Monday, June 26, 2017

RIP Tamotsu Nagai

Former Carp, Lions, Whales and Hawks pitcher Tamotsu Nagai passed away last week from liver cancer.  He was 63 years old.  Nagai was drafted out of high school by the Carp in the 3rd round of the fall 1971 draft but he only spent two years with Hiroshima.  He was traded to the Lions for Toshiyoshi Norikae during the 1973-74 offseason.  Nagai worked mainly out of the bullpen and by 1976 had established himself as the Lions workhorse in that role .  He lead the Pacific League in appearances four times - 1979-81 and 1984.  He made the All Star team in 1977 and 1981.  He pitched in four Nippon Series, being part of the winning team in 1982-83 and 1986 and on the losing side in 1985.  After the 1986 Series he was traded for a second time along with Shinsaku Katahira to the Yokohama Taiyo Whales for Shintaro Hirose.  He spent two seasons in Yokohama before being released.  He spent his final two seasons with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, retiring after the 1990 season.  He coached for the China Times Eagles in the CPBL in their inaugural season of 1993.

One of the tidbits of trivia I picked up while researching this was that Nagai was that he apparently was somehow an inspiration for the song "Southpaw" by Pink Lady (or maybe just his pitching motion was an inspiration for the choreography).  Through the wonder of YouTube, here's Pink Lady performing the song - Nagai does not appear in this video however:

Nagai had a number of baseball cards during his career from Yamakatsu, Calbee and Takara.  He's appeared in a number of the OB Lions sets over the last 10 years or so.

1978 Yamakatsu JY6

1982 Takara Lions #31

1988 Takara Whales #13

1990 Takara Hawks #31

2010 BBM Lions 60th Anniversary #68

Sunday, June 25, 2017

RIP Masato Kawano

A very sad story out of Japan last week - former Carp and Hawks pitcher Masato Kawano passed away suddenly from ischemic heart disease.  He was just 39 years old.

Kawano was taken in the third round of the fall 1996 draft by the Carp.  His best year with Hiroshima was 2000, when he got into 45 games and 4-5 with a 4.52 ERA and 9 saves.  He also pitched for the Japanese Olympic baseball team in Sydney that season.  He was released by the Carp following the 2003 season and spent one season with the Hawks before retiring.  It looks like he spent the years since his retirement coaching youth baseball in his hometown of Saga.

1997 BBM #497

2001 Calbee #J-06

2001 Upper Deck #45

Study Abroad Program - Kuni Ogawa

Continuing my chronicle of Japanese players playing in the North American minor leagues...

A couple of years when I was in high school, I had a subscription to get minor league cards from TCMA.  I don't remember all the detail now but they would send me a couple sets every couple weeks and I'd send them back some money.  Or maybe it was the other way around.  Anyway, I had a bunch of minor league cards in 1979 and 1980.  I remember seeing a card of a Japanese pitcher named "Kuni" Ogawa in the Brewers organization and wondering who he was and what he was doing in the minors.  With no internet and not even Baseball America yet there really wasn't anyway I was going to figure it out at the time.  But after almost 40 years, I finally can answer the question.

"Kuni" Ogawa's full name is Kunikazu Ogawa.  He was born on February 1, 1947 in Furuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture.  He went to high school at Onomichi Shogyo High School and college at Waseda University of the Tokyo Big Six.  After graduation he played for Nippon Steel in the corporate leagues before being drafted by the Yomiuri Giants in the seventh round of the fall 1972 draft.

Over the next five years he went 26-17 with the Giants.  His best year was 1974 when working mostly out of the bullpen he went 12-4 with a 3.78 ERA.  His numbers declined the following seasons and he either retired or was released following the 1977 season.  I'm not sure I'm understanding the Google translation of his Japanese Wikipedia page correctly but I think he didn't like the way Giants manager Shigeo Nagashima was using him.

He decided that he would go to North America and try to make it to the majors.  He spent 1978 playing semi-pro ball in the US and managed to attract the attention of some scouts.  Somewhere along the line he (in the tradition of Latin American ballplayers trying to sign with a Major League organization) "revised" his birthday to be five years later than it actually was.  He signed a minor league deal with the Brewers and was assigned to the Triple A Vancouver Canadians of the Pacific Coast League for 1979.

With Vancouver Ogawa again worked mostly out of the bullpen, going 1-7 in 28 games with a 5.37 ERA and four saves.  The Brewers demoted him to Double A in 1980, sending him to the Holyoke Millers of the Eastern League.  He had a much better season in 1980, going 6-2 with a 1.96 ERA and 16 saves in 47 games.

After the 1980 season he returned to Japan and NPB, signing on with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.  He spent three years with his hometown team before spending a final season back in North America with the Aguascalientes Railroaders of the Mexican League.  He coached for Chiba Lotte in 1994-95 and also with the Samsung Lions of the KBO in 1997-98.

