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Old 07-21-2018, 10:40 PM
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Default Tsutomu Wakamatsu

Tsutomu Wakamatsu was an outfielder (switching between left and center) for the Yakult Swallows from 1971 to 1989. He had moderate power but high batting averages and a good walk/K rate. His career line is 319/375/481. If memory serves, that .319 batting average is tied for second best all-time in Japan. And he did it over an impressive 7500 plate appearances. He could steal a base, but that wasn’t his game exactly. Offensively he’s the same sort of player that Derek Jeter was. (Of course defensively there’s a position difference to consider.) Wakamatsu was a consistently excellent player. He made the all-star team 11 times, and was named to 10 best nines. Which is really good; it indicates that those all-star selections weren’t of the “well, we need to fill out the team, so why not this guy?” variety. Like Jeter he was a multi-gold glove winner (although only 2 in his case), although Jeter didn’t really deserve his hardware. And unlike Jeter, he won an MVP award.

Albright ranks Wakamatsu 35th all-time amongst Japanese players, and tells us that his nickname was “little big bat”, in reference to his size (5’6”) and his batting average (which was the opposite of low). The Jeter comparison is supposed to be “in-context”, so, like:

Jeter:American Baseball :: Wakamatsu:Japanese Baseball

At least in so far as their on-field production goes. I’m fairly sure that Jeter’s cultural impact was larger than Wakamatsu’s, at least given that Wakamatsu doesn’t even have a Japanese Wikipedia page. Albright tried to come up with something like MLE’s for Japanese baseball.* Given those, he lists Enos Slaughter, Tim Raines, Jose Cruz, Griffey Sr., Bill Buckner, Buddy Bell, and some other non-exciting players as comparables.

As with many great players, Wakamatsu went into coaching and managing after his retirement as an active player. He served several years in the minor leagues; managing the Swallows for seven years he posted a W/L record slightly above .500.

*MLE = major league equivalent. It’s one of the tools that we use to evaluate minor league players. Basically, MLEs try to determine what a player who does X in league Y would do if they were in the big leagues. It must be nightmarishly difficult to do this for Japanese players, given the dearth of data points.

Here is a video the Swallows played at the stadium during their “Wakamatsu Day” following his retirement.

My Wakamatsu card is from the 1974/75 Calbee set.
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Old 07-24-2018, 10:22 PM
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Default Victor Starfin

Another poster showed some Starfin cards earlier in the thread, but I’ve got one now so I’m going to give him a full write-up.

Victor Starfin
was a pitcher from 1936 to 1955. He was the second greatest pitcher in Japanese history, and Walter Johnson is, in a number of ways, a good American analogue for him. Before the war he played for the Kyojin – I assume that this is the same team now known as the ‘Giants’. After the war he moved around a bit but spent the better part of his time playing for the Stars. Starfin was the first Japanese player to win 300 games (retiring with 303), he had a career ERA of 2.09 (in an admittedly low-scoring environment), and he still holds the all-time record for shutouts in Japan. At the height of his career he was pitching an insane number of innings: 458 in 1939 (the first year in which the season was not split in two) and 436 in 1940. In the latter year he recorded an ERA of 0.97. He won consecutive MVP awards. Take that Bob Gibson.

As you might have guessed, Starfin wasn’t Japanese. He was Russian, born into an aristocratic family that sided against the Bolsheviks during the revolution. As the Bolsheviks swept to power, the Starfin family fled before them, first to Siberia, then to China, and eventually settling in Hokkaido. My guess is that he was about two years old when they left Russia and something like seven or eight when they finally arrived in Japan. It seems that his position in Japan was somewhat precarious. The family entered on transit visas, which would probably have made living there long term a dicey legal proposition. Wikipedia reports that the owner of the team (Matsutaro Shoriki) who signed him effectively blackmailed him into going pro, as he could have had the family deported.

