Thursday, November 26, 2020

Why so Glum?


I picked up this menko recently, it features Hall of Famers Shigeru Mizuhara and Kaoru Betto.  I don't know what set it is from, it might be an uncatalogued one (anyone out there know?)

What struck me about the card is just how glum and sad the artist made both players look.  They both seem to be frowning and have eyes that look like they are about to well up with tears.  

This seems odd to me.  This is not a photo, somebody deliberately drew them that way.  Why not put a smile on their faces?  Maybe the artist  was feeling a bit down and put a bit of himself into his work? Or maybe he was trying to give them a more stoic look and it just turned out looking sad and he didn't feel like doing it over again?

Anyway, has anybody out there ever done a card collection based on the emotions being displayed by the players depicted?  Happy faces, sad faces, bored faces, irritated faces - seems like there is a lot out there you could work with. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

New Menko Finds


I have a couple of recent menko pick ups which seem to be from an uncatalogued set (or sets).

The card on the left features Tigers star and HOFer Fumio Fujimura.  He is one of several Babe Ruth type players who was a star both on the mound and at the plate in his early career, then mainly at the plate later in his career.  As a pitcher he posted a career 34-11 record.  His best pitching season was in 1946 when he went 13-2 with a 2.44 ERA.  Four years later, in 1950, at the plate he set the single season hit record in Japan with 191 (in a 140 game season).  That record would last until 1994 when Ichiro Suzuki broke it.

The card on the right is Takehiko Bessho, another HOFer who I've written about before so won't repeat his biography.

I'm not sure if these cards belong to the same set or not.  The team names are written in katakana on both, which is unlike any set listed in Engel's catalogue.  The style of artwork is also similar, and the rock/paper/scissor symbol is the same.  But the player names are written in different styles as are the menko numbers, so these might be from different sets.  Bessho is pictured as a member of the Nankai Hawks who he played for between 1946 and 1948 so likely the set (or sets) dates to one of those years (Fujimura played his entire career for the Tigers so his card doesn't help with the date).

As you can see, neither of my cards is exactly what you would call high grade.  Anybody know how PSA treats massive vertical gouges across the entire length of a card that are so deep they nearly cut it in half?  I'm guessing they would ding me for that if I were to ever submit them. 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

One of these cards is not like the others


There has been so little of note happening in the news over the past three days that I thought I'd distract you all with another blog post to help you deal with the unrelenting boredom of nothing of any interest or consequence whatsoever consuming everyone's attention day in and day out since Tuesday.  

So let me try to dazzle you out of your complete and utter state of boredom.  I have a little collection of cards from the 1947 set Engel catalogues as JRM 1a.  There are only 8 cards total in the set and I have 6, so I'm close to completing it, though mine are pretty low grade.  It contains several Hall of Famers from the early post war period like Tetsuharu Kawakami and Michio Nishizawa, both of which I have.

Interestingly though of the six cards I have featuring baseball players, one of them does not feature a baseball player. The card in the lower left is of Michitaro Mizushima, a very famous actor who, as far as I can tell, never played baseball (or at least never professionally).

I'm impressed with Engel's work in figuring out who that was, all he had to go on was the name "Mizushima" which is a fairly common one in Japan.  

During Mizushima's career, which began in 1925 and lasted into the 1990s (he passed away in 1999), he appeared in a lot of movies.  I've been trying to figure out where the image for this card came from but am drawing a blank.  He appeared in a few movies in the 1940s but none of them seem to have featured baseball (though on a lot there isn't much info available).  Later in his career he also appeared on TV, but in 1947 there weren't any TV shows to appear on.  

So it remains a bit of a mystery why he appears on this card in a baseball uniform.  

Sorry, that is all I got, and I may have oversold it by saying I would "dazzle" you, but I hope it has at least helped to distract you from the overwhelming boredom and tedium of nothing at all of interest being played out in agonizingly slow motion on every TV channel the world over for the past three days. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

How Did You Get Here? American Cards in Japanese Markets.


I don't post much about my collection of MLB cards on here (though I do have one).  I made an editorial decision a few years back to just stick to talking about Japanese cards.  But I'm going to make an exception with these.

