Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Isao Harimoto Menko


Its been ages since I've been able to pick up some nice vintage menkos due to the price explosion taking  most of them out of my range recently.  I did however manage to make one score the other day, a lot containing three Isao Harimoto cards.  I've written about Harimoto before, he is one of my all time favorite Japanese players so I'm always on the lookout for cards of his.  

This lot had three of his cards, including his rookie card from the 1959 JCM 30b set (on the left in the above picture).  The other two are from the 1960 JCM 86 and 1961 JCM 12d sets.  I didn't have a rookie card of his in my collection yet so I was quite happy to add that one!

You might have noticed that this is my first post in several months.  The blog is still alive and I'm still fine, during the baseball off season I sometimes drift off into other hobbies and put the baseball card collection on hold.  At the moment I'm building a model railway with my son which is taking up all my free time.  Once the spring arrives though I'll probably start posting on here more again.

Also, I quit Twitter about a month ago.  Just too much weird stuff for my taste and I sort of decided "You know, I think just keeping the blog is enough for me."

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Its not just the photos, Calbee's promotions also suck


(Cracks knuckles) OK, sorry, I know I've been doing a lot of complaining about Japanese card sets as of late but I have a bit more to do.  We had some disappointment at our house this week which I'd like to talk about. 

Over the course of this year's baseball season, I've been collecting the Calbee set one bag at a time with my two kids.  Its been fun, though their enthusiasm sort of waned a bit as the season went on.

This week though I think it finally fell off a cliff.

One irritating thing about Calbee sets these days that I hadn't ever really paid much attention to before is that the "Lucky Cards" are insanely hard to pull.  My son got one in June from a bag of Series 1 which made him very excited.  I thought that was really cool, but we blew threw dozens and dozens of bags of Series 2 Chips without hitting one.  The guys who rip open cases of them suggest that the Lucky Cards are seeded  at a rate of about 1 per 150 bags.  Which is kind of weird given that the prizes you get (like a crummy plastic album that only holds 48 cards) aren't exactly valuable. 

My son however really wanted a Series 2 Lucky card because the promotion said it was redeemable for a special set of cards of the team of your choice and he wanted the Dragons one.  Not having pulled one form a pack, I went on Yahoo Auctions and bought one from a re-seller for 1500 Yen.  I then sort of surreptitiously slipped it into a pack that I pretended I was opening for my son, handed it to him and let him pull it out.  

That was so great!

When you pull a Lucky Card, you have to cut out a little tab on them, glue it to a postcard and mail it to Calbee.  Then they'll send you the prize.  For Series 1 we got a crummy little album.  But we were excited for the Series 2 prize since special cards were certain to be way better than that.

So we waited a whole month and finally they arrived on Wednesday!

My son opened the envelope and out plopped......a stack of cards that was mostly regular Dragons cards from the base set which are available in packs. There were 8 cards total, 6 were just the regular Dragons cards.  Only 2 of them were from the Star Card subset with gold embossed signatures.  

"I already have these" he said in disappointment, and just dumped them on the table and walked off.

This kind of laziness on the part of the makers of Japanese baseball card sets has really been pissing me off this month.  Last week my son opened a box of 2022 Topps NPB that is so bad they more or less forgot to put anything on the card backs, and now this.  

What particularly annoys me is that Calbee used to have really great Lucky Card promotions.  The first time I tried putting a set together bag by bag was in 2004.  The Lucky Cards were way easier to pull back then, I probably bought about 100 bags that year and I ended up getting 8 Lucky Cards, so it was about a 1:12 ratio rather than a 1:150 ratio like today and you could reasonably feel a bit of excitement that these were things you could expect to pull every once in a while (as opposed to almost never now).

And the prizes you could redeem them for were actually really awesome.  This is what I got from the Series 2 Lucky Cards:

A whole boxed set of cards that were not available in packs!  24 cards in total.  

Granted that to get these you had to send in three Lucky Card tabs rather than one, but given how much easier they were to find it was still way easier to get one of these than it is to get a 2022 team set of just 8 cards, most of which are just cards from the regular base set anyway.  Also, bags of Calbee chips cost about 60 Yen each in 2004 but are about 100 Yen today.

I really think Calbee is shooting itself in the foot by cheaping out so badly on these Lucky Card promotions.  My son was so excited when he pulled that first one back in June.  If they'd have made that pay off by actually sending him something fun like a card set similar to what they did in 2004 he'd probably have kept that enthusiasm level up.  But instead he's been burned twice with a lousy album that isn't even big enough to fit the set into, and now a pile of cards that are mostly worthless doubles to him. This crap isn't how you turn kids into lifelong collectors of your product, its how you encourage them to find other things to do.  Which is probably for the best I guess.

With the season over (from the perspective of a last place Dragons fan anyway) we've got a few months off now.  I'll give the 2023 Calbees a try when Series 1 comes out, but I'm not holding out much hope that the kids will be into it like they were this year.  And I'm putting most of the blame for that on Calbee's shoulders.  