Probably due to his fictional birthdate when he was with the Brewers organization, his minor league stats are separated from his NPB stats over at Baseball-Reference.

As I've already mentioned, Ogawa had minor league cards in North America.  I believe that he is the first Japanese player to appear on a minor league card here.  He appeared in TCMA's team set for Vancouver in 1979 and Holyoke in 1980.  I don't have either card (anymore - I sold all those cards years ago) but I swiped the images from Trading Card DB:

Ogawa had a number of Japanese cards as well.  He appeared in a couple NST and Calbee sets in the mid to late 70's when he was with the Giants and he's also in the Takara Carp sets from 1981-83.  More recently he's appeared in a couple of OB Giants sets:

2013 BBM Giants Legends #22

2014 Epoch V9 Glorious Victory #9

Card Of The Week June 25

Interleague play wrapped up last week and for the third year in a row, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks were Interleague "Champions".  They ended up with an identical record as the Hiroshima Toyo Carp but they took two out of three from the Carp last weekend and head-to-head record was the tie-breaker.  This was the seventh time in the 13 years there's been Interleague play that the Hawks have won it.

Yuki Yanagita was named Interleague MVP - he hit .338 with 7 home runs and 23 RBIs over the 18 games - he was first in RBIs and second to Alex Guerrero of the Dragons in home runs.  This is the second time Yanagita has won the award - I'm pretty sure he's the first guy ever to win the award more than once.  And this time he didn't have to break the scoreboard at Yokohama Stadium to win it.  The awards were announced on Friday and Yanagita celebrated by hitting three home runs against the Lions.  Here's a card of Yanagita from the 2014 BBM Hawks Futures And Legends set (#26):

More New Sets Coming Soon

A quick roundup of some new sets that will be released in the next month or so...

- Information on the last two of BBM's pack based team sets has been released.  The Dragons set will be out in mid-July while the Hawks set will be out at the end of the month.  Like the sets for the other 10 teams, each set will feature an 81 card base set.  The 81 cards for the Dragons breaks down to 70 "regular" cards for the manager and players, 4 "New Face" subset cards and 7 from an unidentified subset ("main players"?).  The Hawks' 81 cards are split into 60 "regular" player cards, 3 "Cutting Edge" cards, 4 "First Headlines" cards and 5 "Heavy Hitters Squad" cards.  Both sets have 30 insert cards split among multiple sets.  Both sets have 12 possible "Phantom" insert cards - the remaining 18 Dragons insert cards are split among five 3 or 4 card sets that aren't really identified on the web site.  The remaining 18 Hawks insert cards are split among 3 sets - "No Limit" (6 cards), "Hero Comes Back" (3 cards) and "Elite Selection" (9 cards).  Both sets will also have autographed cards available.  The Hawks set will include the first cards of Munenori Kawasaki since he returned to the team as well as the first Hawks card of Alfredo Despainge. UPDATE - Both Kawasaki and Despainge are in the new Epoch Hawks set that was just released this weekend.

- BBM is issuing a third team box set in the "HEAT" series - this time it's for the Lions (after the previous ones for the Dragons and Tigers).  Each box set contains 29 cards (a 27 card base set plus two autograph cards) and will retail for 10,000 yen.  The set will be released in late July.

- BBM has announced information for their two annual cheerleader/dance squad sets called "Dancing Heroine".  Hana, the first set, will be out this week (Jambalaya says Friday the 30th) while Mai will be out in late July (July 20th according to Jambalaya).  Each set has 96 cards in the base set showcasing members of the cheerleaders from nine teams - the Fighters (Fighters Girls), the Hawks (Honeys), the Marines (M * Splash), the Lions (bluelegends), the Eagles (Tohoku Golden Angels), the Giants (Venus), the Tigers (Tigers Girls), the Swallows (Passion) and the Dragons (Chia Dragons 2017).  The Buffloes (Bs Girls) and the Baystars (diana) squads are not included which may mean that BBM will do box sets just for them later this year.  (And in case you're wondering, the Carp don't have cheerleaders.)  Each set will also have nine insert cards that aren't described on the page along with autographed cards and "cheki" cards.

- BBM's other flagship set 2nd Version will be released in mid August.  This year's version of the set follows the same pattern as the last few years.  There's 216 player cards (18 per team), 12 team cards (I'd be willing to bet that the theme is mascots), 36 "1st Version Update" cards (3 per team), 36 "Cross Squall" cards (also 3 per team and continuing the cross set sub set started in 1st Version) and the usual unspecified number of "Ceremonial First Pitch" cards (which will include Yuriko Koike, the first woman governor of Tokyo, and the omni-present Ami Imamura).  As was the case with 1st Version there will be a "secret version" of one card for each team.  There will also be a "secret version" of the Ami Inamura "Ceremonial First Pitch" card.  There is also a 12 card insert set that is not described on the website, a huge variety of parallels and autographed cards (including "Ceremonial First Pitch" subjects) and memorabilia cards for rookies Chihaya Sasaki and Seigi Tanaka (I think).

