Monday, December 11, 2017

Autographed Cards From Justin

Justin (who is one of what I call the three amigos of Korean Baseball Cards along with Dan and George) recently moved from Korea to Arizona.  He spent some time this fall getting autographs at Arizona Fall League games and while there discovered that Jeremy Powell, the pitching coach for the Salt River Rafters, had played in Japan.  Justin asked me if I had any Japanese cards available for Powell and it turned out I had nine unique cards that I sent off to him.  Justin got back to me saying that Powell had signed the cards and loved them - he apparently didn't have any Japanese cards of himself.  I sent the remaining cards that I had off to Justin for him to give to Powell.  Justin got one of them signed for me and sent it to me a couple of weeks ago:

2003 BBM 1st Version #224
Justin included another autographed card for me as a thank you gift (not that he needed to do that).  It's an autographed card of former Lion and current Buffalo Hiroyuki Nakajima.  Justin got the autograph a few years ago when Nakajima was playing in Sacramento when he was in the A's organization.  He says it's a terrible autograph but "Believe it or not, that was probably one of the better autographs that I got from him":

2012 BBM 1st Version #382
Terrible autograph or not, it's still cool to get the autograph of a former Lions star.  Thanks for everything Justin!

Justin got interviewed recently by Dan on his Korean Cardboard blog and has also started a Facebook page for his autographed memorabilia called Charm City Autographs.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels

After years of speculation, intrigue and machinations, Shohei Ohtani has finally signed a contract with an MLB team - the Los Angeles Angels.  Not one of my favorite teams but also not one that he'd be dead to me if he joined so I'm good with it (not that my opinion matters).

Typically on a "New Import" post I'd mention the player's rookie cards and what sets he's appeared in.  I've beaten the subject of his rookie card to death with a couple posts last year - one that showed a bunch of his 2013 rookie cards and another that painstakingly listed every card I'm aware of that was issued for him in 2013 (including promos).  He's appeared in every BBM flagship set (both 1st Version and 2nd Version) since 2013 as well as all the Genesis (2013-17), Classic (2013-16) and Fusion (2016-17) sets.  He's been in every BBM team set for the Fighters including both the pack based sets and the various box sets (2013 Young Fighters, 2014 WE LOVE HOKKAIDO, etc) and three "Historic Collection" sets - 2014's Brilliant Teenagers, 2015's Memories Of Uniform and 2016's The Ballpark Stories.  He also appeared in BBM's sets for the 80th Anniversary of professional baseball in Japan in 2014 and the company's 25th Anniversary in 2015.  He appears in every Calbee set since 2013 as well although he doesn't always have a "regular" card in the set - there's a couple years (2013 & 2017) that he only appears in a subset.  He had cards in the Bandai Owners League sets from 2013 to 2015 (their final year).  He also appears in a couple of Epoch's sets in the past two years for both the Pacific League and the Fighters themselves. UPDATE - I completely forgot to mention that BBM did a box set last year called "Go Higher" that featured both him and Shintaro Fujinami.

Here's a bunch of his cards, most of which I don't think I've shown before:

2013 BBM Fighters #F83

2013 BBM Fighters 10th Season In Hokkaido #89 

2014 BBM WE LOVE HOKKAIDO #01

2014 BBM 80th Anniversary Batters Edition #90

2015 BBM Memories Of Uniform #103

2015 Bandai Owners League 01 #009

2016 Calbee #C-3

2016 BBM Opening #02

2016 Pro Yakuu AI Fighters #02

2016 BBM 2nd Version "One And Only" insert #OO02

2017 BBM 1st Version "Rookie Reprint" insert #R01

2017 Bowman "Chrome Prospects" #BCP31

Card Of The Week December 10


I recently picked up this bromide card from a seller on Ebay.  It's a great action shot - I just wish I could figure out who's in the photo.

The seller identified it as "1950' Vintage Japanese Baseball Photo Card 'YAMAMOTO & OHTOMO" so I started researching based on those names.  There's only two "Ohtomo's" to play professionally in Japan in the 40's and 50's - Kazuaki Ohtomo who played between 1936 and 1948 and Takumi Ohtomo who played between 1949 and 1960.  Both were pitchers so you'd think they'd be the baserunner then.  But I haven't found a catcher named Yamamoto during this time period.  From the fielder in the background I'm guessing that the catcher played for Hankyu as the uniforms are consistent with what the team wore between 1945 and 1949.  There's no Yamamoto who played for Hankyu during that time period. I haven't identified the uniform worn by the base runner.  It COULD be the Daiei Stars uniform from 1949 but neither Ohtomo played for that team (although Kazuaki had played for that team the previous year when it was the Kinsei Stars).

It's also entirely possible that this is from a college game and not a professional game at all.  Which means I have even less chance of figuring it out.

Obviously the fact that I can't read Japanese is hampering me here.  I can see the kanji for both "Yamamoto" and "Ohtomo" in the second line of text.  The first two characters on the first line look kind of like the kanji used for "Hankyu" (which isn't necessarily the kanji that says Hankyu) but they might not be.

I'd appreciate any help anyone can give me on this one.