Every once in a while I'll stumble across something on Yahoo Auctions and wonder to myself "How on Earth did you end up here?"  This was one of those things.  It is a complete set of 1967 Topps pin ups.  These were distributed in regular wax packs in 1967 and feature a boat load of big name Hall of Famers - Mantle, Clemente, Aaron, Mays, and so on.

Its really rare to find vintage American cards over here.  There is a significant segment of the Japanese hobby that is devoted to collecting American cards, but they are overwhelmingly only interested in modern cards.  Basically its just since Nomo and Ichiro went over to the US that Japanese collectors became aware of American cards, and they don't have much interest in stuff that came out before those guys went over.  There is a very niche market specifically for cards of American players who came to Japan so there are a few dealers that will stock pre 1990s US cards of  guys like Warren Cromartie or Willie Davis.  And occasionally a PSA graded card of some star from the 60s might pop up.  But its rare.  Nobody sells singles or lots from older sets.  And nobody sells complete sets.  

So I was really surprised to find this complete set from 1967 up for sale.  The guy selling it had no idea what it was.  The title just said "1960s Major league Bromides?  Cards?  32 of them."  The description further made clear that the guy had no idea what they were, stating (incorrectly) that he had heard they were given out with candy in the US back in the 60s.  No mention of Topps, or of the names of any of the players.

This wasn't surprising since the guy selling them isn't a card dealer.  About 80% of his listings are women's clothing (mainly kimonos), with a smattering of toys and used electronics.  No cards.  He just found these in a box that he had acquired and threw them up.

This turned out to be good for me, since he started them at 3,000 Yen and I ended up winning them for just 3,100 Yen (about $25 US) after outbidding the first bidder, who immediately lost interest and didn't contest me for them.  These aren't super valuable, but that is still way less than what they go for in the US.

I do wonder how these things in their 53 years of existence managed to cross the Pacific Ocean and wind up in a box in the hands of a kimono dealer  in Hiroshima who had no idea what they were.  Obviously at some point somebody put the set together.  Was it an American serviceman back in the 60s who was stationed here?  Or a Japanese person who lived in the US, collected them, and brought them back home?  Or someone more recent, an American English teacher who collected cards?  A Japanese collector who bought them off Ebay but then lost interest?  

There are a lot of ways these might have found their way here, but now they are in my hands and will likely stay there for quite some time!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Tatsunori Hara's first Calbee card is a Sadaharu Oh card.


I've been AWOL from the blog for the past few weeks.  October is kind of "hell month" for me at work so its been hard to squeeze time in for blogging.

Despite that, the flow of card purchases by me has continued more or less at its normal pace.  One card I picked up this month was the above, #354 from the 1981 Calbee set.  It is basically Sadaharu Oh's regular card.  His name is the one in pink lettering on the lower right of the photo, and the text on the back just gives some general biographical information about him, unconnected to the photo.

This card is really neat though.  From left to right you have Motoshi Fujita, Sadaharu Oh and Tatsunori Hara.  Those three guys have three big things in common:

1) They were all star players for the Giants;

2) They all became managers of the Giants after their playing days (Hara is in fact their current manager)

3) They all ended up in the Hall of Fame.

I'm not sure but I think the photo was probably taken during the 1981 Japan Series, which the Giants won (Fujita was the manager, Oh was assistant manager that year and would take over as regular manager the following season).

A second, and more important, neat thing about it specifically relates to Tatsunori Hara, the guy on the right.  1981 was his first year in pro ball and he was THE hot rookie that year.  He was supposed to be the Giants' next Shigeo Nagashima or Sadaharu Oh. His playing career, which ended in 1995, didn't quite live up to that hype, though he did bang out 382 career home runs and was one of the better players in NPB throughout the 1980s.

The thing is though, Tatsunori Hara doesn't have a card of his own in the 1981 Calbee set.  His first "solo" appearance on a card came in the 1982 Calbee set, which is generally regarded as his rookie (he appears on a few cards in that set, my old Sports Card Magazine designates the first one, card #51, as his true "rookie card").  

