Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Monday, January 11, 2021

Hello Carter Stewart Jr

 Once or twice a year, something will come up and I'll learn about a rare event, unique occurrence, or obscure award, and I'll be inspired to start a new mini-collection of sorts. Last year, I put together a collection of MLB knuckleball pitchers and a collection of players who came from my schools or towns I've lived in.

Earlier this month, I posted about a player in the 1960s who never played with the top team in the NPB, but due to the fanfare around his signing, ended up in a few card sets. Mark Brownstein was the first American to sign with the NPB without playing in the MiLB or MLB. Only two other players have done this: Matt Randel and Carter Stewart Jr. 

Yesterday, I talked about Alex Ramirez's retirement; Ramirez was the only active person I was collecting in the NPB at the beginning of the 2020 season. Well, in December, I found a copy of this card:

I should mention that I've been collecting Carter Stewart Jr. since the summer of 2019, but not for myself. I've been sending off the cards I find to a guy in the States. But effective about a month ago, I've also decided to collect his cards. I'm not going all-in on Stewart; I'll collect his base cards and perhaps some inserts, too. He doesn't really have many cards at this time anyway.

So hello, Carter. Welcome to my collection.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Farewell Rami-chan

 I came to Japan nine years ago knowing nearly nothing about the country, its people, and its customs. That was true for baseball as well.

Over time, I've learned about the history, teams, and players of the NPB. While Japan has had several superstars, I've only chosen to "supercollect" two of them. Coincidentally, both of them played for Yokohama. Motonobu Tanishige played in the NPB from 1989 through 2015, first for Yokohama and then the Dragons, managing the Dragons from 2014 to 2016. Alex Ramirez, after playing for the Indians and Pirates, played in Japan 2001-2013.

Ramirez was the Indians 1998 Minor League Player of the Year, and made his MLB debut that year. In mid-2000 he was traded to Pittsburgh. Over 135 games in three seasons, he batted a respectable but not outstanding .259 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs.

He signed with the Yakult Swallows in 2001 and batted cleanup, and even held the Central League record for most hits in a season with 204 during the 2007 season (Matt Murton would break that record in 2010, also breaking Ichiro's single-season NPB record; that record would then be surpassed by Shogo Akiyama in 2015). He signed with the Yomirui Giants the next year, performing even better than before and taking home the league MVP award.

Ramirez would play for Yomiuri through 2011, spending the final two years of his NPB playing career with the BayStars. In early 2013, Ramirez hit a home run for his 2000th career hit in the league, the 42nd player to do so and the first foreign player to ever reach that mark. 2000 NPB hits is a comparable milestone to 3000 hits in the MLB.

As a player in the NPB, Ramirez won the Central League MVP award twice, was an eight-time All-Star, won the Japan Series twice, was the 2008 Central League Championship Series MVP, won the Best Nine Award four times, was the 2009 Central League batting champion, a three-time league leader in RBIs, and led the Central League in home runs in 2003.

Ramirez was given the nickname Rami-chan in Japan, probably due to his playful attitude; -chan is a suffix used for small children. (As a side note, -kun is also used for boys, and Masahiro Tanaka's nickname in Japan is Ma-kun, most likely due to his young appearance, and possibly behavior.) Many of Ramirez's subset cards show him interacting with team mascots or goofing off.

Over 13 seasons at the plate in the NPB, he hit .301 with 2017 hits, 380 home runs, and 1272 RBI.

The 2014 season was spent as a player-coach in the independent BCL with the Gunma Diamond Pegasus team. He retired at the end of that season, and served as an advisor for the Orix Buffaloes for part of the 2015 season.

The BayStars brought Ramirez back as manager in 2016, and he took the team to the playoffs in three of his five years with the team. In 2016, the team had a losing record but still managed to finish third, and beat the second-place Giants to advance to the second stage of league playoffs. In 2017, they again finished third, but beat the Tigers and Carp to make it to the Japan Series, where they lost to the dynasty Hawks. The 2018 season was his worst as a manager, finishing fourth with a .475 winning percentage. The BayStars returned to the playoffs in 2019, finishing in second place but losing in the first round to the third-place Tigers. The shortened 2020 season saw the team back in fourth place, two games under .500. Over five seasons, the BayStars had a regular-season record of 336-337.

Ramirez announced his retirement in October, and was given a farewell ceremony at the end of the season. Epoch made an Epoch One card commemorating the event:

I never did see him play in person, and in fact I never saw him manage, either. But perhaps I'll get to see him some other way; he opened a restaurant in 2013, which has since closed, but perhaps he'll try again. Or maybe he'll show up at an event.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Gaijin: Mark Brownstein

 Don't expect this to be a regular series, but this particular card has a somewhat-interesting story behind it. Gaijin is a slang/casual word for foreigner.

The player pictured above is Mark Brownstein. The card front calls him "Brown", a nickname of sorts given to him to make it easier to pronounce in Japanese. (Side note: Japan loves shortening names. For example, one major convenience store, Family Mart, is called FamiMa.) Brownstein was a star pitcher with the University of Southern California whose father did business in Japan. I guess he figured playing baseball in Japan would be a good opportunity to learn about the country.

The Hanshin Tigers signed Brownstein in 1962 fresh out of college.

This is a very rare occurence; Matt Randel and Carter Stewart are two other examples of Americans coming to Japan prior to playing in the US. Randel came over in 1999 after dropping out of college and pitched only 1/3 inning in 2000 before returning home for a couple seasons. He would then play for the Yomiuri Giants for two seasons before moving over to the KBO. Stewart came to Japan in 2019 fresh out of high school (thanks, Scott Boras) and has spent the past two seasons pitching for the Hawks' minor league teams. 

As for Brownstein, he didn't do so well in 1962, never played for the top-level team, and left by the end of the season. He managed to make it on to three 1962 menko cards, though: this Doyusha menko, a Marusan menko, and a Marusan bromide. In fact, if I hadn't randomly came across this card, I wouldn't even know he existed.