UPDATE - Got an email from Jay Shelton who passed on a translation for the card from Jeff Alcorn, one of the "pioneers" of the Japanese baseball card hobby.  Jeff says that the card literally says something like:
Hankyu - Kinsei
Kinsei Yamamoto Otomo center hit 2 home
Jeff goes on to add:  "So basically it is Hankyu vs. Kinsei, Hideo Yamamoto & Kazuaki Otomo scored for Kinsei after a hit to center field, 2 runs home. I don't think that the Braves' catcher is named, but the writing at the end of the sentence is very hard, however, it does not resemble the name of either of the Braves' catchers. Hideo Yamamoto's last year was with the Kinsei Stars in 1947, so I think that dates the card."

So I got off track figuring that one of the names was the Hankyu catcher.  I should have guessed that the baserunner's team was Kinsei and I'm not sure why I didn't investigate that further.  Of course there's still the question of which Kinsei Stars player is the baserunner - Ohtomo or Yamamoto.  I'd like to believe it's Ohtomo because he's a little more interesting of a player - he played in the first ever professional game in Japanese history on April 6th, 1936 and had the first ever stolen base.  If he's still alive (his Japanese Wikipedia page does not have a date of death for him), he's 101 years old now.

So thanks to Jay and Jeff for translating this for me!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Miles Mikolas of the St Louis Cardinals

Giants pitcher Miles Mikolas is returning to MLB after three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants.  Mikolas signed a two year deal with the Cardinals earlier this week.  I thought I'd do a "New Import" post for Mikolas like I did when Tony Barnette returned to North America two years ago.

Mikolas had gone 4-6 with an ERA of 5.32 in 37 MLB games before he joined Yomiuri after the 2014 season.  In his first season with the Giants he went 13-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 145 innings.  He lead the Central League in Winning Percentage that year and his wife Lauren got a lot of attention from the Japanese press while watching her husband in the stands - enough that she ended up on a baseball card in Sports Card Magazine #112.  Shoulder issues limited him to only 14 games in 2016 when he went 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA.  He was fully healthy again this year and had a 14-8 record with a 2.25 ERA and led the league with 187 strikeouts (in 188 innings).

His first Japanese card was in the 2015 BBM 1st Version set (#171).  He had two other BBM flagship cards - #195 in the 2016 1st Version set and #504 in the 2017 2nd Version set.  His other BBM set appearances include the 2016 and 2017 Fusion sets, the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Giants team sets, the 2016 "Historic Collection" set (The Ballpark Stories) and the 2017 Genesis set.  He never had a "regular" Calbee card - his lone base set card was from the 2016 Title Holders subset (#T-13).

2015 BBM 1st Version #171

SCM #338/2015 BBM Giants #G82

2016 BBM The Ballpark Stories #008

2016 Calbee #T-13

2017 BBM Giants #G15

2017 Epoch Giants #13

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Card Of The Week December 3

The Australian Baseball League is not the only winter league featuring Japanese players this offseason.  There are three players from Japan in the Mexican Pacific League.  Outfielder Tomo Otosaka of the Yokohama DeNA Baystars is with Yaquis de Obregon.  He's currently hitting .475 after 17 games.  The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles have sent two outfielders to the league.  Luciano Fernando is currently hitting .444 after 5 games with Venados de Mazatlan and Louis Okoye is still looking for his first hit after one game with Caneros de los Mochis.  Here's cards of all three of them:

2013 Front Runner Baystars Rookies & Young Stars #08

2016 BBM Eagles #E67

2017 Epoch Pacific League ##44
There's also a number of recent Western NPB players in the league this winter including Yadir Drake, Japhet Amador, Yuniesky Betancourt and Matt Clark.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Professional Players From Todai

The University Of Tokyo has a rich heritage.  It was originally chartered in 1877 by the Meiji government and was later known as first the Imperial University (1886) and then the Tokyo Imperial University (1897) before reverting back to its original (and current) name in 1947.  (The school is also referred to as "Todai" which appears to be an abbreviation).  The school has had many prestigious alumni including 15 Prime Ministers of Japan and 12 winners of either a Nobel Prize or a Fields Medal.

What the school doesn't have many of in their alumni is professional baseball players.  Despite being part of the Tokyo Big Six intercollegiate baseball league since its inception in 1925, there have only been six Todai players to ever sign a professional contract.  The most recent player was Kohei Miyadai, who was drafted by the Fighters in the seventh round this fall's NPB draft.  I thought it'd be interesting to write about the previous five players, especially since Deanna Rubin left a comment on my post about the draft to give me a bunch of information on them.  I was lucky in that the 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 set had cards for all five players although I had other cards for four of them.

