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  #151  
Old 02-16-2019, 03:03 AM
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Sean McGinty
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There is a weird error on that card. It depicts Masaji Hiramatsu, and correctly shows the kanji for his name on the back. But the furigana version of his first name says “Seiji” instead of Masaji. The kanji can be read either way, so likely whoever wrote the card back just didn’t know how to read his name (a common problem in Japan)!
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  #152  
Old 02-25-2019, 09:29 PM
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Default Kazuyoshi Tatsunami

Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was an infielder for the Dragons from 1988 to 2009. Over the course of 2586 games he accumulated 2480 hits, walked more than he struck out, and posted a batting line of 285/366/408. He wasn’t a power hitter, although he would sometimes post above-average slugging percentages. Likewise, he’d occasionally record double digit stolen bases, but it wasn’t really a part of his arsenal. In some ways he reminds me of Pete Rose. Both were versatile defensive players (Tatsunami was mostly a second baseman, but he played about three seasons worth of games at both third and short, and another 150 games in the outfield). They were both table-setter type hitters, although without much speed. Now obviously Tatsunami didn’t break Ty Cobb’s hits record, but he and Rose were the same kinds of player. Moreover, as befits a player with gap power and a long career, he is Japan’s all-time leader in doubles, with 487. (Although the shorter season must be noted, I expected the Japanese leader to have a higher mark than this: it would put him 76th in MLB, just below, among others Mel Ott, and just above Lou Brock.)

Despite being consistently very good, he was selected to only two best-nines of the course of his 22 year career. He did win a Rookie of the Year award, and several gold gloves. But he rarely led the league in any offensive category. Allen remarks that he was never the best player on his own team. On the other hand, as a veteran player in 2007 he led the Dragons to only their second Japan Series championship, and their first in more than half a century. And Albright likes him well enough, ranking him as Japan’s 48th greatest player

To all appearances, he has spent his retirement writing. Amazon has an author page for him. And while I’m not 100% sure this is the same guy, it looks like him, some of the books are about baseball, and Hiroki Nomura – one of his coauthors – was also a professional baseball player.

Tatsunami is one of the newest members of the hall of fame. And I mean new. He was elected in 2019.

My card is from the 2000 Calbee set. It’s much larger than the tiny 80s Calbee cards, but still slightly smaller than standard baseball card size. Somewhere along the line (1990?) Calbee started putting text on the front of the cards in English instead of Kanji. I don’t know why.
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  #153  
Old 02-25-2019, 10:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nat View Post

My card is from the 2000 Calbee set. It’s much larger than the tiny 80s Calbee cards, but still slightly smaller than standard baseball card size. Somewhere along the line (1990?) Calbee started putting text on the front of the cards in English instead of Kanji. I don’t know why.
Nice write up, I like Tatsunami quite a bit and was happy he got in.

Calbee started writing player names in Roman letters on the front of the cards literally in the middle of the 1990 set - the first series had the names in kanji then series 2 had them in Roman letters (and the size switched then too). I think the decision was specifically made to make the cards more accessible to foreign collectors, they actually presaged this in the 1989 set by writing the player's names in Roman letters on the card backs for the first time.

Since 2016 they have reverted back to putting the names in kanji on the front and back, I kind of like them better that way, though it does make them more of a challenge.
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  #154  
Old 02-28-2019, 01:27 PM
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Default Menko question

Hi, I am hoping that someone can help me identify these. I have 21 of these cards, which are approximately 1 5/8" x 2 1/16. They have the same fronts as the 1950 JCM21 Menko's, but the backs are blank. The ones that are listed on eBay have backs similar to the back of a playing card. The other Japanese cards that I have had over the years were thicker than American cards, but these are thinner.

Any help will be appreciated. Thanks much! Rick
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  #155  
Old 03-01-2019, 10:45 PM
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Hi Rick!

I'm afraid that I don't have much insight to offer, but I'll do my best. Those sure do look like JCM21 cards, but I've never heard of them with blank backs before. It's possible that they are JCM21s that didn't get printed on the back. Quality control for Japanese baseball cards circa 1950 can't have been too good. There are lots of uncatalogued sets, but it seems weird to me that they would issue an identical set that's just missing the printing on the back.

As for the thickness, again I can offer only a guess. Menko cards from the early 50s tend to be relatively sturdy, a few of them are almost Goudey-like. Which makes sense, since they were intended to be thrown at the ground. They weren't baseball cards exactly, they were toys that had pictures of baseball players printed on them. Despite how it's catalogued, it's not clear to me that JCM21 is a menko set. They've got no menko numbers, and no rock-paper-scissors symbols. It seems to me that JCM21 is really just a deck of playing cards. Now, I don't have any cards from the set, so I can't say anything about it's thickness. But if JCM21s were meant to be used as playing cards and not menko cards, it's no surprise that they would be much thinner than is normal.

Sorry I can't be any more help than that. Hopefully some of our more knowledgeable collectors can chime in.

You know, I might as well include a card in this post. Here's an upgrade to my Futoshi Nakanishi. Or, well, 'upgrade' is the wrong word. On my other card he's sharing the spotlight with Takahiko Bessho, whereas here he has the whole card to himself. I'm not sure which set this card is from. It looks like it belongs to several of the JCM12 variations, but the only one that both has a border and pairs Nakanishi with this menko number is 12e, which Engel describes as "painted looking". This card doesn't look especially "painted" to me, but that's my best guess. In any case, it belongs to the JCM12 family.
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  #156  
Old 03-02-2019, 08:09 AM
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Thank you, I appreciate your help!

Rick
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  #157  
Old 03-04-2019, 08:56 PM
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Default Takeshi Koba

Takeshi Koba was a middle infielder, mostly playing for Hiroshima, from 1958 to 1971. The leagues that he played in were very low offense affairs, but even by those standards he wasn’t a stand-out offensive player. Some years he was above average, some years he was below. His best season was clearly 1963, when he hit 339/380/441, but then in 1964 he “hit” 218/272/261, so it all balances out in the end. Eyeballing this, but I’d guess that he was, on the whole, a roughly league-average batter. Which of course would make him above average offensively for a shortstop/second baseman, but we’re not talking about Ernie Banks here or anything. His career totals are well-short of Meikyukai standards, in part because of his offensive troubles, in part because he career was a bit short for a hall of famer, and in part because he was a part-time player his last few seasons.

Presumably he was a strong gloveman. As befits a shortstop, he wore uniform number 1.

There may have been some degree of tragedy involved in Koba’s offensive ineptitude. His 1963 ended with getting hit in the face with a pitch, prompting a fear of inside pitches that apparently never abated. Not being able to protect in the inside corner is going to make being an adequate batter pretty difficult.

It’s common to see Japanese players, at least those who play at a hall of fame level, in NPB as teenagers, since Japan doesn’t have the same kind of minor league system that MLB does. (They have a B squad for each team, and those teams do play against each other, but it’s not nearly the same thing.) Koba was 22 as a rookie; B-R says that he spent the time playing the industrial leagues. Which, I gather, is more like playing Indy ball in the US than it is like playing in the affiliated minors. And while Indy players to, occasionally, make the big leagues, it’s not something that they should plan their careers around exactly. On the other hand, Wikipedia says that he had to get a job after his father died, and that working at a real job delayed the start of his baseball career. I suppose these two explanations aren’t entirely inconsistent. Perhaps he had a job with a firm and played on their baseball team on the side? (Is that how the industrial leagues work? Or is it more like, a firm sponsors a baseball club?)

The Japanese Wikipedia page has a summary of this part of his career. Here is what it says, as best as Microsoft can translate it. Make of this what you will:
"It stops in the eyes of the concentrated person Wataru of Nippon Sumikin Biase Baseball Club Supervisor (at that time) candidly by chance, and it is recommended to join in the Nippon Sumikin Mining Place when the play is shown to the junior in the ground of the high School of the alma mater during summer vacation. Then, he dropped out of Senshu University and joined Nippon Sumikin Mining. Joined the company's Bize mining Office ( nise-cho , Kaho-gun , Fukuoka Prefecture ).

In Nippon Sumikin Bise, he played for two consecutive years from 1956 to the city , and played against Kankalon in the first round at the1957 Tournament , and Shunsuke Murakami Nippon Sumikin in this match. The pitcher has achieved the first full match in the history of the tournament. The team-mates at that time were equipped with Eto Shinichi , Yoshida Katsutoyo , and Yu-ei , who later entered the pro.

1957 The concentrated person was selling old leaves to the director Katsumi Shiraishi of Hiroshima Carp (at that time) who had come to the joining of Eto who was a colleague in December , and old leaves became the joining to Hiroshima."
After retiring as a player Koba turned to managing. From the mid 70s to the mid 80s he managed the Hiroshima team, having quite a bit of success with what has traditionally been something of a sad sack franchise. Three years managing Taiyo in the late 80s didn’t go as well. As a manager his trademarks were running and versatility. The Carp had base stealers who could play lots of positions and switch hit. Classic gritty small-ball stuff. Man, I bet MLB these days makes him roll his eyes. Joey Gallo is, like, the anti-Koba. Since leaving the Whales he has not returned to pro ball, but has gone to work in amateur baseball. Like Yoshio Yoshida (who is credited with developing baseball in France), Koba has spent his time working to spread baseball to countries in which it is not popular, and he is currently the manager for the baseball team at Tokyo International University. In 2002 he ran for mayor of Hiroshima, but lost to Tadoshi Akiba.

The card is from JCM 14c, issued in 1960.
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  #158  
Old 03-06-2019, 09:58 PM
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Default Shunichi Amachi

Shunichi Amachi was a manager for the Dragons. He piloted the team from 1949 to 1951, again in 1954, and then in 1957-8. It was under his guidance that they won their first Japan Series, and their last for another half century. Oddly, he never played baseball professionally. At Meiji University he was a catcher, but he never did make it to NPB as a player. Albright ranks him as Japan’s 18th most successful manager, but his methodology leaves something to be desired. (It’s a system of the “assign X points for Y” type, where there’s no reason that X is worth Y points, and so nothing that the system actually measures.)

In addition to serving as a manager, he had a decent career as an umpire. He was an umpire for a league of six universities based in Tokyo from 1929 to 1947. In addition to college umpiring he put in some work umpiring high school matches, most notably in the Koshien tournament. Following his career as an umpire he took over managing Teikyo Commercial School baseball club, for whom his future ace with the Dragons, Shigeru Sugishita, pitched. Their careers would be fairly well intertwined, as it was on the back of Sugishita’s forkball that Amachi’s Dragons won their Japan Series.

Amachi was not on my original list of hall of famers to acquire. I set out to get cards of professional hall of fame players, and while I’ve made exceptions for players who were inducted as managers but who had long and successful playing careers (Hara comes to mind as an example), Amachi definitely doesn’t fall into that category. (Given that he didn’t play baseball post-college.) However, this is the only Amachi card that I’ve ever seen for sale (outside of uncut JCM21 sheets), this particular card is from JGA16, a set that I’d never encountered before. Indeed, Engel gives is rarity level R4 – indicating only 5-10 of each card known to exist. And while I think that Engel’s rarity levels should probably taken with a grain of salt, it surely at least indicates that there aren’t many of these floating around. So I picked up Amachi-san. JGA16 was issued in 1949, making this Amachi’s rookie card, if that’s what you call a manager’s first card.
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  #159  
Old 03-25-2019, 10:02 PM
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Default Kazuhisa Inao

The first post in this thread featured Kazuhisa Inao, sharing a card with Takehiko Bessho. That was almost 11 months ago. My early write-ups about Japanese players were pretty skimpy (just five lines for Inao), and given that I’ve picked up a new Inao card, I’d like to take this opportunity to do a better job.

