Sunday, August 7, 2022

1991 Calbee Uncut Proof Sheet

I missed out on winning a pretty cool thing on Yahoo Auctions yesterday.  It is an uncut proof sheet of 1991 Calbee baseball cards.  I've never seen anything like this before.

This isn't an uncut sheet of 1991 Calbee cards that were released in packs, but rather a test sheet that was used in their development.  

According to the seller (I haven't checked) some of the cards were not actually released, including Tsunemi Tsuda's (which has a photo of someone else on it) and also Takeshi Kobayakawa, whose name is mis-spelled Kobaykawa on the front:

This was one of those "things I didn't even know I wanted until I saw it, then I wanted it a lot".  I put a bid on really having no idea what this thing was worth or if it would get much traction.  In the end it sold for 36,500 Yen, which at today's exchange rate I think works out to about $2.47 US.  That was about triple my high bid, so I had to drop out.  I thought it was  a pretty neat thing though.  I'd say I was now looking for more, but this might have been a one of a kind thing so perhaps that boat has sailed!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Card Rich, Cash Poor


I suspect that over the course of the last two years a new major class of baseball card collector has emerged: the Card Rich, Cash Poor collector.  I am one of them.

This is kind of a lucky thing to be, though it also has its drawbacks.  Basically this is the collector who is not wealthy and does not have a high paying job (cash poor) but prior to the explosion in prices had been able to build up a decent collection of old cards when they were cheap and is now sitting on a collection worth many times what was originally paid for it (card rich).

In retrospect I now realize that I was pretty lucky to get back into baseball cards at the time I did, because I have a pretty decent vintage American card collection (which I don't talk about much on here) which I was fortunate enough to put together at exactly the right moment, allowing me to boast of being card rich and cash poor today.

For about a six year period between 2009 and 2015 I dabbled a bit in selling old Japanese video games that I scoured from junk bins in second hand shops.  This generated a couple hundred bucks or so a month, sometimes more, which I treated as kind of "found money".Since it was accumulating in a Paypal account, I decided to find out what that whole Ebay thing everyone was talking about was and I ended up going down the vintage baseball card listing rabbit hole.

I was pretty amazed to find that vintage cards which had been so crazily in demand back in the late 80s/ early 90s when I had previously collected were so plentiful and cheap.  It was like I was a kid in a candy store, I basically started converting most of my video game sales money into old baseball cards every month, month after month for six years.

Around 2015 or so my supply of old video games started to dry up, and with it my baseball card budget, so my six year spending spree came to an end, but not before I had built up a pretty decent collection.  Which is now worth several times more than what I paid for it back then.

On the one hand, this is great.  The "I hope my wife doesn't find out how much I'm spending on baseball cards" stress that I felt back in 2009-2015 has been replaced with a much better "How do I tell my wife that my baseball card collection is worth enough to cover a significant portion of our kids' university tuition in the future?" feeling.  Its way better than if the reverse had happened, I can tell you.

On the other hand though, its also destroyed the collecting goals I used to have.  For example, one thing I had dreamed of doing was putting together a 1956 Topps set, which I've always thought was the most beautiful.  I was able to piece together all of the major stars in the set (pictured above) except Williams and Mantle.  I didn't pay more than 100$ for any of those cards (PSA 4 Jackie Robinson was the most expensive at 95$) and the Williams would have easily been in my budget and even the Mantle would have been feasible.  

But the run up in prices over the past two years has crushed that idea - I wouldn't be able to afford any of those cards today. While the value of my collection has soared my regular income has stayed the same.  So while I'm happy to have this really amazing partial 1956 set, I'm also frustrated to know that it is one I'll never be able to complete.  There are a few others that fall into the same category.

I suspect that there are a lot of collectors out there in a similar situation.  What do we do with these cards?  Hold onto them even though they are part of collecting goals that are no longer feasible?  Sell them to raise money for things we actually need even though we really like them?  

Its not a bad situation to be in and I'm not complaining about it, but I'm curious if the scale of collectors in this situation might result in new hobby trends.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Kevin Maas of the Hanshin Tigers


This card is sort of an age test.  If you are old enough to have been collecting baseball cards in 1990 then you know that for a little while in the summer of that year this was one of the hottest cards in the hobby.  If you started collecting in 1991 or later, this is just some random common from the 1990 Upper Deck set.

I remember Kevin Maas very well since he got called up to the Yankees in the middle of the 1990 season to replace my favorite player at the time, Don Mattingly.  Maas went on a tear and made huge headlines for hitting his first 10 home runs in just 72 at bats, the fastest to do so in MLB history.  He kept up the pace and hit 21 home runs in just half a season, making him one of the most sought after rookie cards for collectors that year.

Then 1991 came around and he fell to Earth, never repeating his success in his rookie year and was out of the Majors by 1995.

