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

Want Lists are located here. NPB Baseball Want List is located here.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Why Panini Doesn't Deserve an MLB License

In yesterday's post, I gave a few reasons why Panini should get a license to use MLB logos on their cards. But now, let's look at why they shouldn't.
There are enough MLB sets already. Topps has two or three releases hit shelves every month during the season, plus they have all of their online products. I remember not too long ago when every week would see two new lines arrive at the card shop. That's just too overwhelming.
Trading cards might be heading for another bubble. From late 2010 through 2011, card releases were pretty sparse compared to today; an average of three sets were released each month including major releases (Finest, Prime Cuts, Allen & Ginter) and small oddballs (Leaf Pete Rose Legacy, ITG Canadiana, eTopps). The 2018 season (the last I have relatively complete data for right now) saw more than twice that, and I didn't include most of Topps' small/repetitive online offerings (Topps Now/Living Set/Throwback Thursday).

But it's not just about the number of releases.

In 2011, sets like Gypsy Queen were really short-printed due to a perceived lack of demand, and even Update was probably printed in much smaller quantities than in previous years. But tons of 2018 Update packs have flooded clearance bins at Big Lots and WalMart; the last cards I remember at Big Lots were 1990 Donruss! And the baseball cards subreddit is full of investors looking for profit and hoarding these packs; it's almost like we're repeating the mistakes of the junk wax era all over again. Just now it's with certified autographs and SPs of unproven rookies, instead of base cards of unproven rookies. (How many autographs did Guerrero Jr. sign this year?)

Don't get me wrong, as a budget collector, not a prospector/investor, I'm more than willing to pick up the "scraps" from these big spenders looking to clear out their "worthless" base cards, inserts, and parallels. And I'll be glad to swoop in and pick up all the other "worthless" cards people have if the bottom drops out. But we've had this before. And too much product out there will lead to disaster.
Many of Panini's offerings rip off Topps' existing set concepts. Prizm? Finest. Optic? Chrome. Elite Extra Edition? Bowman. Donruss? Topps. Chronicles? Archives. Diamond Kings? Gallery. (Okay, DKs came first, as a subset, but Gallery was first as a product line.) Leather & Lumber? Triple Threads (relic set), or Allen & Ginter (throwback set). Topps did all of it first, and Panini just took the concept and made their own set.
Panini is lazy. Ripping off a set concept (chromium cards, throwback, heritage-style) is one thing. It happens all the time, and has happened for a long time. Leaf came before Stadium Club,a fter all. But Diamond Kings isn't real artwork, is it? Isn't it just a PhotoShop filter? Gallery uses real art. I can't tell Prizm sets from each other since they all look the same. The same goes for many of the high-end sets. They all just seem like the same thing. Plus, others have pointed out that Panini has a bad habit of reusing pictures. To me, that's all just lazy. Hire some artists and some graphic designers, and spend a little more time and money on Getty Images.
Panini products have way too many parallels. The 2019 Donruss base set had 15 parallels by my count (all four printing plates counting as one parallel set). Action All-Stars insert from that set? 10 parallels. That's the same for all of their inserts. Bleachers Inc. Autographs: six parallels. There are 138 sets in 2019 Donruss, but only about 15 unique sets in the full release. And then Donruss Optic's base set has 26 parallels, with the autograph insert sets having over a dozen parallels each. Prizm: 28 parallels of the base set.

Apples to Apples? Topps' flagship has 15 parallel inserts as well, but their insert sets have only 5-6 parallels each (still a lot, but not as many as Donruss). Many insert sets only have three parallels. Chrome has 19 base parallels, but autograph sets generally have less than six parallels, with only the Rookie Autographs having 13 parallels (printing plates count as one set). Finest: 8 parallels of the base set.
Exclusive autograph/appearance contracts cause disappointment with consumers. If you want autographs of your favorite players, then having only one manufacturer means that your player will be in that company's sets. Players had exclusive deals with all of the companies in the past, meaning some players couldn't appear in certain sets or you couldn't get any autographs or relics of that player from most of the offerings out there. Mickey Mantle went to Upper Deck, leaving Topps without its most iconic player when it wanted to reprint its classic 1950s sets.
All the other sports have monopolies. If Panini got to make licensed cards for two sports, that would probably be unfair to the other companies; Panini would need to give up its exclusive license, as then should Upper Deck. Hmm... Upper Deck is probably a different company now that McWilliam is gone; are they worth a second shot with the MLB too?

