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

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Blog Bat Around: Lost Cards of Japan

A new blog bat around has been proposed over at The Lifetime Topps Project. The Question:
“Lost Cards.” Every year card companies come out with different sets and make decisions about what athletes they do and don’t include in those sets.  They choose to include new subsets – and exclude old ones.  What’s the card or card(s) that weren’t produced that you wish had been made?
There are so many ways I could go on this topic! Do I mention all the subsets I wish had been issued over the years? All the sets that have disappeared?

Being that I'm here in Japan, and most of my collecting efforts seem to go to Japanese products, I thought I should look at one part of my Japanese collection that seriously fits this prompt.

Who are the most important players in NPB's history? Certainly names like Sadaharu Oh, Shigeo Nagashima, and Ichiro come to mind. And they've certainly had their share of cards. But there are other important players in NPB's record books who seem to have no cards at all.

Here are the players who don't have cards from the NPB, and why they deserve their own 2.5" by 3.5" immortalization. Note that I am using the SCF database, which is fairly comprehensive but not necessarily complete. If you know of modern cards for these players, I'd like to hear about it!
Hitting for the cycle is a fairly special thing, especially in the NPB - only 66 cycles have been attained since the NPB was formed in 1948; the last cycle was hit in 2008. But nine players have accomplished this rare feat but don't have their own card:

  • Akira Owada, June 20, 1959
  • Kiyoshi Watanabe, July 19, 1957
  • Masaharu Takita, June 22, 1952
  • Masato Monzen, June 27, 1950
  • Naoto Asahara, April 20, 1952
  • Natsuki Higashitani, April 13, 1952
  • Taisuke Obuchi, August 6, 1960
  • Takenori Yamakawa, June 26, 1952
  • Tokumitsu Harada, August 17, 1953

Unsurprisingly, all these players are basically from the 1950s - there was no major manufacturer of annual cards until 1973 (Calbee).
The pitcher's equivalent (in terms of rarity) is the no-hitter. There are two players who haven't appeared on a modern baseball card after pitching perfect games: Tsutomu Tanaka (May 12, 1966) and Yoshimi Moritaki (June 20, 1961). Both events are noted in a 1994 Perfect Pitching set issued by BBM, though neither player appears on the cards; BBM didn't include them (or even the event)  in last year's No-Hitters set.

Shigezo Ishihara and Takashi Eda both don't have cards, and they both were part of different combined no-hitters in 1941; the NPB doesn't recognize combined no-hitters as actual no-hitters so these events weren't given cards in the 2012 No-Hitters set. The other pitchers in these and other combined no-hitter games have cards.
Like the MLB's World Series, the Nippon Series has an MVP, and one winner doesn't have a card: Hawaiian-born Toshio (Andy) Miyamoto. He won the 1961 award after batting .409 with 7 RBI to help the Giants win the title.
Since the Japanese Rookie of the Year's inception, six players have won the award but not received a trading card; a seventh hasn't had a card since 1981.

  • Kazunori Nishimura (1955)
  • Nobuo Oshima (1950)
  • Shigeyuki Takahashi (1964)
  • Motoji Takuwa (1954)
  • Tamotsu Kimura (1957)
  • Toshiaki Tokuhisa (1961)
  • Yukihiro Murakami (1978) - has 1979 Calbee and 1981 Takara cards
As seen in the image above, a set was issued honoring many of the prior Rookie of the Year award winners, but these seven remain.
In 1952, Susumu Yuki compiled a 1.91 ERA, recording 104 strikeouts with a 19-7 record, which was good enough to earn the MVP award. Yet, somehow, he remains the only MVP winner to never have a card.
There are two major awards in Japan I haven't looked into: Best 9 (sort of an annual All-Star team for each league) and the Golden Glove award. I'm sure there are dozens of players that don't have cards from these awards.
Most likely, the greatest honor any baseball player could possibly receive is to be elected to the Hall of Fame. You would think that someone who has contributed so much to the game would be honored with their own card. But, amazingly, several members of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame don't have any.

The following NPB players don't appear to have modern cards:
  • Hideo Nakagami, elected in 1976
  • Ryohei Hasegawa, elected in 2001 (has a 1958 card of some sort)
  • Shigeru Makino, elected in 1991 (has a 1983 NST Giants card)
Add to that a whopping 65 members of the Hall of Fame who didn't play baseball - managers, presidents, owners and activists, for example - and 22 members who played in other leagues such as high school and college, and about half of the 180 members don't have cards!

As it stands, about 25 NPB players need modern trading cards! And if you ask me, the Japanese Baseball HOF should issue a comprehensive card set honoring all of its members.


  1. Moritaki is in the Perfect Pitching set but (as you say) not in the No-Hitters set. I included a scan of the card in my post on the No-Hitters set. I suspect Tanaka is persona non grata in cards due to his involvement in the Black Mist scandal.

  2. My biggest complaint so far about missing cards in Japanese sets is the omission of Hensley Meulens from the Calbee sets from 1994-1996. He played three full seasons and didn't get a single card from Calbee.

    For some reason, Meulens also didn't get a card in the 1990 Donruss set, despite having a card in 1989, and then a Rated Rookie in 1991. Andy Nezelek had cards in 1989 & 1990, and he never played a game in the majors.

  3. OK, did some more research now that I have access to my card database and I have two pieces of good news for you. The first is that not only do modern cards exist of Hideo Nakagami, I'm pretty sure that you already have some of them. He was born Hideo Fujimoto, but when he got married in 1943, he changed his surname to Nakagami. Despite this, most If not all) of his cards still list him as Fujimoto, even his vintage ones. He's got two cards in the No-Hitters set.

    The second piece of good news is that Ryohei Hasegawa had cards in both of the BBM OB sets for the Carp - 2008's Hiroshima Memorial (for the closing of Hiroshima Stadium) and 2009's Carp 60th Anniversary set. (Ironically I got a vintage Hasegawa in the mail today from an Ebay win.)

    I was able to confirm that the following players have "vintage" cards (all pre-1964): Akira Owada, Tsutomu Tanaka, Takashi Eda, Toshiaki Tokuhisa, Tamatsu Kimura, Susumu Yuki and Shigeru Makino. I'm not saying that the others don't have cards - I just personally don't have any.

    Makino is particularly difficult to come by as he had a fairly unremarkable career as an infielder for the Dragons from 1952-1959. His Hall Of Fame credentials were built as the head coach of the Giants under Tetsuharu Kawakami during the Giants V9 era. I don't think anyone has ever made the US Hall Of Fame as a coach. I think it's likely that BBM will issue an 80th Anniversary set for the Giants this year - maybe they'll include a Makino card this time.

    I would love a Japanese Hall Of Fame set. They don't even issue postcards of the plaques like Cooperstown does.

  4. Andy Miyamoto has vintage cards as well.

  5. That is good news on Hasegawa, if I can find singles from one of those BBM sets. But finding specific vintage Japanese cards isn't easy by any means; hopefully Makino will appear in the Giants 80th Anniversary set. And who knows - maybe BBM reads our posts and this will inspire them to hunt down these players. Or there will be a HOF set.

    As for Meulens, it seems like Calbee can be a little late to the game when signing players. NPB Card Guy mentions players all the time who don't have a Calbee card for the first couple years of their career. I think with Donruss, Meulens was "just another scrub" while Nezelek was "going to be a star" during the rookie craze. Of course, it looks like speculation is almost purely luck.