Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Monster Calbee set slowly draws nearer to completion

I reached another milestone in my 1975-76-77 Calbee set recently: I have surpassed 1300 cards (out of 1472). 

Its been a long, slow slog but in some ways it has become more satisfying the fewer there are left on my want list. This week I added a couple of new ones. 

The first was a big one, card #609 featuring Takeshi Koba. It is from the rarest series (Red Helmets) which, not surprisingly, is the one that I still need the most from. Over the past couple of years cards from it have become noticably harder to find. Normally there aren’t any to be found on Yahoo Auctions and they only pop up every once in a while. When this one showed up and was one I needed I had to pounce.

Its so satisfying to see it in its place in the binder.


I also picked up #378 which features four Dragons pitchers and is a nice center pocketer that completed the sheet it belonged in. That one leaves me just three short of having all the pink bordered cards in the set.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Stop Motion Assembly Model Cards


I find myself in the baseball card collector January doldrums.  My collecting activity always takes a nose-dive once the season ends and January is pretty much the worst of it - the holidays are over, its cold, the days are short and the regular season is still more than two months away.  This, along with work keeping me busy, explains my lack of recent posts.

I did however pick up one interesting thing recently.  "Stop Motion Assembly Model" baseball cards of Shigeru Kobayashi and Masayuki Kakefu.

I'd never heard of these before and didn't even know that I should be looking for them.  They were in a big "junk" lot of random 70s cards I bought on Yahoo Auctions a few days ago.  I didn't even notice what they were in the lot pictures and it only became apparent when I had them in my hands. 

These are basically die cut wood figures that are meant to resemble the players on the card as you can see when you flip them over.

These are still sealed in their original packaging so I haven't opened them up, but you can see from the image on Kakefu's what they are supposed to look like when assembled.  Not impressive by today's standards when we are used to very life-like plastic figures, but not bad for the 1970s.

These were produced by a company called Mitsubishi Pencil which confusingly has the same name (Mitsubishi) and logo as the more famous Mitsubishi industrial conglomerate but isn't actually a member of it.  

Given the appearance of Kobayashi as a Giant and Kakefu as a Tiger, these would have been produced sometime between 1974 and 1978.  They had a retail price of 250 Yen (on the upper left corner of the package).  

I'm not sure what, if anything is on the back of the cards (which are roughly postcard sized) since I haven't taken them out of the package.  

These seem to be pretty rare.  Engel doesn't mention them at all, I've never seen them on Yahoo Auctions before and my Google search for them turned up a grand total of one relevant result.  That result was kind of intriguing, it was an image (on pinterest) of this ad here for them:

This is not actually an ad from Mitsubishi Pencil, the producer of them, but rather by Morinaga Caramel which produces a well known caramel candy (pictured in the bottom right of the ad) which is still sold in most convenience stores today.  I can't quite read all the small text in the image, but it seems like these were given out as presents to those who bought a certain number of Morinaga Caramels and sent in the proofs of purchases.  Given that Morinaga Caramels only cost 50 Yen each and the retail price of these figures was 250 Yen, I'm guessing these didn't sell well initially and they ended up giving the leftover stock to Morinaga to dispose of through this promotion, though I'm not sure.

Interestingly the ad gives us some indication of who else is in the set.  In addition to Kakefu it also mentions Hanshin Tigers catcher Koichi Tabuchi.  You can see there are four different posable figures - one batter (which is Kakefu), two pitchers (one of which is Kobayashi, not sure about the other one) and one catcher (Tabuchi).  There are also three cards visible, one of which is my Kakefu, another is Tabuchi and a third one which looks like Isao Harimoto (though I'm not sure about that).  There might be other players who aren't featured in the ad of course so I'm still not sure how many there are, but its a good start!

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

2023 Season at an End


The Hanshin Tigers beat the Orix Buffaloes to win the Japan Series over the weekend, marking the official end of baseball games for 2023.  I always feel a little melancholic during the week after the Series ends since its the time of year when you have the longest wait until the next game.  This year I'm feeling it a bit more than usual since this was one of my most enjoyable years as a baseball fan.

This is kind of odd since I'm a Dragons fan and they had the most miserable year imaginable.  They finished with the worst record in NPB and set a number of records of futility (most times getting shut out for example).  But it was a great year nonetheless.

I was reminded of how the year began when I got a complete set of Calbee Series 2 in the mail the other day.  As I mentioned a couple of months ago, bags of Series 2 only briefly appeared in stores in August and then completely disappeared about a week or so after they showed up.  This prevented me from collecting the set bag by bag with my kids like we did with Series 1, so I just paid 1,000 Yen to get the regular set from a case-breaker on Yahoo Auctions.  

The above card is from a pretty decent 12 card subset in Series 2 which features scenes from each team's first victory in the 2023 season.  It shows Shuhei Takahashi in a game on opening day against the Giants.  I remember watching it on TV and it was such an exciting game.  The Dragons were losing 3-2 heading into the 9th, but were able to load the bases for Takahashi who came through by hitting a bases clearing double to put the Dragons ahead.  The picture on the card shows him celebrating that moment.