Despite his success, Starfin’s story is, in many ways, a very sad one. That he was forced into baseball is just one aspect of it (he had wanted to attend Waseda University). Starfin struggled with depression and alcoholism through much of his life. Xenophobia also took a significant toll on him; he was forced to adopt a Japanese name, and later was confined with other foreign residents during World War II. His alcoholism might have cost him his marriage, and probably cost him his life. (To be clear, he did lose his wife. Some sources say that it was his drinking that drove her away, others that she was looking for a way out of Japan and Alexander Boloviyov offered it.) In any case, Starfin died after running his car into a train in 1957. The details of the accident are not clear, but there is a fair amount of speculation that he was driving drunk and caused the accident. (Apparently baseball-reference hasn’t heard about the accident: it lists him as still alive and 102 years old.)

Starfin named his son ‘George’, after Babe Ruth.

Amazingly there is video of Starfin pitching. Here he is in 1949.

My card is a bromide from the JBR53 set, issued in 1949. Although you can’t really make out the uniform, that would put him on the Stars.
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Old 07-28-2018, 10:43 PM
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Default Osamu Higashio

Osamu Higashio pitched for various incarnations of the Lions from 1969 to 1988. His career win-loss percentage is uninspiring (251/247) and a career ERA of 3.50 is good but not outstanding. To be fair, though, 251 is a large number of wins, and he pitched a huge number of innings in a league with a short season: 4086. Many of the times that he posted league-leading figures, it was simply due to the large number of innings that he pitched. This is particularly true for the (many) times that he led the league in losses, including losing 25 games (still a Pacific League record) in 1972.

In some ways it makes sense to think of Higashio’s career in two parts. During the first half of his career the Lions were terrible. He frequently led the league in losses, but also made a number of all-star teams and placed among the league leaders in ERA. During the latter half of his career the Lions blossomed (if you’ll excuse an odd metaphor). They won the Japan Series in 1982, and Higashio was named the series MVP. In 1983 they won the Japan Series again, led (again) by Higashio. After leading the league in losses on a bunch of occasions, he led the league in wins this year, and took home the Pacific League MVP award. In 1985 the Lions made it to the Japan Series again, but they lost this time. The disappointment didn’t last long. The next two seasons the Lions again won the Japan Series, with Higashio taking home another Pacific League MVP award in 1987. The following season the Lions won the Japan Series again – although by this point all the innings pitched had taken their toll on Higashio. He was relegated to part-time duty during the season, starting a game and making an appearance as a reliever in the Japan Series.

Higashio was known to pitch inside, and was frequently accused of head-hunting. (He says that 90% of batters that he hit were hit accidentally. Which, of course, leaves the other 10%.) He holds the all-time record for hit batsmen in Japan, and famously received a beating from Richard Davis after hitting him with a pitch. Higashio was not ejected and continued pitching, eventually winning the game. He rubbed many people the wrong way. In part because he hit so many batters (and came so close to hitting others), but also because he is blunt when he speaks, and (by the standards of Japanese baseball) disrespectful of other players.

After retiring Higashio took over managing duties of the Lions. He took them to two more Japan Series’, but they lost both times. He also had a Gameboy baseball game named after him (apparently only released in Japan) in 1991, and he and his daughter Riko (a professional golfer) do promotional work (e.g., for Guam Beer). The gossip pages report that Osamu is unhappy with Riko’s engagement to Junichi Ishida a twice-divorced actor who is 22 years older than she is. I don’t know why people care about this stuff. I mean, I know why Osamu cares about it, I don’t know why other people care that Osamu cares about it. Anyhow, the story that I found about it is 13 years old, so presumably Riko and Junichi are married by now. Hopefully Osamu got over it.

For a comparable American player, I’d point to someone like Tom Glavine. He was a good pitcher on a team that had been miserable but during his tenure became great, and he himself had a few seasons outstanding enough to be recognized with individual awards. (Although Glavine never took home an MVP award.)