So, why do you think Panini shouldn't get an MLB license? Remember, arguments for them getting a license should go on the other post. This isn't about a flame war.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Why Panini Deserves an MLB License

Ahh, the Good Old Days. Some of you may be old enough to remember the wonderful card collecting world of the 1960s and 1970s. When Topps had a monopoly, and they only issued one big set over multiple series during the year. Don't like the design? Wait 'til next year!

But the 1980s saw the coming of Fleer and Donruss, followed by Score and Upper Deck; the 1990s brought Pacific into the mainstream. 1989 also saw the first non-flagship set, when Topps brought back the Bowman line. Then came the 1990s, when companies made dozens of sets each. Those were wonderful times. Those were dark times.

Things happened. Companies bought other companies. Companies went bankrupt and came back from the dead. And companies just decided to stop making cards.

By the end of the 2005 baseball season, Fleer had gone bankrupt and the Donruss/Score/Playoff group lost their license, leaving only Topps and Upper Deck. Upper Deck would lose their license in 2009, leaving Topps as the only company allowed to make baseball cards with MLB team logos.

Panini bought Playoff and all of the card brands that come with it to produce basketball cards, but nearly a decade ago they also acquired an MLBPA license. Since then, the conversation has come up multiple times about Panini getting to put "Tigers" on a card instead of just "Detroit".

Topps recently (in 2018) extended their agreement and has exclusivity through 2025.

Here are some reasons why I think Panini should be granted an MLB license.

Topps has a monopoly. In 1980, the courts said that other companies had to be permitted to create trading cards. Yet, in 2009, Topps and MLB Properties went against this decision, kicking Upper Deck out of the baseball market. I'm no expert on antitrust law, but what changed between 1980 and 2009?

I certainly would understand not renewing Upper Deck's MLB license back then, given their controversies - counterfeiting, reprinting, litigious practices. But for the better part of a decade, it seems to me that Panini has been trying to play fair.

Panini has appealing set designs. Not every set will appeal to every collector. I get that, and I'm not a fan of all of Panini's offerings. Donruss has influences from its past designs and is a good line for a full-sized flagship set, Leather and Lumber had a nice throwback feel. Chronicles compiles a whole plethora of set concepts together, and Diamond Kings has a great art feel. Optic and Prizm are great contrasts to Chrome and Finest. A lot of people knocked Triple Play, but I thought it was a great set geared towards kids that only suffered from a bad choice of artwork. They also had a great multi-sport set with throwback designs (Golden Age).
Not my image.
Panini makes better relic cards. Almost all I ever see from Topps are single-color swatches or small pieces of patches. Big pieces of jersey are reserved for the highest-end products or one-of-one cards most collectors won't ever see, and there are chances for bat barrels. Bats and jerseys. But Panini's sets include spikes, hats, and jackets. Absolute Memorabilia has brought catcher's gear, and I remember when bases, dirt, walls, balls, and many other artifacts made their way into cards. At least Panini has been trying for some variety.
Not my image.
 Panini has a heritage that dates back to "Golden Age" of cards. Topps boasts about its history, and it is a long one. But Donruss got its start in 1954, and produced cards back in the 1960s. Panini itself has been producing stickers since 1961.
Topps is getting complacent and stale. Topps Heritage and Topps Archives both recycle old designs. Topps issues multiple sets using its flagship design, including Chrome, Chrome Sapphire, Pro Debut, and Mini. Hello, Clearly Authentic. Gypsy Queen (10 years) and Allen & Ginter (15 years) are rip offs of previous brands that Topps has come to just rely on as "sure thing" sellers. The entire Bowman line is a prospect dumping ground. Finest, once the premier premium card brand, now feels like an afterthought.

The high-end sets have uninspired hits on uninspired, unremarkable designs. Many of Topps' recent sets have been reboots of previous lines - Stadium Club, Gold Label, Gallery, High Tek. Inserts in most of the sets just try to cram as many stars as possible without really focusing on a theme.

Having a real competitor would force Topps to produce cards that collectors really want to choose over another company's. Competition brings innovation.
Panini has (had?) a licensing agreement with the Hall of Fame. Panini's two Cooperstown sets were fantastic. It opened the door for a lot of obscure Hall of Famers (is that an oxymoron) to finally get modern cardboard. Plus, the set included favorite broadcasters, induction ceremony images, and looks at items found in the Hall of Fame. What was such a promising series has disappeared, but could be a great opportunity to release a full, complete series of cards for current Hall of Famers. Panini included some of the HOFers in the Golden Age sets, too.
Don't forget the Team USA and Collegiate agreements. Panini has the youngest and oldest players. They've put themselves in a position to provide some really great sets.