I had high hopes that this would be a harbinger of things to come, but both the Dragons and Takahashi unfortunately peaked during that exact inning and everything went downhill from there.  The Dragons finished last, and Takahashi only hit .215 with no home runs in limited play throughout the rest of the season (his 3 RBI from that one hit constituted more than 20% of his total over the entire season).  

But the game did accomplish one thing, which was to get me and my kids excited about the baseball season.  I took them to the Dome to see a couple of Dragons games in person, and we watched a lot of games on TV (or more accurately I watched a lot of games on TV and they would sporadically stop playing to have a look for a few minutes with me every now and then).  I took them to the park a lot to play ball too, and my son and I went to the batting centre.  

We also had fun collecting cards.  We had a crack at completing Calbee Series 1 bag by bag which ran into a few snags due to Calbee's distribution problems this year but when they finally sorted that out we did have a lot of fun opening bags together and got most of the regular set done.  When Calbee screwed up Series 2 (as mentioned above) it turned out to be a kind of blessing in disguise as I discovered the absolute joy of  buying unopened boxes of Epoch packs that didn't contain "hits" and were thus cheap as dirt. The kids and I formed a tradition of each opening one pack whenever we watched a game on TV and throwing all the Baystars cards onto the floor in disgust (because the Baystars beat the Dragons on the first game we went to at the Dome this year).  We kept this up throughout the season and in fact opened the last packs I had over the weekend during Game 7 of the Series.  We didn't quite finish the set, and most of the cards have dinged upper right corners from when my daughter dropped the box they were in, and the Baystars cards have additional damage from being thrown about in disgust, but who cares?  The point in collecting cards is not to own cards, but to have fun in getting them and this was a success in that regard.  

So all in all I had a lot of fun cheering for a lousy team and having my normal collecting routine disrupted by Calbee's bizarre incompetence in distributing cards.  Hopefully 2024 will be another nice one.  

PS: I haven't been posting much recently but this is just due to me being insanely busy at work. The blog is still going and I'm still collecting, hopefully things will settle down and I'll be able to get back to the blog a bit more often in the near future.  

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Calbee Series 2 was here, breifly


Bags of Calbee Series 2 chips appeared in stores last week for a very short time.  I bought three bags at my local supermarket.  I went back a couple of days later and they were gone, sold out.  A trip to another supermarket yesterday turned up the same thing.  Its like what happened with Series 1 all over again it would seem.

This time though it doesn't seem to matter, at least from my perspective.  My kids had a lot more fun opening the Epoch packs that I got so when I brought these ones home, they showed no interest in opening them with me. I ended up just throwing them in the snack drawer for later.  Looks like we won't be collecting Calbee Series 2 in my house this year.

I did open one bag though, got a couple of regular cards from the miniscule 60 card base set.  While reading the bag as I did so I realized there is a major change with this Series - no Lucky Cards!

As I've written about before, Lucky Cards are a promotional thing Calbee does.  Pull one of them and you can send it in to the company for a prize of some sort.  The prizes have varied considerably over the years.  When I collected the 2004 set (the first time I tried to put one together bag by bag), they had a really fantastic Star Card set that you could get by sending in three Lucky card tabs.  More recently they have been less exciting albums, but they were a fun thing to pull nonetheless.

As far as I can tell, this is possibly the first time in its entire 50 years of making cards that it hasn't included Lucky Cards (or an equivalent, they were known as Home Run cards back in the 70s).  I've seen Lucky cards or their equivalent (ie something you could pull from packs that was redeemable for a prize) for every Calbee set going back to the 90s, and I've also seen them from most of the sets from the 70s.  The only time period I'm not certain about is the 80s. I've never seen a mini-card sized Lucky card from those years, and they didn't do Home Run Cards like they did in the 70s during that decade either.  But at the same time, I've seen albums (which are often the prizes you would get) for most of the sets from the 80s, so they likely had some way of being won similar to a Lucky Card, but I'm not sure how it worked. 

Anyway, history aside I'm not sure if this is just a temporary change related to the supply problems they've been having this year, or if its a permanent one.  If its the latter, its unfortunately just another reason for me to not buy new Calbee cards each year, which is a shame.  This is just speculation on my part, but abandoning the Lucky Cards might simply be a cost cutting measure unrelated to their current problems.  Inflation in Japan - which has been non-existent during the 20 plus years I've lived here - suddenly appeared last year and drove the prices of most things you find on supermarket shelves up.  This has led all food companies to either raise prices or engage in shrinkflation.  The price of bags of Calbee chips this year is the same as last (98 Yen), which makes me suspect the loss of the Lucky Cards is Calbee's way of keeping it that way.  Personally I would prefer to pay a bit more per bag for a decent set (more than 60 cards) and with some bells and whistles that my kids could chase, which the Lucky cards were great for (or would have been if they were a bit more generous like they were back in 2004).  I'm curious what they'll do in 2024, but not sure if I'll be collecting the set anymore by then!

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

My Sadaharu Oh Autograph


I was going through some boxes the other day and pulled out something I had almost forgotten that I had. Its card number 7 from the 1973 Calbee set featuring Sadaharu Oh. Its one of his first Calbee cards and, with him silhouetted against the blue sky, pairs up nicely with the first card in the set featuring Shigeo Nagashima.