His cameo appearance on my 1981 Calbee card though seems to be his first appearance in a Calbee set.  Which leads me to the question: what is this card?  I guess its not a "rookie card" since its not his card, its Sadaharu Oh's. But at the same time, Hara is pretty prominently featured on there so its a bit more than just a card of some other player where he coincidentally appears in the background or something, like Ryne Sandberg's cameo on Reggie Smith's 1983 Topps card:

Also, Sandberg of course had a card of his own in the 1983 Topps set, so the question of whether his appearance on the Smith meant something special didn't really come up.  

So this card falls into a weird limbo in terms of what the hobby might designate it as since I don't think there is a precedent for this.  Its definitely not a true rookie card, but also definitely not nothing either.  "Pre" rookie card?  No, thats not right.  I can't really decide what to call it.  Anyway, its neat.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Calbee's Awesome 1985 Art Contest for Kids


Here is a little pile of 1985 Calbees that I recently picked up.  I have about 200 cards from the 1985 Calbee set which puts me almost halfway to the 465 it has in total, but I'm not seriously chasing it since the vast majority of the remainder are from hyper rare series that are way out of my budget.  

One good thing about the 1985 set though is that there is a pretty big series in it, which also happens to be one of the easier (and thus more affordable) series, that has awesome artwork on the back.  

Calbee had a contest that year in which kids would send in pictures they had drawn of baseball players.  If they won, their picture (along with their name and home prefecture) would go on the back of the player's card.  These are the backs of the 16 cards featured above:

I think there are about 100 cards in the set which have this artwork, these are just a few examples.  

Boomer Wells is looking cheerful:

Kiyoshi Nakahata looks like he is trapped in a Picasso:
Jose Cruz looks like he is grinding his teeth:
Akinobu Mayumi is daringly rendered in profile without any features:
The late Nobuyuki Kagawa's legendary chubbiness is very well captured:

An interesting thing is that at the bottom of all these cards there is a comment from someone called "Yoshimura Sensei" about the artwork.  On Kagawa's for example he/she says "Kagawa is cute. This is a very pleasant picture."

I'm kind of curious about who Yoshimura Sensei was - probably an art teacher of some sort.

These cards are another aspect I like about older Japanese baseball cards in general -  I don't remember Topps or any other US maker having contests like this in 1985.  It must have been so thrilling for these kids to see their pictures on actual baseball cards.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Ron Woods: Who is this Guy?


I picked up card #71 from the monster 1975-76-77 Calbee set this week.  This is from the rare series that was only issued in the Tokai area and is thus a key addition to my set.  

This gives me 23 out of 36 cards in that series, more than halfway there!

The card depicts Ron Woods. He is kind of an intriguing player about which we know very little.  He played parts of several MLB seasons between 1969 and 1974, getting the most playing time with the Montreal Expos between 1971 and 1974.  He then went to Japan for two years with the Chunichi Dragons in 1975 and 1976.

Beyond the numbers: silence.  Nobody has bothered to write a biography of him on his Wikipedia page, or on his Baseball Reference Page, or on his SABR page.  

This is frustrating because there are two intriguing facts about the Ron Woods story that I've been able to glean just from 1) this card, and 2) Googling him, that suggest stories of human interest at work.

The first is from the back of this card.

Japanese baseball likes players who sacrifice everything for the game and their team.  A lot of these Calbee cards from the 70s have write ups on the back which extoll this virtue.  This card, titled "Big league Pride" tells us that Ron Woods is a player who forgets everything else in the world when playing.  To illustrate, it states that he recently got tragic news from his family back in America. While he made a short visit back to the US as a result, he was so serious about the game that (on getting the news) he considered waiting until the off season to go back.

So this tells us that Woods experienced a serious personal tragedy during his stay in Japan and faced a difficult decision about whether to go back home to deal with it or not.  This is a recurring theme that shows up in the stories of many American players here - Randy Bass was famously criticized for returning to the US during the season to be with his son who was having major surgery.  So Woods had one of those too, but we don't know anything about it.

The other interesting thing I learned from a Google search is that in September of 1975, probably shortly after this card was made, Woods was among four members of the Dragons who were injured in Hiroshima after being attacked by fans.  This was mentioned in a very brief article in the New York Times at the time, but I haven't been able to find any more info on what happened.

So anyway, it seems like Woods' two year stay in Japan featured some drama, yet we know very little about him.