My card is from the 1976 Calbee set. Most of the set has a standard Calbee look – full bleed photos with a little text at the bottom – but for some reason (or perhaps for no reason, I don’t know) a few of the cards have a pink frame around them. Including Mr. Higashio.
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Old 07-30-2018, 08:56 PM
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Sean McGinty
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Loving these posts, you must be 3/4 of the way there by now?

Also a minor correction, Tsutomu Wakamatsu does have a Japanese Wikipedia page:若松勉

But yes, he is nowhere near as well remembered/influential in Japan as Jeter is in the US. Part of that is because he played for Yakult no doubt....
My blog about collecting cards in Japan:
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Old 07-30-2018, 10:39 PM
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Default Shigeru Chiba

Thanks Sean! The pace has slowed down recently, in part because a progressively higher percentage of the guys that I need are players from the early days of pro ball who didn’t play much (or at all) after the war. Those cards are hard to find. (The hall of famers who never played as pros I’m not including in this project.) So, I’m at 58% and have about a half-dozen cards on the way from Japan. But there’s still some low-hanging fruit out there, so I’ll keep chipping away at it. And I’ve got a sizable backlog of cards already in my collection that I haven’t written about yet.

My apologies to Mr. Wakamatsu for missing his Wikipedia page. Searching for information in a language that you don’t read can be pretty hard, even with Google Translate around to help out!

Today’s player is Shigeru Chiba. He was the second baseman for several versions of the Giants from 1938 to 1956. If his presence on cards from the early 50s is any indication, I take it that he was one of the bigger stars of the day. He was certainly a good hitter, regularly posting seasons that wouldn’t embarrass Chase Utley, even though he was playing through the middle of Japan’s deadball period. In particular he had extremely good on-base skills, walking far more than he struck out (and leading the league four times) and posting batting averages a bit under 300 (which was very good at the time). He’d also steal 15 or so bases in a year and hit 8-10 home runs. If I’d been his manager I’d have had him batting leadoff, or maybe second. Before going pro he had been a star amateur player in middle and high school. It amazes me that they took middle school baseball seriously. But they did. He made his pro debut at 19, but played only three seasons before going to war. Upon his return he took the league by storm, winning seven consecutive best nine awards.

The coolest thing about Chiba is that he was nicknamed ‘The Formidable Buffalo’. Presumably this wasn’t done ironically, although he wasn’t an especially large guy. He’s listed at 5’6” and 140 lbs. Average male height in Japan in 1950 was 5’4”; I don’t have average weights from 1950, but 140 lbs. is a bit below average for today. So it sounds like he was probably a little bit larger than average. Anyhow, he’s got an awesome nickname.

After his playing career ended he took over managing the Kintetsu team. The team at the time was known as the ‘Pearls’, but ownership asked the fans what the team should be called, and ‘Buffaloes’ won, in honor of the manager. (Americans have done this too: remember the Cleveland Naps?)

Albright compares Chiba to Joe Gordon and considers him the greatest second baseman in Japanese history. I don’t really think that the comparison is apt. They were very different kinds of players. Gordon was a slugger, Chiba wasn’t. Now, obviously there are very serious dissimilarities between these two, but purely for on-the-field stuff, a better comparison might be Jackie Robinson. Even on-field the comparison isn’t perfect, Robinson really was an extraordinary baseball player. But Chiba was the same kind of player, just less of it.

The card is an uncatalogued menko. Somebody on QC duty messed this one up: look at the team name on his jersey. I'd write this off to the guy who designed the card not knowing English, but you don't need to know English to copy the jersey. Anyway, the card is hard to date since Chiba never changed teams and I don’t know of any other players in the set. I’m going to call it UNC Menko, c. 1950s and leave it at that.
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Old 08-02-2018, 10:39 PM
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Default Masaaki Koyama

Masaaki Koyama was a great pitcher from 1953 to 1973. The first half of his career was spent with the Tigers, the second half with the Orions. The change in teams was the result of a blockbuster trade, he was dealt for Hirokazu Yamauchi, one of Japan’s great sluggers. He was a workhorse, throwing 4899 innings and winning 320 games. Both are extremely high totals for Japan. For his career he also posted a 2.45 ERA. The IP and win totals are 3rd all-time, as are his 3159 strike outs. He was an eleven-time all-star, and won the 1962 Sawamura Award.