Mine is autographed.

I didn’t get the autograph in person, rather this was something I bought on impulse several years ago. I don’t often buy autographed cards since I’m not good at detecting forgeries, but this one had a pretty decent provenance. I bought it from Biblio, a famous store in the Jinbocho neighborhood in Tokyo that is probably the leading dealer of vintage baseball memorabilia in Japan. The owner is known in Japan as one of the leading experts on baseball autographs and has appeared on a TV show that I watch every Tuesday called Nandemo Kanteidan, which is kind of a Japanese version of Antiques Roadshow. Regular people bring their antiques and experts tell them if they are valuable authentic pieces or worthless fakes. 

So if I see something from them, and it looks good to my amateur eyes, I figure its probably good. I didn’t go to the store in person (Dave has visited twice and has written about what the actual store was like, including a complaint on his last visit), but rather picked it up from their online store.

I bought it before the pandemic hit and the price of vintage stuff, and especially Sadaharu Oh vintage stuff, took off so I didn’t pay that much for it. I rather like autographed vintage cards and couldn’t resist this one in particular. It got kind of mixed up with some other stuff after I got it, something that often happens with oddball items in my collection that I don’t have a “category” in my rudimentary sorting system for. I was happy to find it.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Floor Yokohama Baystars Cards


We have developed a new tradition in my house.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been able to source large numbers of 2023 Epoch packs for very cheap prices. I now have a stockpile of them, and everyday my two kids and I open one pack each.

I took them to the Nagoya Dome earlier this year to watch a Baystars-Dragons game and the Baystars won 2-0. Ever since then my kids have hated the Baystars, largely because the loss robbed us of the ability to watch the post-game celebrations the Dragons and their mascots put on.

Epoch packs come with one card per team, and my kids started throwing the Baystars cards directly on the floor as a symbol of their contempt. I have joined them in doing so and we’ve now largely formalized the ritual. When we open the packs, we grab the Baystars cards, say “Ugh, bye bye Baystars” and fling them to the floor in disgust.

So we are trying to complete the set but with the Baystars cards mostly mid-grade.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

2020s Junk Wax is Awesome

I made an interesting discovery the other day. I can buy unopened 12 card packs of this year’s Epoch baseball set for just 60 cents each.

This discovery was prompted by Calbee being MIA from store shelves for the past couple of months, which has forced me to look for other options for my contemporary baseball card collecting needs. I saw Dave’s post about the 2023 Epoch set and I thought the design looked pretty decent, as did the checklist,  so I started browsing Yahoo Auctions.

The set is sold in 24 pack boxes with 12 cards each which seem to sell for about 10,000 to 12,000 Yen each or so (70 to 90 bucks).

But there is a cheaper way, which seems to exist due to Epoch’s highly predictable  rate of seeding of the valuable autographed chase cards in boxes.

It seems they put one such card per box. So when box breakers open a pack containing one, they can deduce that the remaining packs in the box they took it from don’t have any and are thus of no interest to them. 

To get rid of these “stale” packs, they fill empty boxes with the standard 24 packs and sell them dirt cheap. I bought a box of them for just 2000 Yen, which works out to about 60 cents per pack. Other than the fact that your odds of getting a high value auto are pretty much nil, it’s indistinguishable from a regular box. Since I’m mainly interested in collecting these with my kids for fun these are just perfect.

They arrived in the mail today and I’m quite happy with them. My kids and I opened one pack each today and saved the rest for later. It was a lot of fun, opening 12 card packs provides for a more engaging experience than Calbee’s two card packs, though with the lack of chips being a notable drawback. 

We got some decent cards, including Yuki Okabayashi who is a favorite in our house. I noted with interest that the packs contain one card from each team which was neat. We also got two silver parallel cards so while we might not get any autos there is still something shiny for the kids to chase in them.

The bottom of the boxes are pretty cool too, with a 12 card panel of mini versions of the cards (though these are blank backed).

I’m not sure if this sort of thing is normal in the US and I’m just totally out of date and marveling at some hobby phenomena that’s existed for years, but being able to get these so cheap just really shocked me. This set is brand new - it was only released a few weeks ago - but I can already buy packs of it for almost nothing. It strikes me as being insanely wasteful, but I’m not complaining. 

I’ve already got another box of these ordered and on the way. Calbee better get its act together or I might switch my collecting habits altogether. Another big problem I have with Calbee - in addition to it just not being available for sale right now - is their limited checklist. This year they’ll only have 10 regular cards per team, not even enough to cover half a roster. Many of our favorite Dragons players just don’t have Calbee cards this year, but Epoch’s 36 cards per team means they get about everyone plus a lot of the 2 Gun guys.

This kind of makes me wonder who would ever buy a pack of these in stores? If the hitless packs are so easily separable, buying these in anything but full, sealed boxes can’t make much sense from the perspective of people hunting the auto cards. You’d think Epoch would be a bit more careful to avoid that happening, though I kind of hope this is a problem they don’t fix.