Are there any other reasons you can think of that Panini should get an MLB license? For now, I'm only focusing on the reasons they should; save your arguments against for later, when I can write that post as well.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

1975-76 Calbee: The Original Dirt Card?

Laundry: done.

Dinner: done.

Show the new teacher where to take out the trash, how to teach preschool, and a whole bunch of other stuff: done.

Update 1975 Calbee post: ...

I mentioned that I had been flipping through a couple of the "extras" boxes I've stacked up over the past few years. Some of the last cards I came across over the New Years holidays (yes, I'm still getting through those scans 20 days later) were forgotten about perhaps six years ago.

You see, back when I wrote the 1975-76 Calbee By Year post, I broke the set up into subsets, and was inspired to find some examples of cards from those subsets.

And I did. I grabbed a few at a shop or at a show. Or perhaps I already had them and didn't realize it even back then.

And then I forgot about them. They got tossed into the extras stack, and there they sat for a large part of a decade. And then, we hit a new decade. And I found them.

The 1975 portion of this set had seven subsets. Two of them overlap in card numbers; the last 35 cards in the set are Star History or Japan Series. Star History features players in 1975 and in the past using a color photo and a black and white photo.
 Card #294 has Tokuji Nagaike. He's not really much of a star, but he was popular enough 45 years ago to end up in this subset.
 Here's #323, with Tsuyoshi Oshita. Another player who really isn't that popular now, but ended up in the set anyway. You can see that the old photo could have been displayed in multiple ways on the card.
The third series to be issued in 1976 was the regular series; before that were the two magenta-bordered series Pennant Race Stars and Spring Training. The regular series has several team cards and multi-player cards, and three cards featuring Korakuen Stadium's turf. Yes, three cards in a baseball card set were about dirt.

The card above describes the many layers of the astroturf playing surface. I might try to get all three and do a full-on post attempting to translate everything, but until then, you can just enjoy the beauty that is an educational piece of cardboard that was sold with potato chips 45 years ago. Too bad they didn't have relic cards back then.

(Random tangent: Tokyo Dome resurfaced its playing field some years ago, and turned the old turf into a souvenir; each piece is about the size of a coaster. I grabbed one piece, and I'm quite glad to have it! Similar random tangent: over a decade ago, I came across a doormat-sized piece of artificial turf - maybe from Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium? I still have that oddly-shaped cut of plastic and rubber, and it still has some dirt in it from use. I don't know how I'd go about authenticating it, or even if I could, but to me it's the biggest piece of a major league ballpark I own. Until I can actually get a stadium seat. Ah, more stuff I can't have for a house I don't have...)

I've updated the original 1975-76 post with these images, and I'll continue updating as I gather new type cards for Calbee subsets over the year.

So until next time...

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Stuff. I have stuff.

I've been thinking a lot about stuff. Not "I have issues" stuff, but "things" stuff. "Objects" stuff. "Possessions" stuff. I have a lot of stuff.

Not safe for work. You've been warned.

I've got stuff all over the world. Stuff in storage, stuff at my mom's, stuff at home, stuff in this hotel room, stuff at work. Stuff in storage at COMC. Stuff in the mail. My cousin has a little of my stuff; I gave her a bunch of baseball cards to do some crafty thing for me as a gift ten years ago or so... where is that gift, anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about that stuff. Mainly, what I really want to do with it. I think many of my travel souvenirs will eventually get tossed. Lots of worthless trinkets to commemorate my visit to rinky-dink museums in Middle-of-Nowheresville, USA. Last year, when I went to China, I brought back one travel souvenir. I could have bought silk pajamas or lots of Chinese china or keychains or pens or books or maps. But I got just one nice souvenir.

And that's how I've been doing things lately. So clearing out the old worthless things will be a goal. Even when I went to Chicago about ten years ago, among all the other trinkets, I bought one nicer "conversation piece". I can keep that. Get rid of the lapel pins.