An interesting post-script to his career though is that in the middle of the 1996 season he signed on with the Hanshin Tigers to replace Glenn Davis who left the team in June.  He came over with big expectations and owing to the phonetic similarity of his last name to that of Randy Bass Tigers fans were able to use their Randy Bass song to cheer for him (not an impressive fact per se, but a pretty neat piece of trivia nonetheless).

Despite the high expectations, Maas didn't hit much better in NPB than he had in MLB and after 68 games with the Tigers in which he just hit .245 with 8 home runs he retired from the game.

As far as I can tell (and anyone who knows otherwise please correct me: EDIT: Twitter came through, he does have a card in a BBM subset that I had missed), Maas doesn't have any baseball cards of him as a Hanshin Tiger, since he only played half a season and, as a late signing, missed out on being in any of the 1996 sets.  In fact even when I do a Google image search for him in Japanese the only photo I can find of him as a Tiger is this grainy black and white head shot:

So he's basically a guy without any cards.  But I discovered by accident the other day that he does appear as a Tiger in an alternative medium: on the Nintendo 64.

I've had one of these for years and since my son got interested in baseball a few months ago I pulled out an old game for it: Hyper Space Night Game: Pro Baseball King.  

If you haven't heard of it, it was a Japan only release.  It features all 12 NPB teams from the 1996 season (the year the game was released).  For a 26 year old baseball game, it holds up pretty well and we like to play it a lot.  Current Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami appears as a player on it so we play the Dragons a lot.

The other day though we were playing a game with the Hanshin Tigers and I was surprised to see that the game has as the Tigers #3 batter none other than Kevin Maas!

Its a bit hard to see his face - and all the players in Hyperspace Night Game Pro Yakyu King look the same anyway - but that is his name in the lower left hand corner of the screen there:

He hits for pretty decent power in this game, which came out in December of 1996, by which time he had already left the Tigers but presumably they had actually made the game earlier than its release date. 

Anyway, I thought this was a kind of neat anomaly - a recognizable name player who doesn't have a baseball card of himself with a team but does appear in a video game as a member of that team.  So if you are a Kevin Maas collector and want something - anything - of him as a Hanshin Tiger, this game  might be your only option. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Not a condition sensitive country, the one I live in.


I bought a lot of 1984 Calbee cards on Yahoo Auctions the other day.  The seller was quite nice and even gave me a refund on the shipping since the lot sold for more than he thought it would.  I was pretty excited about this one since I've recently decided that its a set I want to concentrate on - I find the little hats on them just really drawing me to them.

Anyway, the lot (129 cards) arrived in the mail the other day in a Japan Post Yupack mailer (like a cardboard envelope) and when I opened it up, out poured 129 1984 Calbee cards in stacks, each with a rubber band wrapped around it. No protection of any sort to, you know, try to keep the condition of a bunch of vintage cards I had just paid a fair bit of money for in presentable condition or anything like that.

This is not an unusual experience here.  I've bought thousands of cards over the past decade on Yahoo Auctions, mostly vintage, but I could count on one hand the number of those which came packed in a rigid card holder.  At best maybe 1/5 of the time they'll come in penny sleeves.  But most of the time they come in some version of the above - loose and without much care being taken to protect them from damage (and sometimes with packing - like rubber bands - that itself might damage them).

I guess this doesn't happen too much in the US on Ebay since so many collectors are so insanely sensitive about condition there.  I've read posts on various forums where people express outrage about being sent a card that came enclosed in a solid PSA holder that was "only" packed in a single bubble wrapped envelope and I just laugh out loud at that stuff.

While I do appreciate the dealers here who do go to some effort to protect the cards I buy from them, I also love the fact that I still get so many experiences like this - opening envelopes and having raw old cards wrapped in rubber bands fall into my hands.  Its just so laid back that its hard not to like it. 

Anyway, with this lot my 1984 Calbee set has made some progress, I'm actually a bit over half-way there to the 713 cards in it.  This is a bit of an overstatement though as there are a couple of hundred expensive short printed cards in the set and I only have 6 of them, so I've basically just gotten the low hanging fruit so far (including this lot - 129 cards and only 1 of them was a short print).

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fastest Card Bubble To Burst in History


Well, that didn't last long!

On Monday I did a post about how the above card  of Shinjo with his name as "Big Boss" from the just released Calbee Series 2 had sold on Yahoo Auctions for a whopping 33,500 Yen (about $300 US).  This didn't make much sense to me since its just a Shinjo card and, while its a "chase" card its not a particularly rare one.

Out of curiosity I started watching other auctions for the same card.  The first two ended last night (here and here).  Exact same card, exact same condition.  How much did they sell for?

Ouch.  One copy for about $40 US, the other about $30.  So in other words the card fell to 1/10th the price it went for on Monday by Wednesday of the same week.