Monday, October 17, 2022

1947 JRM 30 Menkos


For the first time in a very long time I was able to add some new vintage menko to my collection. These cards are from the set that Engel catalogues as JRM 30 and dates to 1947.  They are identifiable mainly by the little diamond with a triple K in it, and also by the way the text is contained in curved rectangles on the sides.

Engel has catalogued twenty cards in this set, which he rates an R4 (fewer than 10 known copies of each card in existence), so its possible there are more.  As you can see, I have eight of them, including some HOFers like Shigeru Chiba and Fujio Fujimura.

One thing I like about the set is that though crude the artwork is far superior to the photography in contemporary Calbee sets.  You've got players in a variety of poses, doing a variety of things against a variety of backgrounds.  Quite refreshing compared to the monotony of all photos on modern Calbee cards being more or less carbon copies of each other.  

The people who made this set were doing so in a Japan that was economically devastated, suffering from widespread malnutrition and whose cities had just been reduced to rubble by a massive bomber campaign just two years earlier.  If they could make an interesting set in those conditions, Calbee today really has no excuses.

Anyway, the reason I haven't added many vintage menko to my collection these days is simply that the explosion in prices in the US card market has spread to Japan and I've been priced out of the market on most of the stuff that comes up on Yahoo Auctions for the past 18 months or so.  Its been frustrating because there has been a lot of stuff come up for sale that I would have been able to snap up back in 2020, but which these days easily sell for 5 times more than what they used to, sometimes more.  These ones somehow slipped through the cracks and didn't get much attention, so I was able to pay 2020 prices for them.  This might be the last addition to my menko collection for a while, barring either a complete collapse in the market or me winning a lottery (which is a particular long shot since I don't buy lottery tickets).

Also, since I mentioned Engel's guide I should mention that he recently put out a 3rd edition which I recently purchased.  If you collect vintage Japanese cards I'd say it is worth picking up the new edition, he's added a fair number of new cards to it (and if you don't have the old edition you absolutely should get it). 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

2022 Topps NPB Sucks, Don't Ever Buy It


There is no stronger motivation to return to blogging after a couple of months hiatus than the desire to complain about something.  Fortuitously the purchase of a box of 2022 Topps NPB has provided me with a very good opportunity to validate that hypothesis.

It was my son's birthday this week and having almost completed the Calbee set this year one bag of chips at a time together I thought I'd get him a box of cards we could rip and try to put the set together in one go.  I found boxes of both Topps and BBM on Yahoo Auctions and decided to give the Topps one a try.  I picked it up almost a month ago and set it aside until the big day.

My son had fun opening the packs.  That is almost the only nice thing that I can say about this set.  I could say the same about packs of 1991 Donruss or pretty much any other set for that matter so....yeah.

This set just sucks so bad I don't know where to start.  So I'll start with the box itself.  That is an ugly, unimaginatively designed box.  The packs inside, which I don't have a photo of handy, are even more boring to look at.  I remember what Topps boxes were like in the 80s - very colorful designs with pictures of cards of the stars on them.  They made you really want to buy the packs.  To further entice you they even made the boxes themselves out of cards, which was an ingenious idea.  

2022 Topps NPB basically looks like a carton of cigarettes sold in a country with very strict plain packaging laws.  I almost expected to see a giant warning about lung cancer with a scary picture of a damaged lung on the side.  This is just as god awful a package design as you can get.

But what about the cards themselves?  Well....

They almost exactly copied the 2022 MLB Topps design except that they didn't put the team logo where the team logo is supposed to go.  Kind of dull but not awful.  I give them points for having slightly better photography than Calbee, which is not a high standard.

The backs though just make my blood boil:

What the F is this?  Is this a joke?  This is a joke right?  Tell me this is a joke.  This can't not be a joke, so it must be a joke. 

My favorite part of the joke is where they could only fit two lines of stats (2021 and career) at the very bottom because they needed to devote the rest of the card back to....nothing!  Literally empty space with nothing but a tiny team logo taking up about 15% of it.  

This is so gratuitously awful I almost have to ask if mischievous vandals might have broken into the Topps offices and replaced whatever the real design for the card backs was with this....this....this.....this..... (voice from the guy sitting next to me as I type this: "Tomfoolery"?) TOMFOOLERY, yes, thank you.

Oh and you know what the insert cards are?  These same garbage cards but with different colored borders!  And a retro throwback subset using the 1958 Topps design, perhaps chosen because that is the dullest one that could be copied with the least amount of effort possible.  No autographed cards or anything like that of course.

This set just sucks so bad I actually feel kind of guilty about having insulted my first born child by having made a gift of these to him.  I hope one day when he is old enough to appreciate how bad these cards are that he will forgive me.  

Anyway, I guess I got what I paid for.  This set was released last month with a suggested retail price of 13,200 Yen per box.  I paid 8,000 for this one on Yahoo Auctions, and there are plenty available to be had at around that price.  Word seems to be getting around about how much these suck.  Good.  I hope this post will contribute to that.  Be forewarned: 2022 Topps NPB is the worst set of baseball cards I've seen in......I don't know how long but a while.

For Christmas, I'll be getting my son a box of 2022 BBM.  

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.