So:

Kazuhisa Inao pitched for the Nishitetsu Lions from 1956 to 1969. Inao did not begin his baseball career as a pitcher – when he was in high school he was a catcher with a famously strong arm. Strong enough that taking up a role on the other side of the battery was the obvious move as soon as he went pro. As a 19 year old rookie he posted a 1.06 ERA in a league with a 2.60 ERA as a whole. Put that in the 2018 National League and you get a 1.65 ERA, AKA, a little bit better than DeGrom, who led the league by 70 points and won the Cy Young Award. He was never again quite that good, but he was pretty close through his mid 20s. Both the 1957 and 1958 seasons concluded with MVP awards for Inao. As was standard in the 1950s and 60s, he pitched an insane number of innings, topping 400 in two different years. Then he pitched 11 innings in 1964. It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what happened there. From there on out his innings pitched were severely limited (although still healthy by contemporary MLB standards). Shoulder injuries were the main problem in 1964, and a training program that involved throwing an iron baseball didn’t help.

Despite the late career injuries, Inao was obviously one of Japan's greatest starters. In a league in which 200 wins is a notable achievement (it’s the bar for the Golden Player’s Club), Inao won 273, along with an ERA that is third-lowest all-time. (Behind Hideo Fujimura and Jiro Noguchi. And, yes, it was in a low-run environment.) Albright has him ninth all-time, and third among pitchers.

A curious thing about Inao is that, despite being one of Japan’s greatest starting pitchers, he actually made more appearances out of the bullpen than he did as a starter. It was common for starting pitchers to frequently make relief appearances, but Inao did a lot of it. He appeared in 754 games, but started only 304 of them. Along the way he put up a career 276-137 record, good for a .668 winning percentage. (Including 42 wins in 1961.) Now a pitcher has only limited control over their wins and losses, but it goes without saying that that is an impressive record.

And the Lions were good. They won the Japan Series from 1956-1958. But of course their goodness was due in no small part to Inao himself. In the 1958 Series he won four consecutive games. It’s like Randy Johnson from 2001, but, like, times two. In all he appeared in games 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Game five concluded with Inao hitting a walk-off home run in the 10th inning.

After retiring from the mound, Inao took up managing. He found a difficult time to do it. In the late 60s and early 70s Japan was rocked by a series of game-fixing scandals that collectively became known as the ‘Black Mist Scandal’. (B-R has a nice summary here.) It first broke with the Nishitetsu team, so Inao was at the center of the storm immediately. He managed the Lions to five sub-500 seasons before retiring. A decade later he took up the top spot for the Lotte Orions, managing them to a mixed record over three seasons.

My new Inao card is from the JCM41 set, which was issued in 1959. It's a couple years more recent than my other Inao card, but still early in his career.
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  #160  
Old 03-31-2019, 08:57 PM
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Default Takehiko Bessho

Takehiko Bessho was, like Inao, featured in the first post in this thread, and, like Inao, did not get the write-up that he deserves. My biographical efforts today represent an attempt to remedy this situation.

Bessho began his career before WWII, playing for Nankai. He would continue playing for them when he returned from the war, but soon found himself with the Giants. As best I can make out from the Japanese Wikipedia page, there was no uniform player contract at the time, and the reserve clause was something more like a tradition than a legally enforceable contractual provision. In any case, it seems that substantial bonuses (Wiki mentions cars and houses) were used to ensure that players did not seek employment elsewhere. But Bessho was dissatisfied with the skimpy renumeration offered by Nankai, and had long wanted to play for the Giants, so he bucked tradition and declared himself a free agent.

However – however – it also seems that the Giants were writing checks and making promises (viz. for a house in Tokyo) while he was still under contract with Nankai. There may have been some extra-contractual inducements for Bessho to seek free agency. The Giants were ultimately fined for tampering with Nankai’s property, and Bessho was suspended for the start of the season, but the contract with the Giants was deemed legal. (How you can be fined for entering into a legal contract is beyond me. You’d think either everything is okay, or the fines are imposed and the contract voided.) The reserve clause was formally incorporated into Japanese contracts starting in 1951.

Anyway, it worked out well for the Giants. Bessho would go on to the be greatest pitcher in Giants’ history. In total he pitched 4350 innings at a 2.18 ERA, to garner 310 wins (against 178 losses). He was consistently excellent. In 1952 (a year that I picked literally at random) he had an ERA half of the league average. In the 2018 AL you’d need a 2.13 ERA to cut the league rate in half. Blake Snell was the only pitcher with a mark better than that, and he won the Cy Young Award. (Wow, the leaders ran away from the pack in the AL last year. Mike Fiers with 10th in the league in ERA with a 3.56 mark.) To eyes accustomed to modern MLB numbers, his strikeout-to-walk rates don’t look good (below 2:1 for the first half of his career), but in context they were terrific. The Central League in the 40s and 50s drew lots of walks and didn’t strike out much.

Due to variation in league context it’s hard to pin down Bessho’s best season. It might actually have been 1952. That wasn’t the year in which he had the lowest ERA, but some of those early seasons of Japanese ball didn’t see many runs scored. And anyway, he was regularly far better than average. As with many starting pitchers of his day, Bessho made plenty of appearances out of the bullpen on his days off, although he wasn’t as extreme about it as was Inao. Twice he cleared 30 wins in a season, which has got to be hard to do in a season that’s only 120 games long.

He was a pretty good hitter too. But unlike lots of his contemporaries (Fujimura, Nishizawa, Sekine) he didn’t get a lot of playing time at other positions, at least not after his rookie year. He played 36 games at 1B and 27 in the outfield, putting up a .254 batting average to go with 35 career home runs in about 2100 at bats.

Bessho’s fame in baseball started before his professional career did. As a high schooler in the Koshien tournament he pitched 14 innings despite having broken his non-pitching arm. He had it in a sling and the catcher rolled the ball back to him. After failing to get in to Keio he briefly attended a vocational school and pitched for Great Ring before being drafted. Initially he was sent to Manchuria. At the time it was controlled by Manchuckuo, a monarchy that was a de facto puppet of Japan. I’ve tried to figure out if he would have seen combat there. It seems unlikely. The territory was seized by Japan in the early 1930s, and the Soviets didn’t invade until 1945, by which point Bessho was gone.

For his career Bessho was a 2x MVP, 2x Japan Series MVP, 2x Sawamura Award winner, and 6x Best Nine. Albright ranks him 11th all-time.

I picked up this card in the same lot as the Amachi card posted above. It’s also from the rare JGA16 set, issued in 1949. (And I’ve got a Kazuto Yamamoto from the same set if any type collectors need one.)

The JGA16 set must have been released rather late in the year. 1949 was Bessho's first season with the Giants (and there was a legal kerfluffle at the beginning of the season), but he's already pictured as a member of the Giants on this card.
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  #161  
Old 04-01-2019, 11:11 PM
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Default Shigeru Mizuhara

Another guy who wasn’t on my initial want list. But I was getting bored of not finding any cards that I needed, so I decided to pick up a couple more managers.

Shigeru Mizuhara played at Keio and joined the Giants as soon as the professional league formed. He was a second baseman who was pretty good with the bat. In the fall season of 1937 he was legitimately great, but mostly he was just pretty good. Since the pro league didn’t form until he was 27, it wasn’t long before he was past his prime. At age 29, in 1938, he tried pitching (as an amateur he pitched in addition to playing the field) and was quite good. His ERA was something like 40% better than average in the fall season. However he pitched only two unsuccessful innings in the spring, and never appeared on the mound again. It looks like the war was essentially the end of his playing career. Mizuhara was 33 in 1942, but still pretty solid with the bat. He posted an OPS of only 603, but against a league average of 528, that’s a healthy figure. (It’s almost impossible to imagine a league with a 528 OPS. Games must have been twenty minutes long and scores must have been easy to confuse with soccer.) Unlike Bessho – who as far as I can tell never saw combat – Mizuhara ended up in Siberia as a Russian prisoner of war. Word is that he taught baseball to the Russians.

Before the professional league formed, Mizuhara was a star amateur player. Maybe the best. He appeared in the all-Japan team that played the touring Americans in 1934. As a pitcher he got mauled in the November 13 game, even giving up a hit to Moe Berg.

Waseda and Keio had a famously contentious rivalry, and Mizuhara was at the center of it in the 1930s. In a game between the two universities in 1933 Waseda players who so incised with Mizuhara that they threw garbage at him. Most of which he ignored, but when they threw a half-eaten apple at him he threw it back. Which prompted an enormous riot. They don’t make college baseball like they used to.

But anyway, the important thing about Mizuhara was his work as a manager. From 1950 to 1960 (inclusive) he managed the Giants. They were great. This was the Giants of Bessho, Kawakami, and Yonamine. They won eight pennants and four Japan Series. In 61 he left for the Flyers, staying with them through 1967. The Flyers were always the Giants’ little brothers (at the time both teams played in Tokyo), but they were good in Mizuhara’s time with them and won a pennant of their own. In fact, between 1950 and 1967 none of Mizuhara’s teams finished below 500, and only the 1967 Flyers were exactly a 500 team. In 1969 he returned to the dugout, managing the Dragons for three mostly unsuccessful seasons. Albright regards him as the second greatest manager in history and credits him with being one of the managers who introduced platoon match ups to Japan.

The card is a small bromide from the JBR 41 set, issued in 1950.
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Last edited by nat; 04-04-2019 at 10:26 PM. Reason: Correcting info about 1934 tour.
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  #162  
Old 04-04-2019, 10:44 PM
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Default Osamu Mihara

Osamu Mihara was a force in Japanese baseball for decades. He rose to prominence with Waseda, and went pro as soon as it was an option. At 24 he was playing for the Giants (then Kyojin). He made his debut in the fall of 1936. All of his professional appearances (as a player) would be at second base, and there would be a total of 108 of them between 1936 and 1938. Although he was a part of the All-Japan team that played the Americans in 1934, once he went pro he was, at least as a batter, nothing special. He never hit a home run, although he did steal a few bases. His batting lines are about what you would expect from Japanese baseball in the 30s. I don’t know what his fielding was like, but whatever reputation he had at the time couldn’t have been from his offensive production.

B-R says of his role in the war only that he was a private in the army. Presumably that’s what interrupted his playing career. When he came back from the war he was 35 and hadn’t played professional baseball in nearly a decade. A return to the field was not in the cards. He seems to have quickly secured a role managing the Giants, however. In 1947 Mihara supplanted Nakajima. The Giants, as usual, were extremely successful, but he didn’t last long as the helm. Yomiuri replaced him briefly with Nakajima again, and then permanently with Shigeru Mizuhara (see the post above this one).