This is really weird.  I mean, the auctions in the 30-40$ range that ended yesterday feel a lot closer to what this card should be worth than the ridiculous 300$ auction price of just a couple days before.

I'm a bit puzzled, but I'll try to throw a theory out here to see if it sticks.  There is a kind of norm in Japan, amongst those who have lots of money, that being the first to own a new thing brings a great deal of prestige to you.  Thus the market value for being the "first" owner of something is way higher than it is for being the second owner of the exact same thing.  

The most famous example of this are the prices that are paid for the first tuna to go on sale at the Tsukiji market each  year.  In 2019 for example a single tuna sold for about 3 million US$ at Tsukiji because it was the first.  There are less dramatic examples out there too.

I wonder if the $300 Big Boss card might have only achieved that price because it was the very first copy of that card to appear on Yahoo Auctions and so some rich/vain collectors bid each other up on it in order to have braggging rights for being the first to land it.  

Edited to Add: I've been having a back and forth with Prestige Collectibles on Twitter and he pointed out that the seller on that 300$ sale earlier this week has a ridiculously low feedback rate, and also that the underbidder seems to have had his account suspended.  So this raises the likelihood that the 300$ sale was a bogus one to begin with, thus rendering a lot of what I wrote in this post moot!  

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Big Boss is Commanding Big Prices


This is the first time in years that I've tried putting a Calbee set together bag by bag (or more accurately its the first time ever that my kids have done so).  One result of this is that I've been paying more attention to the shiny, glittery cards that Calbee puts in them  than usual.

In terms of "chase" cards, Calbee basically operates in an early 90s American cardmaker mindset.  In addition to "Lucky Cards" redeemable for prizes, the main cards people go after are basically just parrallel versions of cards from some subsets that have gold signatures embossed on them.  

All the other stuff that cardmakers in the US started doing after the early 90s - auto cards, memorabilia cards, buy-back cards, etc etc - none of these have ever been adopted by Calbee.

Series 2 of Calbee just came out and my kids and I are excited to start putting that one together (we are very close to finishing Series 1, which is kind of an impressive feat if I do say so myself).  The card that is getting the most hype in that one by far is.....a card of the manager of the team with the worst record in NPB by far, who as a player was a .254 career hitter.  

Tsuyoshi Shinjo became the Fighters' manager this year and on taking the job changed his name to "Big Boss".  Calbee gave him a card in their Star Cards subset with the name "Big Boss" and everyone thinks that is super neat here.  So much so that a copy of the gold parrallel version of that card just  sold for about $300 US on Yahoo Auctions over the weekend.

Yikes!  Its not hard to predict that once the hype fades away and there are a million other "Big Boss" cards out there, this card will not be worth anywhere near that much.  

In the meantime though I'm kind of wondering what I should do if my kids pull one of those out of a pack.  Thus far I haven't really been trying to get them to pay attention to the condition of the cards too much since that sort of grown-up anal retentiveness can really kill the fun of collecting for young kids.  But at the same time....300$ is 300$ so maybe I'll slip that one into a card saver if they get it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

1980s Calbee Unopened Packs

I picked up something new the other day - a lot of three unopened packs of Calbee cards from the 1980s.  I've seen auctions for these come up from time to time and had always wanted to get one (or three).

Its easy to tell that the packs are from the 1980s owing to the size of the cards - all Calbee cards from 1981 to 1989 were mini card sized.  Somewhat confusingly some series from both the 1980 and 1990 sets, but not all of them, were also the same size.  So if you get a pack of mini cards you know its from no earlier than 1980 and no later than 1990.

But what specific year in that range do you have if you get one?  That is a bit harder to determine, since the packs themselves do not state a year (except in 1989).  The easiest way of course is to just open them up and have a look, but then you won't have an unopened pack anymore.

I did a bit of looking around and discovered that a Japanese blog called the "Calbee Card Research Centre", which is great for really detailed info on some Calbee cards, recently did a series of posts on the subject of identifying 1980s Calbee packs.  

To simplify what is written there over the course of several posts, Calbee changed the color of the packs each year and also varied the design slightly. By color it breaks down like this (click on the link for each year to see his post with pictures of what the design of each looks like. Years without a link are ones which I included based on Dave's comment on this post).

Green packs: 1984, 1985 and 1987

Blue Packs: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986 1989, and 1990

Red Packs: 1983

This isn't quite a full list since they don't have posts about the 1981, 1984, 1988 or 1990 packs (whcih I've included above based on Dave's comment below) but its a pretty useful resource so far despite that.  For some years there is a bit of variation in the design (but not the color) of the packs from series to series and the posts contain information about that too.

Looking through those, I was able to determine that the three packs I bought were from 1985, which is pretty cool . I'm very tempted to open them, but I'm going to try to resist that temptation and keep them as they are since they are one of those things where the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.