Although he managed to get to the pros at 18, his career didn’t start exactly as planned. He was a walk-on at a tryout for the Whales, but didn’t make the team.

The teams that he played on weren’t bad exactly, he did make it to the Japan Series three times. But he lost each time. Perhaps the lack of post-season success might explain why he doesn’t have the same kind of standing that a guy like Victor Starfin has got? But then again, Starfin doesn’t have a near-Earth asteroid named after him, does he?

Albright ranks him as the 9th best pitcher in Japanese history, and compares him to a bunch of American hall of famers. One of whom is Robin Roberts, which presents an interesting comparison. They were both durable and dominant. In context, though, I think that Koyama was the greater pitcher.

And yet for some reason it took until 2001 to get him elected to the Hall. This baffles me. Koyama is obviously one of the greatest Japanese pitchers to have ever lived, why the delay? The American Hall of Fame has committed many (many many) errors of commission: Jim Bottomley, Highpockets Kelley, Jim Rice, Maz, and on and on and on. The Japanese Hall of Fame hasn’t done as much of that, but their errors of omission are equally striking. How can it take 28 years to get Koyama elected? How is Doi not in yet? These guys aren’t marginal figures, they’re obviously all-time greats. Not electing Doi is like not electing Frank Robinson. Waiting a quarter of a century to elect Koyama is like telling Christy Matthewson that you need a little more time to think about his case. /editorial


I'll use this card as an excuse for a quick kanji lesson, since I've picked up a little bit of it after staring at hundreds of Japanese baseball cards for the past few months. The symbols:


mean "pitcher". The latter symbols translates as "hand" (according to Google), but it usually (or always?) turns up in specifications of a player's position. If you're looking at a card and trying to figure out what the kanji means, the bit with that symbol in it probably tells you his position.

My card is a menko from the JCM 43a set. It’s a 1957 issue (so Koyama is still on the Tigers). Many sets very similar to this one were issued over a number of years, and it can be hard to pin down which set a particular card belongs to, but I think that I’ve got this one. I don't know what the back stamp means.
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Old 08-06-2018, 10:37 PM
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Default Hideo Fujimoto

Hideo Fujimoto was a star pitcher for the Giants (and one season with the Dragons) during the war and in the immediate postwar years. He pitched from 1942 to 1955, of course missing 1945 when the league was suspended. For his career he has an astonishing .697 winning percentage (200 wins to 87 losses). If an American team had a .697 winning percentage they’d win 113 games. In addition he is the all-time record holder for both career ERA (1.90) and seasonal ERA (0.73). He was Korean, which confuses me a bit, since I’m pretty sure that ‘Fujimoto’ is a Japanese name. Apparently his family moved to Japan when he was eight years old.

In addition to being one of the finest pitchers in Japanese history, Fujimoto was a very skilled batter. He hit 245/319/327, which, you say “looks good for a pitcher”, but remember that the 1940s and early 50s were the Japanese deadball era. For example, in 1950 he posted an OPS of .808 against a league average of .727. It’s not that he was a good hitter for a pitcher, it’s that he was a good hitter period. There was a brief time (after his return to the Giants from the Dragons) when they experimented with him as an outfielder – it should be some indication of how highly his skill with the bat was respected that the Giants took one of the best pitchers to have ever lived and tried to make him an outfielder. In the end it didn’t stick (he played a total of 40 games in the outfield) and he went back to pitching full time.