Because I’m looking into it: here’s an aside on Giants managers. The Giants are looking pretty good on this one: Fujimoto, Yokozawa, Nakajima, Mihara, Nakajima again, Mizuhara, Kawakami, Nagashima, Fujita, Oh, back to Fujita, back to Nagashima, Hara, Horiuchi, back to Hara. That is a heck of a lot of hall of famers managing the Giants, although admittedly not all of them are in the hall because of what they did as managers. Yoshinobu Takahashi breaks the streak. Although he was pretty good in his own right, we’ll see. Everyone who managed the Giants from their founding in 1936 through 2015 is in the hall of fame. One starts to wonder in which direction causality runs here. Are the Giants super good at finding gifted managers, or does managing the Giants make a manager look like they’re gifted?

Mihara’s tenure at the head of the Giants was short-lived. Three seasons and then out. He sat out the 1950 season and then took over the top job for Nishitetsu. This is where he really made his name. The Lions were the powerhouse of the Pacific League during the 1950s and Mihara led the team through all of it. Their star third baseman was Futoshi Nakanishi, who married Mihara’s daughter. Probably a good way to ensure that you’ve got a spot on the team, but Nakanishi (a hall of famer in his own right) didn’t need the help. In 1960 he moved on to the Taiyo Whales, leading them to their lone championship. In 1968 he joined the Kintetsu Buffaloes, with whom he had a fair amount of success. And then the last three years (starting in 1971) he managed the Yakult Atoms. They were a bit below 500 while he was there. Mihara was famous for a relatively gentle managing style. For instance, he never hit his players. The fact that this was notable I leave here without comment.

The card today is an uncatalogued bromide. Mihara is on the Giants, so that means the card is from 1947-9, but I can’t pin it down any better than that. He’s talking to Shigeru Chiba, which is neat, two hall of famers on the same card, but it doesn’t help date the card. Chiba played his entire career for the Giants, including the entirety of Mihara’s tenure there. The back of the card has a stamp which, if my high-school Japanese doesn’t fail me, is the kanji for ‘roku’ or ‘five’. It’s common for bromides to have back stamps – usually they indicate that the stamped card was a “winner” which could be redeemed for a prize (usually a bigger card). I’ve never heard of a fifth-place prize (1 through 3 is pretty common), but I guess that’s what it could be.

Mihara is another late addition to my list, so picking up this card doesn’t advance me towards my goal very much. I’m at 91%.
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  #163  
Old 04-06-2019, 09:49 PM
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No cards today, but some interesting video. The internet thinks that this is video of Eiji Sawamura. Strangely enough, on a French website. I don't know enough Japanese to follow the voice-over.

Somebody also has a gif of (what is allegedly) his delivery.
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  #164  
Old 04-15-2019, 10:36 PM
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Default JBR13 cards

These guys duplicate players that I already have, so no advancement on the project here, but thought I’d share anyway. On the left we have Bozo Wakabayashi, in the middle is Tetsuharu Kawakami, and on the right is Hiroshi Oshita. These cards are from the JBR13 set – or at least the Oshita card is. The other two are identical to JBR13 cards except that they are blank on the back. (Or, well, they were before someone wrote on them.) My guess is that all three of them are JBR13 cards, just missing a pass on the back. Although I guess it’s possible that they’re from a set that’s identical but for the printing on the back. I’m really not a fan of this set – all the cards are boring headshots printed in sepia tone. Moreover, these three examples are in pretty rough shape: creasing, staining, writing, etc. On that note, however, I will say that I kind of like the writing.

The text in the parentheses on the front of the cards gives the player’s team. On the Wakabayashi card it has been scratched out and replaced. Both the text and the replacement writing are illegible (at least to a non-Japanese reader like me), but I’d be willing to bet that it originally said “Osaka” and that the handwritten bit says “Mainichi”. The cards were issued in 1949, and the following season Wakabayashi was traded. You see this all the time on old American cards, it seems pretty likely that that’s what happening here.

As for the writing on the back: it appears to be a dice game. There are twelve, numbered, lines of text. I copied the first three lines from the Kawakami card into Google Translate and got “middle hit”, “chicken neck”, and “left hit”. While I suppose “chicken neck” might be late-40s slang for a strikeout or something, my guess is that I mis-transcribed one of the symbols. Anyways, “middle hit” and “left hit” sure make this sound like a game. Some of the text is repeated on the other cards. My guess is that each kid is supposed to pick a card (or maybe form a lineup – if they had enough cards), then they take turns rolling dice to see what happens in the game. The handwriting on all three cards looks the same to me, so they probably came from the same collection and it was the same kid drawing up the dice game.
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  #165  
Old 04-17-2019, 11:05 AM
Jeff Alcorn Jeff Alcorn is offline
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Hi Nat,

Thanks for continuing this series. The #2 listing on the back of the Kawakami card looks like the first kanji for shortstop, followed by the kana for go & ro. When you put those 2 together you get "gro" for ground- so #2 is saying "Ground ball to shortstop". You got the other 2 correct- a hit to center field and a hit to left field. These same types of abbreviations are on the back of all the Takara game cards issued from the late '70s to the late 90's, and are for playing a dice baseball game.

Thanks again,

Jeff
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  #166  
Old 04-17-2019, 07:50 PM
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Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the info. Either this kind of game was popular long before the Takara cards were printed, or whoever wrote on this cards did it long after they were printed - the JBR13 set is a 1949 issue.

(Also - I wonder how you are supposed to roll a 1...)
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  #167  
Old 04-17-2019, 10:01 PM
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Great finds, I was about to comment on the similarity to the Takara games too.

I have a couple of the Takara ones and am very tempted to try actually playing the game, I just need to find someone to play it with!
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  #168  
Old 04-22-2019, 08:36 PM
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No new players, but another card that I picked up as a part of a lot, so I thought that I might as well share it.

This is Karou Betto, about whom I've written before. In America Betto is, sadly, probably best known for appearing on one of The Dude's t-shirts in The Big Lebowski. Which, let's be clear, is a fine piece of cinema, but a great player (and manager) like Betto deserves better.

The card is from the JCM 78 set, which was issued in 1949 to commemorate a tour of Japan by the San Francisco Seals. Seals players have 'Seals' written on the back of the card, Japanese players have 'Nippon' (Japan) on the back. I don't know why they decided to include the Japanese players that they did. There are only five of them in the set, so it's not like it's an all-star team that the Seals were playing against or something. Besides Betto it includes:

Takehiko Bessho - an all-time great pitcher
Takeshi Doigaki - a good catcher, but not a hall of famer
Kikuji Hirayama - an outfielder who had been a star before the war, but by 1949 was merely average
Shissho Takesue - a hotshot rookie pitcher who would quickly flame out
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  #169  
Old 04-22-2019, 08:49 PM
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That Betto is awesome, I've never seen one of those before. I love how awkward the way they drew him holding the bat is, its almost like they had 8 year olds drawing these things, which I find quite endearing.
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  #170  
Old 04-24-2019, 09:16 PM
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Here's another player that I've written about before. Tokuji Iida was a power hitting first baseman.

This card is an uncatalogued menko. It's a pillar-style card, however, so it's pretty easy to guess about an issue date: late 40s or maybe 1950 or so. The art is weird. It makes him look like a lizard wearing blush.

Iida played for Nankai from 1947 through 1956, and Kokutestu for the rest of his career. Wondering what happened for him to change teams, I went through the roster of the 1956 Kokutetsu and 1957 Nankai teams, trying to find the player that he was traded for. But no one played for both of those teams. Anyone know what happened such that players changed teams in the 1950s, or, even better, what Iida's story is?

It's true that in the early days the reserve clause wasn't a formal part of player contracts, but after a scandal involving Takehiko Bessho it was included in the standard player contract starting in 1951. So Iida couldn't have just declared himself a free agent the way that Bessho did. I tried looking him up on Japanese Wikipedia but - probably due to my poor Japanese - couldn't find any information.
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  #171  
Old 05-10-2019, 08:44 PM
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Default New Oshita Bromide

For your baseball-card-observing enjoyment today, I have a new Hiroshi Oshita card. I’ve written about him before. Oshita was a star player in the 40s and 50s. He was Kawakami’s big rival and famous for batting with a blue bat.

I bought this card for two bad reasons and one good one. Bad reasons first. To begin with, my only other Oshita card is a part of an uncut sheet and I wanted an Oshita to put in my binder. The second reason is that I was swayed by auction copy. I was eagerly awaiting the most recent Prestige Collectibles auction, hoping to pick up an interesting pre-war hall of fame menko. They had some, but they were either of hall of famers that I’m not interested in (i.e., managers) and/or out of my price range for Japanese cards.

They did, however, have a copy of this Oshita card. Here is what Prestige says about this card: “Cards from the JBR 109 set are rarely seen. In fact, this is only the second example of this Hiroshi Oshita card that we have ever encountered. The unusual design coupled with extreme rarity makes this an especially desirable second year card of Oshita.” Reading that, my interest was piqued. Just not enough to place the minimum bid. I did not buy my card from Prestige. But I found another copy for sale at exactly the same time as the Prestige auction was running, and I got it for less than half of what their copy sold for. (Although it’s worth noting that their copy is in better shape than mine.) If this card is as rare as they say, it’s got to be an amazing coincidence that two copies came up for sale at the same time.

Now for the good reason to buy it. This is just a really nice card. There are many bromide issues that are just a more-or-less random picture with a caption thrown onto it. But some serious design work went into this one. I especially like the background. Oshita is depicted as a giant standing in the middle of a baseball stadium, with a couple fielders standing behind him. It’s the same idea as on DeLong cards, but it works for DeLong cards (the DeLong Gehrig might just be the greatest baseball card of all time) and it works with this set too. This one has the best design of any of my Japanese cards, and is among my favorite one all around.

The set is JBR 109. I have the old edition of Engel’s vintage card guide (the one distributed as a spiral bound book, not the one on flash drive) and it is not listed there. Given that Prestige only knows of two copies of this card, I assume that it’s an R5.

I made the first post to this thread one year (plus two days) ago, so this sounds like a good time to take stock. I’ve added a few players to my want list that were not originally on it (they are guys that I had characterized as managers but who were inducted as players), so my project is currently 89% complete. (Backsliding a bit because of the added players.) I’ve got cards of 82 hall of famers (and duplicates of several). That works out to about one card every four and a half days. Not bad. Keeping the mailman busy.
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  #172  
Old 05-15-2019, 08:26 PM
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Default Last JGA16 Card

For the sake of completeness, I thought that I'd post my third (and last) card from the JGA16 set. This is Kazuto Yamamoto (also known as Kazuto Tsuruoka). I've written about him before. He was an infielder for Nankai in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and a manager for many years after that. This card is from 1949; he was Nankai's regular third baseman and a player/manager that year. They decided to list him as a manager on this card.
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  #173  
Old 06-04-2019, 11:07 AM
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Default JCM2 Baseball Back

I have enjoyed reading this thread about Japanese baseball cards. So I picked up a bunch of Japanese cards in the recent Huggins and Scott auction. Several different types and years from 1948 Menkos to 1975-76 Calbees.

I've tried to identify the players by comparing them with advertisements on eBay and sites on the Internet. I thought that I would post a few pictures here to see if anyone can help me identify the players that I cannot find.

I will start with the 1948 JCM2 Baseball Backs. I believe the first card is Takeshi Doigaki, the second Torao Ooka, and the third Sanada ? The other 5 cards I cannot find anything.

Also does anyone know the significance of the numbers on the back of the cards?

I appreciate any help.

