Food was very scarce in Japan in 1947 so giving a pro ball player a live duck to eat as a prize probably wasn't as strange back then as it would seem now."

    This one. There's a photo out there (that a cursory internet search was unable to locate) of Victor Starffin with a huge fish that was given to him for winning some important game (maybe the all star game?)

    1. That did strike me as the most likely. They give away cars these days, but food would have been more likely back then. The choice of a duck strikes me as odd though. Ducks are eaten in Japan, but they aren't often given as gifts or considered a delicacy (fish and fruit have a lot more prestige as food related gifts).

    2. Yes, the duck or goose was probably a prize for the player. I did a post about this card a few years back and quoted an Ebay auction from Rob Fitts for a card showing Kaoru Betto holding a large fish where Rob stated that "high quality food was hard to get in post-war Japan so prizes given to players during the all-star game often included food."

    3. Ha, great minds think alike, sorry I missed that post of yours. Yeah, it must be an award, LazyMF's card in the comment below seems to confirm this.

  2. Here is a link to the Betto/fish card (JBR 49): http://u.cubeupload.com/LazyMF/73cScan10935.jpg

    Here is another duck/goose card. What does it say on the banner?

    1. Oh wow, thanks. That is really useful. That duck/goose (actually a goose) card says "Meritorious service award Goose" (殊勲賞 ガチョウ or "Shukun Jo Gachou").

      I've looked it up (just Google searches really) and I can't figure out what award that is referring to . That sheet of menko depicts both NPB players and college players, but the specific card is of a Giants player so must be NPB. The mystery continues....

      Great find with that Betto fish card, thanks for that too!

    2. Thanks for the translation. Just found your blog today. Great stuff.

      Here is another mystery card I've been wondering about:

    3. Oh wow, that one is intriguing too, isn't it?

      The text on the card identifies the player as Isekawa Masumi, a catcher for a predecessor of today's Yokohama Baystars that went under the name "Pacific" briefly. Unfortunately it doesn't tell us anything about who that kid is though!

  3. Your post’s title has started this song running through my head https://youtu.be/XA5HErVE9oI

    1. Its a good choice of a song too since its contemporary with the whole "giving geese as prizes to Japanese baseball players" practice!