During his career the Giants were (as usual) quite successful. They won the Japan Series from 1951-3, defeating the Hawks each time. The Giants = Yankees thing is perhaps something of a cliché, but it’s also just so true. Sometimes you gotta feel for the Dodgers/Hawks. He is best known for being the first Japanese player to throw a perfect game (in 1950). Arm troubles led him to change from an overhand to a side arm delivery, and he is credited with popularizing the slider in Japan. (If they weren’t throwing sliders before 1942, what where they throwing? If they’re not throwing sliders I have a hard time imagining them throwing curve balls. Just FB/CH and trying to pick your spots?)

Unfortunately he had a relatively short career, and an even shorter peak. From 1942 to 1950 he regularly led the league in ERA and other pitching categories (at least when he threw enough innings to qualify). He continued to be a good pitcher for a few seasons after that, but never again led the league in anything. And then his career was abruptly over. In 1954 he pitched 19 innings, in 1955 he pitched five. And that was that. Maybe injuries were involved, I don’t know. In 1955 he was 35, which is old (for a baseball player!) but not that old.

After his retirement Yomiuri took care of him. Fujimoto coached in the Giants’ minor league system, and later became a reporter in their LA bureau. (Remember that the company that owns the Giants is a media conglomerate, and a newspaper is their flagship business.)

Here are two things that I don’t know about Fujimoto. Any knowledgeable readers, feel free to fill me in. (1) Why he didn’t get started until 1942. He was 24 years old in his rookie year. I had expected that it had something to do with the war, but I couldn’t find any confirmation that he was ever in the military. (2) Why he changed his name to ‘Nakagami’. You’d think that it would have something to do with being Korean, but, like I said above, I’m pretty sure that he’s got a Japanese name anyway. He changed his name in 1943 but it doesn’t seem to have stuck, because this card is from a few years later and uses his old name.

Speaking of the card, it is a bromide from the JBR 73 set. The text on it is very hard to make out. On the far right it gives his name. The text on the left says something about "central". The first character is also the first character in 'Chunichi', the team he was with in 1947, but the second character in the team name doesn't appear. The hiragana in the middle of the card is illegible. Engel reports that this set was issued in 1947, but features pictures from 1946. He suggests that it was issued in the early spring of 1947. If so, that would make it the first postwar Japanese baseball card set.

The immediate postwar period in Japan is fascinating. The allies heavily bombed the sixty (!) largest cities in Japan during the war (except for Kyoto, which was spared the atom bomb, and I think most conventional bombing as well). Poverty was so rife that the average height of Japanese men and women actually dropped in the postwar period. Moreover, the nation was occupied by American troops, and more-or-less run as McArthur’s fiefdom. (At least, IIRC the McArthur biography that I read, until Congress recalled him.) Granted the occupation had the blessing – or rather forced acquiescence – of the emperor, but it’s still a big deal.

At Potsdam the allies demanded that Japan surrender unconditionally, Japan countered that they would surrender if (1) the emperor kept his throne, (2) there was to be no occupation, (3) Japan gets to keep Korea and Taiwan, and (4) the Japanese disarm their own armed forces. So, basically, they offered to not surrender at all. After a pair of atom bombs and Russian intervention they agreed to surrender provided that the emperor keeps this throne. It’s astonishing to me that that would be the condition that they would insist on – to this distant American view the other three seem to be much more important – and that they would rather have all of their cities erased and their county occupied by Stalin than lose their emperor. Anyway, the Americans accepted their offer, but not really.