Best regards,

Joe
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  #174  
Old 06-04-2019, 08:08 PM
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The fourth player down is Takehiko Bessho, hall of famer and star pitcher for the Giants.

As near as I can tell the guy below him his Michinori Tsubochi, a hall of fame middle infielder. I'm not 100% sure on this one though.

I think the next guy down is named 'Shibata'. There have been a bunch of Japanese players with that name, but none of them look like a match for a late 1940s pitcher. I might have mis-translated this one.

The next guy is Hideo Shimizu. He was a pitcher, mostly playing for the Dragons. Sometimes he was good, sometimes he wasn't.

The last player is Testuharu Kawakami. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Japanese baseball. He was a star first baseman (nicknamed "The God of Batting") for the Giants, from 1938 to 1958. Probably the second or third greatest Japanese first baseman of all time. After that he became Japan's most successful manager, and the most notable advocate of the extremely harsh training and disciplinary program that Japanese baseball is famous for.

The numbers on the back are menko numbers. They don't mean anything. These are menko cards; it's a game (sort of like pogs) where kids throw their cards at piles of other cards on the ground and tried to flip them over. Keeping ones that they managed to flip over. Menko cards often have stuff on them that they thought kids would like: cartoons, rock-paper-scissors symbols, math problems (apparently menko card makers were a bit optimistic about kids' tastes), and really big numbers.

What menko numbers are useful for, from the perspective of a collector, is that in most sets card backs and card fronts are paired, so if you know which menko number corresponds to which player (Gary Engel's book will tell you for a lot of sets) you can identify players based on their menko numbers. For example, Engel says that the card whose back you displayed is "Kyuei Player (generic)".

Given that you've got one of them, it's worth mentioning that some menko cards - especially early ones - don't have specific players on them, but have representative images of a player on a team.

Thanks for sharing these cards, I'd love to see the rest of the lot that you got!
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Old 06-04-2019, 09:05 PM
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Default Shenichi Hoshino

I’ve got a couple more players to write up. Thanks to Sean for this one: I sent him a few spare Calbees and he hooked me up with a couple missing hall of famers. My first baseball card trade since I was ~13, and by far my longest-distance trade.

Senichi Hoshino pitched for the Dragons from 1969 to 1982. He compiled a 146-121 W/L record to go with a 3.60 career ERA. Of his 500 career appearances, slightly more than half of them were in relief. It was fairly common for Japanese starters to pitch out of the bullpen on some of their days off, but this is pretty extreme. In fact, there were some years in which he was almost entirely (or just entirely entirely) a relief pitcher. I’d say that 1974 (the year he took home the Sawamura award) and 1975 were his best years. He posted ERAs of 2.84 and 2.77 in those seasons, against league averages of about 3.50 and 3.30, respectively. That’s not Sandy Koufax exactly, but it’s pretty good. In addition, he was a pretty good hitter. Sort of an all-or-nothing guy at the plate, but there were a few years in which he had a better-than-league-average slugging percentage.

Probably as important to his hall of fame case as his pitching was his career as a manager. Hoshino managed Chunichi from 1987 through 1991, and then again from 1996 through 2001. After that he jumped ship, helming the Tigers for two years. Following his retirement from professional managing he took over the Japanese team in the Asian games (at which they were victorious) and the 2008 Olympics, at which they finished in fourth place. In 2011 he returned to the professional leagues, leading Ratuken through 2014. His teams made it to the Japan Series four times, but only won once. His career record is .529 – good, but not exceptional – but the raw number of wins puts him up amongst the winningest managers in Japanese history. As a manager he was… intense. He was known to beat his players and occasionally hit an umpire.

During his career Hoshino was known as the “Giant Killer”. Probably in part because the Dragons finally stopped the ON-Cannon’s run at nine consecutive championships, but also because he was a vocal critic of the Giants. (Apparently they had agreed to draft him after he graduated from Meiji and they went back on the deal.) The feelings seemed to be mutual: "I also held a burning desire to hit when I faced him because of that spirit of his”, Nagashima is reported to have said.

Finding a comparable American player it tough, if only because so few successful pitchers become managers. Maybe this is the way to do it: imagine a pitcher sort of like Orel Hershiser, and then also make him a reasonably successful manager. Still not perfect, because Hoshino spent so much time in the bullpen and Hershiser’s stretch of dominance was longer. But that’s as close as I’m going to get.

The card is a 1976 Calbee.
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  #176  
Old 06-04-2019, 10:33 PM
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Default Identification of Menko cards

Quote:
Originally Posted by nat View Post
The fourth player down is Takehiko Bessho, hall of famer and star pitcher for the Giants.

As near as I can tell the guy below him his Michinori Tsubochi, a hall of fame middle infielder. I'm not 100% sure on this one though.

I think the next guy down is named 'Shibata'. There have been a bunch of Japanese players with that name, but none of them look like a match for a late 1940s pitcher. I might have mis-translated this one.

The next guy is Hideo Shimizu. He was a pitcher, mostly playing for the Dragons. Sometimes he was good, sometimes he wasn't.

The last player is Testuharu Kawakami. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Japanese baseball. He was a star first baseman (nicknamed "The God of Batting") for the Giants, from 1938 to 1958. Probably the second or third greatest Japanese first baseman of all time. After that he became Japan's most successful manager, and the most notable advocate of the extremely harsh training and disciplinary program that Japanese baseball is famous for.

The numbers on the back are menko numbers. They don't mean anything. These are menko cards; it's a game (sort of like pogs) where kids throw their cards at piles of other cards on the ground and tried to flip them over. Keeping ones that they managed to flip over. Menko cards often have stuff on them that they thought kids would like: cartoons, rock-paper-scissors symbols, math problems (apparently menko card makers were a bit optimistic about kids' tastes), and really big numbers.

What menko numbers are useful for, from the perspective of a collector, is that in most sets card backs and card fronts are paired, so if you know which menko number corresponds to which player (Gary Engel's book will tell you for a lot of sets) you can identify players based on their menko numbers. For example, Engel says that the card whose back you displayed is "Kyuei Player (generic)".

Given that you've got one of them, it's worth mentioning that some menko cards - especially early ones - don't have specific players on them, but have representative images of a player on a team.

Thanks for sharing these cards, I'd love to see the rest of the lot that you got!
Thanks. I really appreciate your help and all of the information. Here are a couple of JCM8 Red Border strip cards. I believe from 1952. The first card is Micho Nishizawa, I don't know the player in the second card.

I will try to post some more of the cards in the lot tomorrow.

Best regards,

Joe
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  #177  
Old 06-05-2019, 12:41 AM
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Glad to see the Hoshino made it safe and sound into your collection! As an anti-Giant myself I've always had a soft spot for him and felt bad when he passed on last year.

Maybe he is the equivalent of Orel Hersheiser and Tommy Lasorda combined?
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  #178  
Old 06-05-2019, 08:36 PM
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The other player must be Kawakami. He's wearing a Giants hat, and Kawakami is the only Giant that Engel lists as being in the set. (And Engel definitely knows about this card: it's the one that he uses to illustrate the set.)

Now, the kanji for 'Kawakami' is 川上. If you sort of squint you can kind of make the second character on the card look like 'kami'. The first character looks like the hiragana for 'i', but I guess if it's super stylized it sort of maybe could possibly be 川?

Anyways, the Giants hat is what seals the deal. The baseball players in the set are Nishizawa (whom you've got), Kawakami, Kaoru Betto - who was on the Mainichi Orions at the time, and Fumio Fujimura, who spent his whole career with Osaka. So just by process of elimination it must be Kawakami.

And yeah, I like a Hershiser/Lasorda hybrid as a match for Hoshino. In fact, it works on all sorts of levels. The Dodgers have traditionally been the American Giants' nemesis. Heck, the Dragons' uniforms even look like Dodger blue!
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  #179  
Old 06-06-2019, 05:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nat View Post
The other player must be Kawakami. He's wearing a Giants hat, and Kawakami is the only Giant that Engel lists as being in the set. (And Engel definitely knows about this card: it's the one that he uses to illustrate the set.)

Now, the kanji for 'Kawakami' is 川上. If you sort of squint you can kind of make the second character on the card look like 'kami'. The first character looks like the hiragana for 'i', but I guess if it's super stylized it sort of maybe could possibly be 川?

Anyways, the Giants hat is what seals the deal. The baseball players in the set are Nishizawa (whom you've got), Kawakami, Kaoru Betto - who was on the Mainichi Orions at the time, and Fumio Fujimura, who spent his whole career with Osaka. So just by process of elimination it must be Kawakami.

And yeah, I like a Hershiser/Lasorda hybrid as a match for Hoshino. In fact, it works on all sorts of levels. The Dodgers have traditionally been the American Giants' nemesis. Heck, the Dragons' uniforms even look like Dodger blue!
Thanks for the information. I appreciate it. You really have a passion for Japanese cards. Here are scans of four other cards that I received in the lot. Huggins and Scott listed them as 1958 JCM23 Playing Card Backs. Not sure if this is correct. The cards are thicker than the other cards and have a glossy finish. I didn't find any matching listings on eBay. Any help identifying the players is appreciated.

Best regards,

Joe
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  #180  
Old 06-06-2019, 11:25 PM
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The players are:

Masaichi Kaneda
Yoshio Yoshida
Kazuhiro Yamauchi
Shigeo Nagashima

All four are hall of famers!
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  #181  
Old 06-07-2019, 08:39 PM
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Default Tsunemi Tsuda

Tsunemi Tsuda pitched for the Hiroshima Carp from 1982 to 1991. Early in his career he was a starting pitcher. As a 21 year old rookie he pitched 166 innings and was not good exactly, but good enough to take home the rookie of the year award. The following year he appeared in 19 games (17 starts) and was actually quite good. In his third year he made ten starts and four relief appearances, totaling only 54 innings, and he went back to being bad. After that he was converted into a relief pitcher. The Japanese Hall of Fame says that his conversion was necessitated by a ‘disrupture of blood in the middle finger’. I don’t have any idea what that is. But anyway, his first season out of the bullpen, 1985, did not go as planned. Tsuda was terrible: 50% worse than league average. His ERA that year was 6.64, and league-wide scoring was about the same as in 2018’s American League, so that doesn’t require any adjustment. His fame really rests on three of the following four seasons. In 1986, 87, and 89 he was terrific.

But then tragedy struck.

In the spring of 1990 he needed surgery because he was suffering from cerebral edema. That is, excess fluid built up in his brain. Cerebral edema can result from traumatic injury, but it can also result from cancer. In Tsuda’s case, it was the latter. He pitched six innings in 1990, one in 1991, and then he died of brain cancer.

The man nicknamed “the flaming stopper” remains as popular as ever. His son wanted to build a museum to his father, and crowd sourced funds for it. His goal was to raise four million yen (something like $40,000) to renovate Tsuda’s old house. The Yomiuri Shimbun (the newspaper that owns the Giants) reports that he hit his initial target in five hours, and eventually raised twenty-six million yen, for a much nicer museum.