- Epoch has been releasing a number of reasonably priced sets this year as opposed to last year but just when you thought they'd given up on the ultra high priced sets they've announced their latest collaboration with the OB Club.  The set name is being literally translated as "Journal Gaiden" which I think really means something like "Biography" so I'm going with that as the name of the set.  Each box has an MSRP of 16,200 yen (~$145) and contains six cards - three base set cards, one "holo spectra" card and two autographed cards.  The base set contains 40 cards - 20 of which feature players who have not been on an OB Club card set before.  Just eyeballing the list I think that includes Hideki Okajima, Daisuke Miura and Hitoshi Tamura.  There are 40 "holo spectra" cards and three different varieties of autograph cards - there are 40 of type A and B but there's only 10 of type C.  The set will be out on July 15th.

- Topps issued their high end Museum Collection set last week and it includes a number of memorabilia cards for the World Baseball Classic.  There are eleven total cards for Samurai Japan members - six "Patch Relic" cards - Hayato Sakamoto, Kosuke Tanaka, Norichika Aoki, Seiya Suzuki, Shota Takeda and Yuki Matsui - and five "Quad Relic" cards - Shintaro Fujinami, Takahiro Norimoto, Tomoyuki Sugano, Tetsuto Yamada, Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh.  There are no cards for any members of the Korean team.  I don't know what else Topps has planned in terms of WBC cards for the year - I'm still holding out hope for a not ridiculously overpriced 100 card set somewhere.

Lastly I want to mention that I'm a bit concerned that I haven't seen something about two sets I expected to see something about this month.  The first one is the BBM Classic set.  This set has been released in June in three of the four years it's been published.  I guess it wouldn't stun me if BBM had discontinued it but I would be disappointed.  It's also possible that they might delay publishing it until October which is what happened in 2014.  The other set is a much bigger deal.  Since 2003 Calbee has released their cards in three Series.  Series One has always been issued in March while Series Two gets issued in June.  There's been no news this year for Series Two - nothing on their baseball card website and nothing on Discount Niki's list of 2017 cards.  I've looked through the news releases on Calbee's official site and I don't see any announcement regarding the set there either.  So I have no idea what's going on but we're already at the point that no matter what happens this is a major change for Calbee.  I'm hoping that they are still planning three Series this year and that they're just pushing back the schedule a little bit but as I said, I have no idea what's going on.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tomokazu Ohka

Tomokazu "Tomo" Ohka, veteran pitcher from the Yokohama Baystars and several MLB teams, has announced his retirement.  Ohka was a third round pick of the Baystars in the fall 1993 draft.  He made only 34 appearances with the ichi-gun Baystars over the next five seasons and Yokohama sold his contract to the Boston Red Sox.  He would spend the next 11 seasons in MLB, playing in eight different organizations - Boston, Montreal/Washington, Milwaukee, Toronto, St Louis, Seattle, Chicago (White Sox) and Cleveland.  He was briefly with the Quintana Roo Tigers of the Mexican League in 2010 before returning to the Baystars.  He was let go by Yokohama after 2011 and he spent the next few seasons (after missing all of 2012) bouncing around the independent minors in Japan and the US - the Toyama Thunderbirds of the BC League in 2013, the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League in 2014, back to the Thunderbirds in 2015 and the Fukushima Hopes of the BC League in 2015-16.  He also went to spring training with Toronto in 2014 and Baltimore in 2017 but he was released before the end of spring training.

As far as I can tell he only had about 10 Japanese cards, of which I have five:

1994 BBM #493

1997 BBM #224

2010 BBM 2nd Version #745

2011 BBM 1st Version #306

2013 BBM Baystars 20th Anniversary #34
His other cards are #YB22 and #YB75 from the 2011 BBM Baystars set, #C10RB044 from the 2010 Konami Baseball Heroes Winner Heat Up Version Black set, #B11RB230 from the 2011 Konami Baseball Heroes ShineStar Opening Version Black set and #186 from the 2011 Owners League 01 set.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Norichika Aoki

I'm a little late in getting to this but last Sunday Norichika Aoki, formerly of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and currently with the Houston Astros, got his 2000th hit in NPB & MLB.  I did a post for Aoki when he left the Swallows for the Brewers back before the 2012 season so I'm just going to show some cards for him now:

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big Six #085

2004 BBM Rookie Edition #61

2004 BBM 1st Version #308

2007 BBM 1st Version #M@

2008 Calbee #S-12

2011 Swallows Team Issue #YsK10

2017 Topps "Throwback Thursday" #32