There is still an emperor in Japan, but he doesn’t have any power anymore. McArthur realized that having the traditional authority in place and willing to go along with the occupation would make things go much more smoothly in the postwar years, and it almost unquestionably did. Allied soldiers frequently remarked on how little opposition they faced after the peace treaty was signed. The relevance to all of this to a baseball card website is that this little bromide of Hideo Fujimoto comes from a completely different world. This card was printed in a bombed out, famine stricken country, which was occupied by a foreign military. Sure, things have also changed in America since my 1956 Topps Ernie Banks was printed, but the difference between America in 1956 and America in 2018 has just got nothing on the difference between Japan in 1946 and America in 2018.
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Old 08-07-2018, 12:22 AM
Jeff Alcorn Jeff Alcorn is offline
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Hi Nat,

Thanks for continuing this series. The pink bordered cards were #325 - #396 of the 1975-76 series. The first 36 cards are the Pennant Race Stars and the next 36 are the Camp Series (training camp). Many of the series are given a theme name. If you notice on the back of the Higashio card, the line of text under the card number says Pennant Race Star in kana and a little kanji.

The kanji for Walk is not nishi, it is the kanji for the number 4- it looks similar to nishi, but the kanji for 4 does not have any lines extending outside of the box like nishi does.

The writing on the left side of Hideo Fujimoto's card says Chubu Dragons. Chubu Nippon is the full name of the company that owns the Chunichi Dragons, and they used it as the team name only in 1947.

Last name changes usually happen due to marriage and men can choose to use their wife's name instead of their own. This is done for some complicated legal and inheritance reasons, and there are a few players that have done this. HOFer Kazuto Yamamoto became Kazuto Tsuruoka after playing his entire career as Yamamoto. He was already managing when he changed his name to Tsuruoka.

Thanks again, this is the best series going on Net 54.

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Old 08-08-2018, 10:54 PM
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Default Yutaka Fukumoto

Rickey Henderson is the Yutaka Fukumoto of America. Fukumoto was an outfielder for Hankyu from 1969 to 1988. He was blindingly, astoundingly, superlatively fast. He hit for a healthy average, knew how to draw a walk, and added a respectable amount of power.

The obvious cannot be ignored. Fukumoto stole 1065 bases. This is an all-time record in Japan. Henderson stole more than that, but he also had about 3000 extra plate appearances to do it in. If Fukumoto stole bases at his career rate, but over Rickey’s 13346 plate appearances, he’d have ended up with 1320 stolen bases. Rickey had 1406. Now of course there are a million reasons that this isn’t the way to do these comparisons. Rickey played in five more seasons than did Fukumoto, and should get credit for that longevity. Also, there’s no guarantee that Fukumoto would have kept up his prolific base-stealing ways if he’d had to do it over a full American season. So this is all really an interesting way to illustrate these numbers:

Rickey: 0.1053
Fukumoto: 0.1051

Rickey had the longer career, but each time that they went up to the plate, the chances that they were going to steal a base were almost exactly equal. Now, Rickey’s stolen base totals were, in part, a product of the fact that he was extraordinarily good at getting on base. I mean, not Joey Votto good, but he led the league once and was (barely) over 400 for his career. Fukumoto was a good hitter, but not that good. So let’s isolate what they’re doing once they’re on the basepaths:

SB/times on base
Rickey: 0.268
Fukumoto: 0.282

Once Rickey got on base, there was slightly less than a 27% chance that he would successfully steal a base. For Fukumoto, the odds were a bit better than 28%. Rickey was a better hitter than Fukumoto, but Fukumoto made up for it on the base paths.

“But,” I hear you say, “it’s really hard to steal third (or home!), maybe Rickey trails Fukumoto in your supposed measure of ‘base stealing ability’ because he got extra base hits so often!” No problem, let’s control for that.

SB/(singles + walks)
Rickey: 0.322
Fukumoto: 0.354

We can glean some interesting facts from these data. Fukumoto was noticeably better at stealing second base than was Rickey. He beats Rickey there by 32 points, whereas his lead in SB/times on base was only 14 points. If I’m thinking clearly (and maybe I’m not, I’ve got a pretty good cold right now) that means that Rickey must beat him somewhere to account for the 18 point difference between these two rates. So we can conclude that Fukumoto was more likely to steal a base than was Rickey, and a fair bit more likely to steal second given that he was on first (almost 10% more likely), but that Rickey was more likely to steal third, given that he was on second, than was Fukumoto. That’s really interesting. Raw speed could make up for a bad jump if you’re stealing second, but not if you’re stealing third. The throw from the catcher just isn’t long enough. This means that Rickey was probably better at reading pitchers and/or had quicker reaction times than Fukumoto. But since Fukumoto was the more successful base stealer over all (at least on a rate basis) that Fukumoto was probably the faster runner.