The American hall of fame has been known to cut some slack for players who died suddenly and tragically. Ross Youngs comes to mind. Addie Joss didn’t even meet the 10 year requirement, but they put him in anyway. The Japanese voters did the same for Tsuda, but on the merits he’s even less deserving than Youngs or Joss. Joss was legitimately an all-time great, even if his career was short. (For what it’s worth, and yes he was a deadball pitcher, but he still holds the all-time record for WHIP.) Youngs, eh, had half of a hall of fame career. If he’d lived he probably wouldn’t have made it, but he might have. Tsuda is a different animal. Imagine if, instead of retiring at 32, Eric Gagne had died. That would be the American version of Tsuda.

This is a 1987 Calbee card.
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  #182  
Old 06-08-2019, 08:03 AM
Northviewcats Northviewcats is offline
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The players are:

Masaichi Kaneda
Yoshio Yoshida
Kazuhiro Yamauchi
Shigeo Nagashima

All four are hall of famers!
Thanks Sean and Nat for all of your help identifying the players on my cards. I wish that I could add more to the discussion than just show pictures.

Here are four more thick cardboard cards that were in with a group labeled miscellaneous Japanese cards in the Huggins and Scott lot. I know the first two are of famous Home Run King Sadaharu Oh, but can you tell me anything about the other two players? Also any information on the year of manufacture and type of card?

I love the cheesy artwork on the back of the cards. The little girl in card 3 looks like she is about to murder her mom.

Best regards,

Joe
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File Type: jpg 2.jpg (57.3 KB, 213 views)
File Type: jpg 3.jpg (63.4 KB, 212 views)
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  #183  
Old 06-09-2019, 09:56 PM
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I don't know what set the first Oh card is from, but that's definitely Oh. It looks to me like a later issue; I'd guess 1970s.

The other three cards are from JCM58, which was issued between 1975 and 1976. The first guy is Oh. The second guy is Sumio Hirota. He played 1972 to 1987, mostly for the Lotte Orions. Early in his career he had a couple good seasons, but was mostly a below average hitter. He stole lots of bases though; I'm guessing a good-glove no-hit center fielder. Think of someone like Rajai Davis. The last player is Jinten Haku, also known as In-Cheon Paek. He was a productive hitter: about 15 HRs per year, around the same number of steals. He was named to one best-nine. After retiring from Japanese baseball he went to Korea, and is still the only player to have posted a .400 batting average in the KBO.

As for type of card: these are still menkos. Traditionally menko cards were printed on thick stock, since they were meant to be flipped around and thrown on the ground. That's why these cards are so thick. Some sets are very robust - put a Goudey to shame.

On the other hand, I've noticed that menkos printed immediately post-war are often very thin. Much too thin to actually play menko with. My guess is that a shortage of paper had something to do with that. "Tobacco" menkos from the late 50s and early 60s are better about stock quality, but still pretty thin if you're thinking about using them as game pieces. Presumably paper supply wasn't a problem by that point. Maybe kids were appreciating the cards more as baseball cards than as menko cards in that period, and produces responded by cutting corners? If anyone else knows why the tobacco menkos are relatively thin I'd love to hear about it.

Last edited by nat; 06-09-2019 at 10:06 PM.
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  #184  
Old 06-12-2019, 08:46 PM
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Tsunemi Tsuda pitched for the Hiroshima Carp from 1982 to 1991. Early in his career he was a starting pitcher. As a 21 year old rookie he pitched 166 innings and was not good exactly, but good enough to take home the rookie of the year award. The following year he appeared in 19 games (17 starts) and was actually quite good. In his third year he made ten starts and four relief appearances, totaling only 54 innings, and he went back to being bad. After that he was converted into a relief pitcher. The Japanese Hall of Fame says that his conversion was necessitated by a ‘disrupture of blood in the middle finger’. I don’t have any idea what that is. But anyway, his first season out of the bullpen, 1985, did not go as planned. Tsuda was terrible: 50% worse than league average. His ERA that year was 6.64, and league-wide scoring was about the same as in 2018’s American League, so that doesn’t require any adjustment. His fame really rests on three of the following four seasons. In 1986, 87, and 89 he was terrific.

But then tragedy struck.

In the spring of 1990 he needed surgery because he was suffering from cerebral edema. That is, excess fluid built up in his brain. Cerebral edema can result from traumatic injury, but it can also result from cancer. In Tsuda’s case, it was the latter. He pitched six innings in 1990, one in 1991, and then he died of brain cancer.

The man nicknamed “the flaming stopper” remains as popular as ever. His son wanted to build a museum to his father, and crowd sourced funds for it. His goal was to raise four million yen (something like $40,000) to renovate Tsuda’s old house. The Yomiuri Shimbun (the newspaper that owns the Giants) reports that he hit his initial target in five hours, and eventually raised twenty-six million yen, for a much nicer museum.

The American hall of fame has been known to cut some slack for players who died suddenly and tragically. Ross Youngs comes to mind. Addie Joss didn’t even meet the 10 year requirement, but they put him in anyway. The Japanese voters did the same for Tsuda, but on the merits he’s even less deserving than Youngs or Joss. Joss was legitimately an all-time great, even if his career was short. (For what it’s worth, and yes he was a deadball pitcher, but he still holds the all-time record for WHIP.) Youngs, eh, had half of a hall of fame career. If he’d lived he probably wouldn’t have made it, but he might have. Tsuda is a different animal. Imagine if, instead of retiring at 32, Eric Gagne had died. That would be the American version of Tsuda.

This is a 1987 Calbee card.
Yeah, he really is one of the oddest HOF inclusions based on career stats and accomplishments, he isn't really even a Hall of Very Gooder by most standards.

His tragic story really drives interest in him. Even his cards sell for the same prices as super stars with way more impressive resumes.
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  #185  
Old 06-12-2019, 09:25 PM
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Default Hiroshi Gondo

Hiroshi Gondo pitched for the Chunichi from 1961 to 1964, transitioned to a position player for a few seasons, and tried to make a comeback on the mound in 1968. To say that he was abused by the Dragons doesn’t even begin to cover it. As a 22 year old rookie he pitched 429 innings, starting 44 games (including 32 complete games) and finishing 24 games. He appeared in 69 games that season, so I guess he pitched in middle relief once. It was an amazing year. He won 35 games with an ERA of 1.70 against a league mark of 2.68. That would be like having a 2.69 ERA in last year’s American League. So, a good ERA over an unthinkably large number of innings. That year he took home both the rookie of the year award and the Sawamura Award, and led the Central League in practically everything. The following year he won 30 games over 362 innings (with a 2.33 ERA), and then things started going downhill. In 1963 Gondo’s ERA jumped a run-and-a-half while his innings pitched declined by about 1/3. In 1964 his ERA was over four and he only pitched about 100 innings. And that was that.

After blowing out his arm, Gondo stuck around for a few years playing SS and 3B. I don’t know what his defense was like, but, as befits a pitcher, he was not a good batter. The Dragons didn’t give him a starting gig; from his stats it looks like he was a bench player, the kind of guy who pinch hits and fills in when a regular is injured.

Although he had a relatively short playing career, he spent a long time as a coach and baseball analyst. Many years after retiring, he got a managerial spot, leading the Yokohama Bay Stars (1998-2000). They won the Japan Series under his guidance, but his managerial career lasted only those three seasons. In 2017 he was the pitching coach for Japan’s entry in the World Baseball Classic, and cautioned against over use of his pitchers. One wonders why.

Gondo was elected by the “expert” division of the player’s committee. It has purview over managers, coaches, and players who have been retired for a long time. Gondo had a short career as a player, but a long career as a coach and baseball analyst. Presumably that’s what he got elected for, as his pitching career, though notable, was extremely brief. Comparable American players are people like Herb Score and Mark Prior. Exciting young pitchers, good too, but no where near qualified for the hall on the basis of their playing careers.

The card is from the JCM 55 menko set, released in 1962. It was probably one of the most desirable cards in the set when it was released.
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  #186  
Old 06-18-2019, 10:07 PM
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Default 1909 Wisconsin Keio Game

I estimate that there is only a 46% change that today’s entry features a hall of famer. Even so, it’s worth writing about.

There have been several distinct eras in the history of Japanese baseball cards:

• Early 20th century – Postcards, usually featuring university teams and/or visiting American teams. Menko cards from this era are very rare.

• 1930s – First time that menkos and bromides featuring baseball players were widely available. Relatively few of these cards survive (I don’t have any), but you can still find them sometimes.

• WWII – no cards issued

• 1947 through early 1950s – golden age of baseball bromides. Round and pillar menkos common.

• Late 1950s through mid-1960s – “tobacco” menkos common. Throughout the postwar period game cards and cards packaged with candy and gum can be found. The former are common, the latter are not. (I own several game cards despite generally disliking them. I have only a single candy card.)

• 1973 through 1990 – Calbee era. Calbee cards are distributed 1-to-a-pack with potato chips. A few other companies produced cards during this period, but most were short-lived. Calbee was king.

• 1991 – current. BBM era. BBM cards are basically typical American-style baseball cards. Calbee still makes cards, and other companies sometimes put out a set, but BBM fundamentally changed the Japanese baseball card market.


The cards that have been posted to this thread have all been post war. (That’s why this thread is on this side of the board.) Time to change that. I recently picked up a couple early postcards. Today I’ll post the first one, and I’ll do a write-up for the other one later.


In 1872 an American teacher named Horace Wilson introduced Japan to baseball. In 1878 the first formal team was founded. By the turn of the century it was a popular sport in Japanese universities, and a handful of prominent universities had notable baseball teams. In the early days, Keio and Waseda Universities were the stand-outs. Baseball was, of course, already quite popular in the United States, and throughout the first few decades of the 20th century a number of American universities sent baseball teams to play their Japanese counterparts. Off hand, I know that Washington University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin sent teams across the Pacific.

The postcard below commemorates the 1909 University of Wisconsin tour. The inscription on the bottom of the card reads: “Scene of the fierce match between between United States, The baseball team of the University of Wisconsin & Keio University”.

The first game of the tour Keio won by a score of 3-2 in 11 innings on the 22nd of September. The two teams would have a rematch on the 26th, that Keio won 2-1 in 19 innings. Two days later Wisconsin trounced the Tokyo American Club 10-0, on the 29th they beat the Tokyo City Team 8-7. They beat Waseda 7-4 on Oct. 2, lost to Keio 5-4 on the 4th, beat Waseda 5-0 on the 7th, lost to Waseda 3-0 two days later, and beat Keio 8-0 on the 12th before returning to America.

Which game is pictured here? The postmark reads “26th September, Meiji 42”. The Japanese calendar tracks years since the beginning of the current emperor’s reign. 9/26 Meiji 42 = 9/26/1909. Given that the second game of the tour was played on the 26th, that must mean that the match pictured here was the inaugural game of the 22nd. (It must also mean that these postcards were printed in a hurry. The game pictured was played on four days before this card was mailed.)

One amazing thing about this tour, from the perspective of a (very) amateur historian studying it more than 100 years later, is that The Badger, a publication of the University of Wisconsin (it looks like a yearbook) recorded a detailed record of their trip. I will post the relevant pages from The Badger in the next post, but I will give some information from them here.

One Genkwan Shibata, class of 1909, arranged the trip and served as translator. Shibata had a local contact. Professor Matsuoka was a 1906 Wisconsin alum, and helped arrange the trip on the Japanese side. Matsuoka conscripted several hundred Keio students to act as designated Wisconsin fans during the tour. Keio put up $4000 to help fund the Americans’ visit. There are all sorts of problems with inflation calculators, but that’s something in the neighborhood of $100,000 today. Despite their hospitality, Keio wanted to win. As soon as the plans for the trip were finalized, the players from the Keio squad were sequestered away to spend six hours a day in training.