The first ever professional player from Todai was Shinji Niihara.  Niihara actually went to work for the Taiyo corporation as a salaryman after graduating in 1965 but he managed to convince the owner to let him play baseball for the Whales which Taiyo owned at the time.  He was able to do this as this was the last year before NPB implemented a draft.  He got into 88 games mostly out of the bullpen in four seasons between 1965 and 1968 - the bulk of which were in 1965 (40 games) and 1966 (37).  He went 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA.  After he retired from baseball he continued to work for Taiyo and later was an advisor to the Baystars.  He passed away in 2004.  As far as I know his 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 is his only card ever.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #077
The next Todai professional player was Takashi Ide who was drafted by the Chunichi Dragons in the third round of the fall 1966 draft.  He was originally a pitcher and went 1-4 with 5.13 ERA in 1967.  He converted to the outfield (I think it was due to injury) and by 1970 was back with the top team as a backup outfielder and pinch runner.  He retired after the 1976 after appearing in 359 games, the most for any Todai alum.  He also appeared in the 1974 Nippon Series which I think makes him the only Todai alum to play in a Nippon Series.  He went on to coach the Dragons for two separate sessions (1978-86, 1992-95) as well as working in their front office and as a baseball commentator.  He has at least one card beyond his Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 cards - it's from the 1977 NST Mr Baseball set.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #078

1977 NST #31
It would be a quarter century until another University Of Tokyo player joined NPB.  Itaru Kobayashi was the eighth round pick of the Chiba Lotte Marines in the 1991 draft.  He spent two seasons with Lotte's farm team without making any appearances at the ichi-gun level.  Deanna says that the rumor was that Lotte actually drafted him to get him to join their front office.  He went on to do a number of things including getting an MBA from Columbia University and working the front office of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.  He had a card in the 1993 Tomy set which I think is his only card other than his Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 card.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #080

1993 Tomy #253
The fourth professional Todai player was Ryohei Endoh who was drafted in the seventh round of the 1999 draft by the Nippon-Ham Fighters.  Like Kobayashi, Endoh only spent two years in NPB although he did get into one game with the ichi-gun team in 2001 (although Deanna says it was only his retirement game - he only faced one batter and he gave up a hit).  He's been working in the Fighters front office since then.  Endoh has a card in the 2000 BBM set as well as his 2011 Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 card - I suspect that these are his only cards.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #081

2000 BBM #372
The final Todai professional player prior to Kohei Miyadai was Takahiro Matsuka.  Matsuka was the ninth round pick of the Yokohama Baystars in the 2004 draft.  He didn't pitch at the ichi-gun level until 2009 when he got into nine games and went 0-1 with a 4.60 ERA.  He was traded to the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters as part of a six player trade.  He made five appearances with the Fighters in 2010, going 0-0 with an ERA of 4.26.  He spent the 2011 and 2012 seasons exclusively with the farm team and was then released.  He came to the US in early 2013 and unsuccessfully attempted to join the Dodgers and White Sox.  He ended up signing with the Gary Southshore RailCats of the independent American Association.  He made one disastrous appearance with Gary - he face four batters and only got one of them out.  He hit two batters and walked the other one and threw a wild pitch.  Ultimately all three runners scores although only two of the runs were earned so his American Association ERA is a tidy 54.00.  After he retired as a player he became a schoolteacher.  He has the most cards of any Todai alum - besides appearing in BBM's 2005 Rookie Edition and 1st Version sets and the 2010 2nd Version set he also appeared in BBM's team sets for the Baystars between 2005 and 2009 and the Fighters from 2010 to 2012.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #099

2005 BBM Rookie Edition #80

2005 BBM 1st Version #486

2010 BBM 2nd Version #749
In addition to the five cards of professional Todai players the 2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 set had cards of two additional players from the school.  I was curious about who they were so I did a little bit of research.  Takeo Azuma attended the school from 1925 to 1929.  He threw the first and what I think may be the only no-hitter in school history in 1927.  After graduation he served in the Imperial Navy in the Philippines and apparently died of disease just after the war ended in November 1945, possibly in a POW camp.  Kensuke Ohkoshi attended Todai from 1981 to 1984.  He went on to a journalism career, mostly covering politics for NHK.

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #076

2011 BBM Legend Of Tokyo Big 6 #079

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ryota Arai

Ryota Arai of the Tigers is another player who retired at the end of the past season.  Arai was the fourth round pick of the Chunichi Dragons in the fall 2005 draft out of Komazawa University (which is also the alma mater of his brother Takahiro).  He debuted with the ichi-gun Dragons in the summer of 2006 and was a part time player with them through 2010.  He got traded to the Hanshin Tigers in the 2010-11 off season for Keisuke Mizuta which allowed him to become a teammate of his brother Takahiro.  He had really his only two seasons as a regular in 2012 and 2013 - he hit .280 with 11 home runs in 110 games in 2012 and .238 with 14 home runs in 119 games in 2013.  His playing time with the top team dropped off after that due to injuries and poor performance.  He played in Nippon Series - winning in 2007 with the Dragons and losing in 2014 with the Tigers.

His BBM rookie cards are #64 in the 2006 Rookie Edition set and #284 in the 2006 1st Version set.  His first Calbee card didn't appear until 2013 (#106).

2006 BBM Rookie Edition #64

2006 BBM 1st Version #284

2007 BBM Nippon Series #S19

2011 BBM Tohto 80th Anniversary #49

2011 BBM 2nd Version #441

2013 Calbee #106

2017 BBM Tigers #T51