Regarding Fukumoto himself. Here are some facts that are probably not surprising: he was a 17-time all-star, a 10-time member of the best nine, he won 12 consecutive gold glove awards, and an MVP award. His lead in career stolen bases is absurd, Yoshinori Hirose, in second place, has just under 600 steals. Just 60% of Fukumoto’s total. In addition to the stolen base record he is the all-time leader in triples, second in runs, and tied for fifth in hits.

The card is another from the 76 Calbee set.

And thanks Jeff, I appreciate the feedback!
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Last edited by nat; 08-08-2018 at 11:03 PM.
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Old 08-14-2018, 11:50 AM
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Default Kaoru Bettoh

Kaoru Bettoh was an outfielder with the Tigers and the Orions from 1948 to 1957. Perhaps just as importantly he had a 20 year career managing a variety of teams, mostly notably the Orions as a player-manager.

Albright ranks him as the 17th most successful manager in Japanese history, but his ranking system is of the “assign 3 points for X, 2 points for Y” sort (a kind Bill James indulged in on more than one occasion), which doesn’t really measure anything. I think that the most accurate thing to say about his managing career is that it was long and had periods of sustained success.

As a player Bettoh had a very high but very brief peak. In 1950 he slugged .671 in a league that slugged .384 as a whole. It was about 75% better than league average. To do that in 2018’s American League you would need to slug .728. That figure would place 27th all-time, behind Frank Thomas’ 1994 and Hack Wilson’s 1930. In 1950 he hit 35% of his team’s home runs. In short, he was a big slugger, and fast too, stealing forty bases one season. But he didn’t get to the JPBL until he was 27, and although he hung on for a couple more seasons, he was basically done at 33. And he was really only a superstar for a couple years. The late start seems to be a product of playing in the industrial leagues – which he must have absolutely dominated, but I don’t know where to find data on it, nor even if records were kept. Albright suggests that the war might have gotten in the way. I don’t know if he served or not, but he didn’t break in until 1948, so even if he was in the war, it doesn’t explain why he wasn’t playing in 46-7.

Throughout the 20th century there were a number of attempts to bring together Japanese and American baseball, most notably the various American tours of Japan. The tours were not the only instances of Japanese/American cooperation, however. A number of Japanese teams came to spring training in the states, and every once in a while you’ll find a Japanese player who made a brief appearance in an American minor league. Walter O’Malley was especially active in these cooperative endeavors, taking the Dodgers on tour and bringing Japanese teams to train with them. Indeed, Bettoh spent the 1960 season with the Dodgers. It’s not clear what he was doing with them – he was retired as a player at that point and there’s no record of him doing any coaching for them. Perhaps he was just an observer. In any case, that was the end of his tenure with the Orions. He sat out the following season, before taking over managing Kintetsu. This must have been a change for him, the Orions were good, the Buffaloes were not. After going 55-91 in 1964 he lost his job, sat out a few years, and then took over the top job with the Whales.

Bettoh was a graduate of Keio University, which had one of the top programs in the amateur era. Baseball-Reference has a list of players who attended Keio (and who went on to play professionally). I’m surprised by the lack of hall of famers, given the status of the program. I only noticed two others – Fujita and Mizuhara – and all three of them are in the hall largely for their work as managers. It is, of course, possible that this list in incomplete, but I expected a larger share of the early stars of Japanese baseball to have come through Keio.

The card is an uncatalogued menko. Despite being uncatalogued we can do a pretty good job dating it. Bettoh is wearing a Tigers’ uniform, which places the card either in 1948 or 1949.
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