The Wisconsin team consisted of 13 players. They took a train to Seattle, where they spent a week practicing, and then about two weeks aboard ship headed to Japan. The Wisconsin players report that crowds of about 20,000 attended their games. They traveled to the first game by rickshaw. Although the American were impressed with the reception that they received, they also allege bias from the umpires, claiming that it cost them three games against Keio. Nobody ever likes an umpire. They note that there are not yet any professional players in Japan, but predict that there will be some. And of course they were right, although it would take another 27 years.

Now, who is pictured on this card? It’s hard to say, but I’ll give it my best shot. You can’t tell which team is at bat from the names on the uniforms. Even under 60x magnification I couldn’t even get a hint as to what it says on the jerseys.

That said, the batter is wearing white, and the catcher is wearing a light grey. Now, traditionally the home team wears white and the visitors wear grey or some other darker pattern. If the Japanese and American teams were both adhering to this tradition, then the Japanese team is at bat and the Americans are in the field. I have seen a number of other postcards commemorating this trip. Some of them seem to confirm this conjecture.

There is one other factor that favors it. In the background of my postcard is what looks like a scoreboard. It’s very grainy, and no writing on it is visible, but it sure looks like a scoreboard to me. It contains many black rectangles on the right, and a few white rectangles on the left. My guess: the black rectangles are blank boxes reflecting innings yet to be played. The white boxes are placards displaying the runs scored in innings that have already been played. There are more white boxes on the top row than on the bottom. Usually the visiting team is displayed at the top of the scoreboard (they bat first). If that’s right, and I’m counting right, that would indicate that this photo is of the bottom of the fourth inning of the first game between Keio and Wisconsin, September 22nd, 1909.

I’ll admit to being somewhat disappointed that it is probably the Americans in the field. The only hall of famer to appear on the Keio squad is catcher Zensuke Shimada. If Keio had been on defense, the would likely be Shimada you see waiting to receive the pitch. Alas, it’s probably not. I’ve decided that I’m 60% confident that it’s the Americans in the field. That gives me a 40% probability that it’s Shimada playing catcher. But there’s also a Keio player at bat. There’s no indication on the card of who it is, but even so there’s an 11% chance that it is, just by luck, Shimada who is batting. 40% + (60% x 11%) = 46%, hence my estimate at the top of this post. (N.B. Niese says that Konosuke Fukada was the Keio catcher. If he’s right, then my estimate is way off.)

If those are the Americans in the field then the catcher is either Elmer Barlow (aka ‘Spike’, class of ’09), or Arthur Kleinpell (aka ‘Moose’, class of ’11). Barlow would go on to have a distinguished law career, eventually serving on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Less is known about Arthur Kleinpell. He graduated in 1911, and then completed a second degree at Wisconsin in 1917. He died in Michigan. The pitcher is Doug Knight. He pitched all 11 innings of the first game, and the first 16 innings of the second, before injuring his arm and sitting out the rest of the tour. Also visible are first baseman Micque Timbers, and either John Messmer or Kenneth “Buck” Fellows at second. Messmer was Wisconsin’s most accomplished athlete. He won nine letters, later became an architect, and was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Athletics Hall of Fame.

If anyone can read the handwritten text on the card, please let me know. I would very much like to know what they were writing about on this card just after the first game of the tour. I've included a photo of the message with the contrast increased to make it easier to read.

Some of the information in this post was drawn from: Niese, Jon 2013. Voyage to the land of the rising sun: The Wisconsin Badger nine’s 1909 trip to Japan. Nine: A journal of baseball history and culture, 22:1, 11-19.
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File Type: jpg address postcadr.jpg (51.5 KB, 186 views)
File Type: jpg white text postcard.jpg (72.3 KB, 192 views)
File Type: jpg batter postcadrd.jpg (41.6 KB, 190 views)
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  #187  
Old 06-19-2019, 02:20 AM
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Beautiful postcard!

I'm having a lot of difficulty reading the written text due to the handwriting and the pre-war style.

I can say that it was addressed to someone living in the Hakozaki area in Fukuoka city and I don't see any baseball terms used in the written text, which I think is just a personal note unrelated to baseball.
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  #188  
Old 06-19-2019, 12:03 PM
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Very nice post cards. Congratulations on the pick up. Admire all of your research. I really enjoy reading your detective work on the history of the players.

Here are a few more Post-war cards from the Huggins and Scott lot that I purchased last month. They were listed as 1950 JK18 Pro Baseball cards in the auction. I haven't been able to find similar examples on eBay. They are all blank backed and printed on thin cardboard stock. Any help on identifying any of the players or confirming the set would be appreciated.

Best regards,

Joe
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  #189  
Old 06-19-2019, 09:02 PM
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Those are karuta cards. Karuta is sort of a party game. Each player card is paired with a "reading card" that's got information on it. You mix up all the player cards on the table and players take turns reading the reading cards. After a card has been read, all the other players try to be the first to grab the corresponding player card. They would have originally been sold in a box as a complete set. The hiragana symbols on the cards don't have anything to do with the players' names, they just let you pair players cards with reading cards. But, the pictures are pretty good likenesses of the players, so it's not that hard to figure out who is who. (And, moreover, Engel already did the work for us.)

You have, in order:

Juzo Sekine (HOF), Hiroshi Oshita (HOF)
Michio Nishizawa (HOF), Makoto Kozuru (HOF)
Meiji Tezuka, Shissho Takesue
Hideo Fujimoto (HOF), Hiroshi Nakao (HOF)
Shigeru Mizuhara (HOF), Noboru Aota (HOF)
Tokuji Kawasaki, Shigeru Chiba (HOF)
Tetsuharu Kawakami (HOF)

Pretty good selection of players.



Also, in my last post I promised copies of the relevant pages from the UW Yearbook. Unfortunately this website doesn't let you post large files, so the legibility of the text below has been compromised. But you'll get the idea. I also think it's neat that the yearbook includes images of several postcards that were obviously produced together with the one that I posted above. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the yearbook, but the UW library has a nice digitized copy that you can read on-line.
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  #190  
Old 06-22-2019, 02:36 PM
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Default An early postcard

Here is my other recent pick up. It’s another postcard. The image is obviously generic, so no hall of famers here. The person that I bought it from thinks that it was originally included in a magazine. And it does appear to be perforated along one side. The printed text along the bottom says that it is a “secondary education postcard”, for whatever that’s worth. I haven’t found anyone who has been able to read the handwriting.

But what is really interesting about this card is the date. On the back is a 15 sen stamp that dates from the 1880s to 1890s. Now, companies were not permitted to produce postcards in Japan until the Postal Act of 1900 was passed, which creates a little bit of a mystery. But I think that the answer is this: this isn’t, legally speaking, a postcard. It’s a (part of) a page from a magazine – which just coincidentally happens to be the size and shape of a postcard, to be perforated for easy removal, and to say ‘postcard’ on it. But that’s all – the publisher could insist – just a coincidence. And if the reader of the magazine wants to rip out the page and mail it, well, that’s their business. Anyway, since the card was postally used, we can date it quite precisely. The postal cancellation says: June 1, Meiji 24. That’s 1891.

This is very early for Japanese baseball. Horace Wilson introduced baseball to Japan only about 20 years before this card was mailed. It postdates the establishment of Japan’s first organized baseball team by only 13 years. So at this point baseball in Japan was, if not in its infancy, at least in its toddlerhood. American teams wouldn’t start visiting Japan for about another 15 years after this.

This is the earliest piece of Japanese baseball-themed ephemera that I’ve ever seen. The earliest known baseball menko card dates from 1897, and all of the other postcards that I’ve seen are from after the turn of the century. I asked Robert Klevens about it, and he says that, while he has books with woodblock prints that predate this, none of his cards do. Now, whether or not postcards “count” as baseball cards is a fraught and kind of pointless question. We know what they are and we know what they’re not. If you want to count them as baseball cards, then this is likely the earliest known Japanese baseball card. If not, then it’s not, but it’s still a memento from a very early period of Japanese baseball history.
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  #191  
Old 06-30-2019, 07:48 PM
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Default Mission Creep

I am not, I would like to be clear, a patient man. When I started going for the Japanese hall of fame, I managed to find something that I needed, basically every other day. Lately I’ve gone, well, rather more time between pickups.

This does not please me.

But the fact is that among the post-war hall of famers – so, the one’s that I’m actively chasing – there just aren’t very many left to find. I’m at 94% on my project and only need five more players. But obviously the last ones to get will, on average, be the hardest ones to find. And they have been the hardest ones to find.

So I decided to set out on another project. Something to keep me busy while those last five stragglers find their way into my collection. As noted up-thread, Japan has two halls of fame. There’s the yakyu dendo, which I’ve been chasing. It’s the one that people vote on, and they’ve got a museum in the Tokyo Dome. It is, in many respects, like the one in Cooperstown. But there’s also the Meikyukai, AKA The Golden Player’s Club. The Meikyukai is Masaichi Kaneda’s club. He founded it in 1978. Eligible players are those born during the Shōwa period (1926-1988) who have either 2000 hits, 200 wins, or 250 saves. Membership is more-or-less automatic. Or, at any rate, once a player hits the relevant milestones, he’s in unless he doesn’t want to be. The only players who are eligible but not in the Meikyukai are Kihachi Enomoto and Hiramitsu Ochiai. (Turning down Meikyukai membership was very on-brand for Ochiai.) Statistics accumulated outside of Japan count, but only so long as the player appeared in professional Japanese baseball before he accumulated them.

There are many reasons that the automatic qualifications are poorly chosen. They're arbitrary, they're poor measures of player skill or value, and they don't take context into account. The point that I’m trying to make is that if you’re trying to measure career quality, using wins, saves, and hits as proxies is a terrible way to do it.

Nevertheless, anyone who can hang around long enough to hit the milestones is probably a pretty good player, even if the milestones themselves are a poor way to evaluate them. And the Yakyu Dendo has some peculiar omissions, some of which, like Masahiro Doi, the Meikyukai does better with.

Meikyukai players are overwhelmingly recent players. Some of them are still active. So, fair warning: there are a lot of 2.5x3.5 cards with various amounts of foil embossing on the way.

Let’s start with this guy. This is Tomonori Maeda, an outfielder who played for the Carp for ages. And I mean ages. He had a 23 year career, and that doesn’t even count the 2009 season, which he missed completely. He’s in the Meikyukai on the strength of 2119 hits which go with a 302/358/484 slash line, over the years 1990-2013. Maeda had moderately good power – 295 home runs for his career, 20ish a year when he was playing full years (he had many partial seasons) – and little speed. His best season seems to have been 1993, when as a 22 year old he hit 27 home runs on the way to a 317/392/553 line.

The partial seasons were due to injury. Baseball-reference compares him to Eric Davis, due to the fact that they’re talented outfielders who were frequently injured and played for teams that used the same logo. That’s not a good comp though. Davis, at least when young, was amazingly fast. Seriously, check this out, in 1986 Davis hit 27 home runs and stole 80 bases. If he could have cut down on the injuries he could have been a modern-day Ty Cobb. (Some batting average aside.)

Maeda made the best nine four times, but the Carp are a traditionally weak team, and he managed to play in only one Japan Series. (They lost in seven to the Lions.)

The internet tells me that this is a clip of Maeda interviewing players (including Trout) about their swings.

This is a clip of the Carp against the Dragons in what looks like Maeda’s final game.

And here’s a compilation of a bunch of Maeda’s home runs. (Warning: the music is terrible.)

The card is a 1998 Calbee.
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  #192  
Old 06-30-2019, 10:22 PM
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Originally Posted by nat View Post
Here is my other recent pick up. It’s another postcard. The image is obviously generic, so no hall of famers here. The person that I bought it from thinks that it was originally included in a magazine. And it does appear to be perforated along one side. The printed text along the bottom says that it is a “secondary education postcard”, for whatever that’s worth. I haven’t found anyone who has been able to read the handwriting.

But what is really interesting about this card is the date. On the back is a 15 sen stamp that dates from the 1880s to 1890s. Now, companies were not permitted to produce postcards in Japan until the Postal Act of 1900 was passed, which creates a little bit of a mystery. But I think that the answer is this: this isn’t, legally speaking, a postcard. It’s a (part of) a page from a magazine – which just coincidentally happens to be the size and shape of a postcard, to be perforated for easy removal, and to say ‘postcard’ on it. But that’s all – the publisher could insist – just a coincidence. And if the reader of the magazine wants to rip out the page and mail it, well, that’s their business. Anyway, since the card was postally used, we can date it quite precisely. The postal cancellation says: June 1, Meiji 24. That’s 1891.

This is very early for Japanese baseball. Horace Wilson introduced baseball to Japan only about 20 years before this card was mailed. It postdates the establishment of Japan’s first organized baseball team by only 13 years. So at this point baseball in Japan was, if not in its infancy, at least in its toddlerhood. American teams wouldn’t start visiting Japan for about another 15 years after this.

This is the earliest piece of Japanese baseball-themed ephemera that I’ve ever seen. The earliest known baseball menko card dates from 1897, and all of the other postcards that I’ve seen are from after the turn of the century. I asked Robert Klevens about it, and he says that, while he has books with woodblock prints that predate this, none of his cards do. Now, whether or not postcards “count” as baseball cards is a fraught and kind of pointless question. We know what they are and we know what they’re not. If you want to count them as baseball cards, then this is likely the earliest known Japanese baseball card. If not, then it’s not, but it’s still a memento from a very early period of Japanese baseball history.
Wow, that is a really interesting find.

Just FYI, it is addressed to someone named Kimura who lived in Nagano Prefecture. The pink lettered "K Miyashita" on the front in Roman letters seems to be the name of the sender, the name also appears (in kanji) as the sender on the flip side. I tried but couldn't make out what the pink lettered writing on the top says.

Also glad to see you have the Meikyukai posts started, I'm still going through my doubles to see what I can send you!
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Last edited by seanofjapan; 06-30-2019 at 10:25 PM.
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  #193  
Old 07-04-2019, 12:49 PM
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Default Kosuke Fukudome

Kosuke Fukudome is an outfielder (converted from shortstop early in his pro career). He broke in with Chunichi in 1999 and played for the Dragons until coming to America in 2008. He signed a deal with the Cubs at made the all-star team as a 31 year old “rookie”. (This is a settled issue by now, but guys with long and successful careers in Japan counting as rookies always struck me as a bit absurd.) Fukudome spent three and a half years with the Cubs before being traded to the Indians and signing a one-year deal with the White Sox. After the 2012 season he returned to Japan, roaming the outfield for the Hanshin Tigers. He spent 56 games with Hanshin this year, but was really bad. B-R reports that he spent two games with Hanshin's minor league team in the Western League. Since Fukudome is a 42 year old who has apparently washed out of NPB, I’m guessing this is curtains for him.

Still, it’s a career to be proud of. Over sixteen seasons in Japan he collected 1855 hits, had a healthy on-base percentage, and slugged nearly 500. His time with the Cubs was not as successful: he posted a 258/359/395 line. The on-base percentage is okay. You’d want more power from an outfielder unless he was a real speedster, which Fukudome wasn’t. In MLB he went 29/58 in stolen bases. Which isn’t good. The big difference between his Japanese production and his American production was the power. In Japan he was a real slugger, with slugging percentages in the high 500 to low 600s, with one great season around 650. Granted, this was in his late 20s, which is traditionally a player’s prime. He was past that when he went overseas, so that explains part of the drop off, but not nearly all of it. Especially since he got to call Wrigley Field home, and Wrigley is noteworthy for being homerun friendly.

It’s really hard not to conclude that it’s harder to hit for power over here. Hideki Matsui is the only Japanese player to manage to be a power hitter in America, and even he lost a lot of power when he came over. Albright helpfully has a table with dimensions of Japanese parks. His website is a bit old, so it might be out of date, but it’s convenient and will give us the general idea.

Using his data, here are the average dimensions:
LF Line 315
LF Gap 372
Dead C 395
RF Gap 373
RF Line 315

This guy has MLB dimensions. I’m not completely certain that its current either, and it is definitely incomplete, but we’re just after the general idea here. We want, if you’ll forgive a pun, to get a number that’s in the right ballpark.

Let’s compare:
LF 331
LF Gap 369
Dead C 405
RF Gap 374
RF 331

American parks are a little bigger, but not by a huge amount. And the LF/RF differences could just reflect measurement differences. The site with American dimensions doesn’t say “LF Line” like the Japanese one does. So the stadia seem like they’re about the same size. Even if Japanese players are, on average, smaller than Americans, if the stadia are the same size, that shouldn’t account for the difference. Do Japanese pitchers like to work up in the zone more than Americans do? Are lineups more balanced, and hence pitchers have less of an incentive to work around power hitters?

Anyway, when he returned to Japan Fukudome might have gotten a little of his power back, but not much of it. That, I think, can be explained by age. He was 31 when he came to America, but 36 when he returned. While 31 isn’t 21, it’s not all that old, exactly. You might still, if you’re lucky, be in the prime of your baseball career at 31. At 36… not so much.

Prior to going pro, Fukudome played briefly in the industrial leagues. He was apparently a first round pick by the Buffaloes, but he played industrial ball rather end up with Kintetsu. He’s also a 2x Olympian, taking home bronze and silver medals. In Japan he was a multiple gold glove winner (including a win at 38, making him Japan’s oldest gold glove winner), a 1x MVP, and a 4x member of the best nine team.

As is so often the case with star players on Hanshin, thehanshintigers.com has a nice biography for Fukudome.

Meikyukai: Yes - Hall of Fame: No

My card is from the 2013 BBM (first version) set, after his return to Japan.
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  #194  
Old 07-06-2019, 12:06 AM
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Great thread. Learned some new stuff.
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  #195  
Old 07-07-2019, 01:56 PM
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Default Hiroki Kokubo

Hiroki Kokubo was an infielder who spent a plurality of his time at 3B, but also played a significant amount of first and second base. He spent most of his career with the Hawks, with a three year break on the Giants (and missed 2003 after injuring his knee in a collision at home plate). As you might expect, he slid down the defensive spectrum as he got older, beginning in the middle infield, shifting to third about 2000, and then became a full-time first baseman in his old age. At his peak Kokubo was a huge slugger. He managed 44 home runs in 2001 in just 138 games. (That’s a 50 HR pace over 162 games.) The peak didn’t last long though. He showed flashes of it in his mid-20s, but inconsistency, some injuries, and problems with the tax authorities, prevented him from being the dominant force that he could have been. It was in his early 30s that he really came into his power, but he lost one season to injury, lost about 50 games (to a broken thumb) in 2006, and was never the same after that.

Despite a relatively short peak and frequent injuries, Kokubo is one of Japan’s better home run hitters. He managed 413 for his career, which puts him 16th all-time. In MLB Mike Schmidt is 16th all-time (with 548).

Kokubo spent three years with Yomiuri. The trade was for literally nothing. They just gave away a star player. This did not go over well with the fans, and he was re-acquired (by the now rebranded Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) shortly thereafter. This “trade” was peculiar, to say the least. The best that anyone can seem to do is guess that the Hawks, despite having just won the Japan Series, were strapped for cash and looking to unload a contract. But it’s weird that they’ve got a star player and wouldn’t even ask for anything back in return.

Tuffy Rhodes managed to upstage Kokubo in his best seasons. In 2001 Kokubo hit 44 home runs on the way to a 290/364/600 line. You would expect the slugging numbers at least to lead the league and for Kokubo to be front-page news. (At least in the sports section.) But Rhodes, playing for Kintetsu, managed 55 home runs and a 327/421/662 slash line. Just miles better than Kokubo. 2004 was also a very good season, in which he hit 41 home runs. Rhodes hit 45. Kokubo at least bested him elsewhere (despite the home run lead, Rhodes had a lower slugging percentage than did Kokubo), but Rhodes took the top line number. Oddly, the only year in which Kokubo led the league in home runs was 1995, when he hit a relatively pedestrian 28.

About that tax fraud thing. Ten Japanese players were caught evading income taxes in 1994. Kokubo was the highest-profile of them. He pleaded guilty to evading $215,400 in taxes. I haven't been able to figure out how this led to missing most of a season. The most obvious explanation - prison time - you'd think would leave evidence on the internet, you know, articles about how a big sports star ended up in prison. Since I haven't found any of those, I'm guessing that that wasn't it.

He was a 3x best nine, and 13x all-star (appearing in 11 of those games), but never won an MVP award.

Meikyukai: Yes - Hall of Fame: No

Two cards this time: the first is from the 2002 BBM set. It appears to be part of an all-star subset. The other is a 1999 Calbee prize card. Sometimes in a bag of chips you’d find (I don’t know if they still do this) “winner” cards, which can be mailed back to Calbee for some sort of premium. Which premium you get depends on how many prize cards you send back. In 1999 five prize cards got you a special set of a dozen cards on premium card stock with lots of foil coating. There were at least a couple sets issued. I’ve got one of them. And while I plan on trading it (most of the players I don’t need), I figure that I’ll post them while I’ve got them.
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File Type: jpg kokubo.jpg (58.9 KB, 137 views)
File Type: jpg kokubo back.jpg (68.8 KB, 138 views)
File Type: jpg kokubo calbee.jpg (40.9 KB, 142 views)
File Type: jpg kokubo calbee back.jpg (51.7 KB, 141 views)
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  #196  
Old 07-08-2019, 09:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nat View Post
Kokubo spent three years with Yomiuri. The trade was for literally nothing. They just gave away a star player. This did not go over well with the fans, and he was re-acquired (by the now rebranded Fukuoka Softbank Hawks) shortly thereafter. This “trade” was peculiar, to say the least. The best that anyone can seem to do is guess that the Hawks, despite having just won the Japan Series, were strapped for cash and looking to unload a contract. But it’s weird that they’ve got a star player and wouldn’t even ask for anything back in return.
Great post, as always!

There were two factors that contributed to the odd Kokubo-for-nothing trade. One is that after his 2003 injury he went to the US for treatment (expensive treatment), which the team refused to pay for, which broke down the relationship between Kokubo and management (who had disagreed with him going to the US in the first place). So Daiei wanted to get rid of him despite him being a key player.

A second point is that the parent company Daiei was in a financial crisis at that time, having to slash its costs which would ultimately lead to its selling the team a year later as part of its restructuring. In the early 2000s Daiei was a major supermarket retailer across Japan, but the result of that crisis is that its now a minor subsidiary of one of its former rivals and the brand is almost non-existent today.

So it can also be seen as part of a fire sale by sinking ownership. By the time Kokubo came back to the Hawks they were under new ownership that invested heavily in the team and turned it into the powerhouse of the Pacific League that it has been ever since.
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  #197  
Old 07-12-2019, 10:21 PM
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Default Atsuya Furuta (redux)

Covered this guy already. Furuta is, for my money, Japan's second-greatest catcher. Trailing only his mentor, Katsuya Nomura. B-R says that he was voted (doesn't say by whom) the greatest catcher in Japanese history, which is absurd. But he was really good.

He qualified for the Meikyukai with his 2000th hit in 2005.

He was due to be drafted out of college (he was a business major) by Nippon Ham, but they backed out. Maybe because of his eyesight. Instead he began his pro career playing for Toyota in the industrial leagues, and was later drafted by Yakult. At Toyota he worked in human resources, with whom he planned "in-house recreation" for the company. (I'm guessing this means company picnics and such that HR thinks that employees like?)

Anyway, Furuta posts pictures of food on his Instagram account just like everyone else does. Among his hobbies he lists shogi (a board game), golf, and watching movies. His favorite band is U2. (Which, eh, at least War was a good album.)

Post retirement he has taken up marathon running, written a book, and made lots and lots of TV appearances.

Meikyukai: Yes - Hall of Fame: Yes

Perhaps it's excessive to buy a second card of a player just because he's in both the Meikyukai and the Yakyu Dendo. And clearly I don't spend enough money on baseball cards already. But anyways, I decided that a player doesn't count for the Meikyukai collection just because he's in the Yakyu Dendo collection. (They are in different binders after all.) So I've got more cards to post today.

The cards: 1993 BBM. I love the big stripes on the uniform. It almost looks like pajamas. The other is another 1999 Calbee prize card.
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File Type: jpg furuta2.jpg (63.5 KB, 127 views)
File Type: jpg furuta2 back.jpg (59.2 KB, 127 views)
File Type: jpg furuta3.jpg (39.2 KB, 130 views)
File Type: jpg furuta3 back.jpg (58.1 KB, 129 views)
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  #198  
Old 07-16-2019, 03:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nat View Post
Covered this guy already. Furuta is, for my money, Japan's second-greatest catcher. Trailing only his mentor, Katsuya Nomura. B-R says that he was voted (doesn't say by whom) the greatest catcher in Japanese history, which is absurd. But he was really good.

He qualified for the Meikyukai with his 2000th hit in 2005.

He was due to be drafted out of college (he was a business major) by Nippon Ham, but they backed out. Maybe because of his eyesight. Instead he began his pro career playing for Toyota in the industrial leagues, and was later drafted by Yakult. At Toyota he worked in human resources, with whom he planned "in-house recreation" for the company. (I'm guessing this means company picnics and such that HR thinks that employees like?)

Anyway, Furuta posts pictures of food on his Instagram account just like everyone else does. Among his hobbies he lists shogi (a board game), golf, and watching movies. His favorite band is U2. (Which, eh, at least War was a good album.)

Post retirement he has taken up marathon running, written a book, and made lots and lots of TV appearances.

Meikyukai: Yes - Hall of Fame: Yes

Perhaps it's excessive to buy a second card of a player just because he's in both the Meikyukai and the Yakyu Dendo. And clearly I don't spend enough money on baseball cards already. But anyways, I decided that a player doesn't count for the Meikyukai collection just because he's in the Yakyu Dendo collection. (They are in different binders after all.) So I've got more cards to post today.

The cards: 1993 BBM. I love the big stripes on the uniform. It almost looks like pajamas. The other is another 1999 Calbee prize card.
Really enjoying the thread, Nat. Probably my favorite thread here at Net54. Also appreciated this one for two reasons: (1) Furuta is one of my favorite Nippon League players, and I do have several of his cards over the years, and (2) The Yakult Swallows are my favorite team. Why? Well, although I've collected Japanese cards since 1980, I've only been collecting them "hot and heavy" since 2013, and I realized to better appreciate Japanese baseball I needed to pick a "favorite" team and start following them, so I picked the Swallows because of Furuta and because of their excellent uniforms from about 1978 - mid 1990s (now, not so much with the lime green road unis). They remind me a lot of the Atlanta Braves unis worn from 1976-79. Keep up the great posts! (By the way, I wonder how many Net54 members are Japanese baseball card collectors? 6? 7?)
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  #199  
Old 07-17-2019, 10:05 PM
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Default Manabu Kitabeppu (redux)

Glad you enjoy the thread Jay! It never occurred to me to pick a favorite team, but that does seem like a great way to learn more about the game over there. One reason (besides getting bored waiting for the HOFers that I still need) that I decided to chase the Meikyukai too is that it's an excuse to learn about modern Japanese baseball. I could tell you a lot more about Japanese baseball from the 1950s than I could about it from the 2010s, reading up on some of the active players who are Meikyukai members should help with that. Not the same as actually following a team, but it's a start. Let's see your favorite Swallows card, if you've got a scan handy! They've had some pretty good players over the years; aside from Oh, Kaneda may have had the most impressive career of any NPBL player.

It's true that Japanese baseball is a niche interest on Net54, but I don't know of anywhere better to put these posts. At least the folks here are guaranteed to be interested in baseball cards. And besides, even if the number of active collectors is relatively small, somebody is interested, this thread has got plenty of views.

Also: it's time for another card.

Here's another guy that I've written about before. Manabu Kitabeppu was a star pitcher for the Hiroshima Carp for many years, although a very inconsistent one. Some years he was great, others, not so much. He qualified for the Meikyukai with his 200th win in 1992.

I don't have much to add to what I wrote before, so I'm going to leave you with a few fun Kitabeppu-related links.

He has his own website. He's got a Facebook page. And he has his own blog. All of foregoing are in Japanese, so English monolinguists (or at least non-Japanese speakers) will want to run them through the translator in Chrome or something similar. (Which will give you something that looks a little bit like English. They've still got a ways to go on the computer translators.) Post retirement, Kitabeppu spent a while as a pitching coach, and has been a media personality since c. 2005. He also grows vegetables and posts about it on his blog.

Meikyukai: Yes - Hall of Fame: Yes

The card is a part of the "Gold Card" subset from BBM's 1993 issue. (Or maybe 92? It's says 1992 on the front but has a 1993 copyright date.) Apparently this particular subset has no premium attached to it, since I picked up this card for a dollar or two. I'm not really a fan of subsets (old school all-star cards excepted), but that probably just shows that I'm getting to be an old stick in the mud.
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File Type: jpg kitabeppu 2back.jpg (61.5 KB, 109 views)

Last edited by nat; 07-17-2019 at 10:06 PM.
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  #200  
Old 07-21-2019, 09:29 PM
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Default Takahiro Arai

Takahiro Arai was a 3B/1B who played for Hiroshima, Hanshin, and then back to Hiroshima, from 1999 through 2018. He had one year (2005) in which he displayed some terrific power, but was mostly more like an above-average power threat. In total he had 321 home runs and 388 doubles, which should give you the right idea. For his career he had a .339 on-base percentage, which was right around average. And he had no speed to speak of: 22 career triples, 43 steals at a very poor rate. You know this sort of player. I’m guessing the Carp used him as a cleanup hitter, as he cleared 100 RBIs a few times, despite the relatively short season. Arai was often in the top ten in offensive categories, but rarely led in anything.

He was 30 and still good when he went to Hanshin as a free agent. His return to Hiroshima followed his age 37 season, which was catastrophically bad. Ordinarily you’d think that a 37 year old’s career would be over after a season like that, but Hiroshima took him back, and while the age definitely showed, he had another year or two of productively (and a little while just hanging on) left in him. Arai qualified for the Meikyukai in 2016 as a 39 year old. He was a local boy, maybe he was a fan favorite which gave them some extra reason to bring him back. Arai was born in Hiroshima and went to high school there; although admittedly he left for college (Komazawa University in Tokyo, which, according to its website, was founded in 1592. Not Oxford old, but that’s pretty impressive).

Apparently he wasn’t much of a prospect. As a college player he managed only two home runs, and the Carp didn’t select him until the sixth round. (I don’t know how many rounds there are in the Japanese draft, but given the small number of minor league teams, I’m guessing “not very many”.) Among players who managed 2000 hits, Arai was drafted in the second-lowest spot in the draft (Yutaka Fukumoto). (Hat tip to the B-R bullpen for a lot of this information.)

In 2008 he took over as head of the Japanese player’s union. A position that, a few years earlier, had been held by Atsuya Furuta (for more on whom, see above). The union is rather weak (much weaker than the American counterpart), but they do have some victories, most notably when the owners tried to contract a team.

Although he is a pretty stand type of player, I’m having trouble finding a close American match. My first thought was Matt Williams, and while there are some similarities, power was a bigger part of Williams’ game. Ditto Scott Rolen. Gary Gaetti is a tempting name to throw out there, but Arai was just a better all-around player than he was.

Arai was a 2x best-nine player and a 1x MVP. He took home the MVP award in 2016 when the Carp won the pennant. Even ignoring Japan’s tendency to give the MVP to a player on the championship team (something the Americans are also guilty of, but not to the same extent), this was an absurd choice. Pick an MVP from the stat lines below (AVG/OBP/SLB, SB, position):

335/404/612, 16, OF
291/389/481, 23, OF
300/372/485, 0, 1B

The last one is Arai, and he’s the one they gave the MVP award to. The other two are Seiya Suzuki and Yoshihiro Maru, outfielders for the Carp. He was the third-best position player on his own team. And Kris Johnson had a heck of a season on the mound, too.

Digression time: I know that this is a post about Arai, but I want to talk about Seiya Suzuki for a minute. He was 21 when the Carp won the pennant in 2016 and was the best player on the team after being a part-timer since he was 18. He followed up that performance with a 300/389/547 line in 2017, 321/439/625 in 2018, and so far this year he’s hitting 313/438/572. The Carp seem to have got their own Mike Trout. I have a feeling that I’ll be writing about him in a few years.

Arai is either unpopular, or has a bunch of friends who really like to mess with him. During one interview fellow star Kanemoto walked in, asked him why there are so few reporters talking to him (compared to an interview that he, Kanemoto, had given earlier), left, and then returned with photographers, explaining to them that Arai is a star and that they should take pictures of him. Later on, Arai was answering questions on a radio show, including questions about which team he liked playing for the most, and why he tends to drop easy fly balls. Turns out Kanemoto called in with the questions. And it’s not just Kanemoto. When it was announced that Arai was retiring, Kenta Maeda (another former teammate) appeared in television with a shirt that had a picture of Arai on it, along with his career totals in strikeouts, errors, and double plays.

But anyway, interviewed in 2011 (while he was on the Tigers), Arai was asked about his goals for the season. His response was, I think, just right: “I’d like to win a championship and spray beer all over the place.”

Meikyukai: Yes - Hall of Fame: No

The card is from the 2013 BBM “Crosswind” subset. They do a cross-something subset pretty frequently.
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File Type: jpg arai back.jpg (57.3 KB, 98 views)
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