I don't want to get rid of my piece of the Golden Gate Bridge. It's not valuable, and it's not that big, but it is a very sentimental object. I can toss the cable car replica toy and mini Golden Gate Bridge model from the souvenir shop and fake Alcatraz handcuffs. The piece of the bridge itself reminds me of so many adventures with my grandmother, of trying to cross it on its 50th anniversary, of exploring the city and heading across it on vacation and feeding the birds and just being in San Francisco.

But what about my trip to New York City? Vietnam? Korea? What should I keep? What do I even have from those places? Do I need to keep anything to remember having been there? Should I keep anything from there, if I don't remember buying it in the first place?

Should I refocus my adventures on one specific type of souvenir? Shot glasses aren't really a thing out here, but in the States, getting one shot glass from every state I've visited would be affordable and manageable in size. Easy to display, too: a couple wall racks would fill it up. But how meaningful are shot glasses to my life? 

As I've thought about what to keep and what to get rid of, two things come to mind as no-brainers: amusement parks and baseball. I've made it a point to (try to) get one branded souvenir from every theme park I've visited. Japanese parks don't have much to go on, but I get what I can.

And I got rid of a bunch of my baseball souvenirs twice: once around 1998 when I thought I was out of collecting for good (I "lost" all my game-used balls and a bunch of other souvenirs then), and once in 2003 when I realized my collecting goals were way out of hand. Both purges were, in hindsight, a bad idea.

All of this comes to mind because my apartment is, as Carlin said, a place to keep my stuff. If I do consolidate everything I own again - moving back to the States is the most likely reason this would happen - what would I do with it? My apartment was a museum of nothingness; I'd be embarrassed to have my domicile arranged as such again. And if I do remain in Japan, I guess I need to think about what to do with all that stuff in the US.

Yet, I continue to get more stuff. At least these are baseball-related, and nearly card-related.
 First is this 2000 Yomiuri Giants Memorial Medal Collection. I've talked about coin cards recently, but these are just coins. This was issued to commemorate the Giants winning the championship in 2000, and features coins from 12 of the top members of the 2000 team.

It is in a folder style, but I only scanned the front and one inside. The other side has an image of the team, while the back is essentially blank.
 I have to shrink this image size down to fit it on the site, but here is another medal collection of 12 players. These are in silver instead of gold and don't highlight a specific season, but I would guess that they are from around the same time. This, too, is a folder, with a nearly-blank back and photos on the inside front cover.
This is the Giants 2000 "Millennium" Member Card Set. I bet you figured that out on your own, as long as you can see the image above. It's a nice black folder. It's actually double-folded, so there are a total of eight panels. Four of them have cards tucked into little tabs.
 All the cards are full-bleed with facsimile signatures.
The center inside has the best player for the team at each position; essentially it's the opening day roster plus the manager. The very back is basically blank, while the other two panels don't have anything really worth mentioning.

I picked these all up for a price too good to miss... which was pretty cheap. What will I do with this stuff? Well, like my other stuff in Japan, it just goes into a box. Yep, I have almost nothing on display in my apartment in Funabashi. Everything's in a box, waiting for a final home where it can be displayed and gather dust like it was meant to. But until then...

And until next time!

Monday, January 20, 2020

Four Square Times Two

Do you remember four square?

Not the math theorems. Not the motorcycle. Not the cigarette, writing method, architectural style, or historic home in Smithfield, Virginia. Not the supermarkets or technology company and app, not the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, and not the Four Square Laundry front company for the British Army.
The ball game. Four squares. One rubber playground ball. Bouncing. Simple. Inside out, outside in.

In 2012, a group of kids played for 34 hours straight, setting the world record. Thirty four hours of bouncing. There's a championship tournament in Maine every winter. I guess everything needs winners, huh?

I wasn't very good at four square, but it was fun and easy to play. Ahh, those were the days.

As I mentioned a few days ago, when I bought my two boxes in December, I got four free packs of "Mini Trading Paper" cards. These are nearly square-shaped, and came two per pack. They're blank-backed and have a gold foil edge, and are made similar to the autograph/calligraphy boards you can readily find around Japan.
 These are both 2019 cards. The 2019 set has overcast backgrounds and a blue top-right corner.
 Here's one 2018, and one 2019. The 2018s have a sunset-style background.
 And here are the SP gold foil signature versions; if you enlarge the picture you can see the SP card numbering.
Yes, two more 2018 gold signature cards. Oddly, I ended up with one "double" but it was the regular and SP version from 2019 - the only SP card I got from 2019. On the other hand, I have only one regular 2018 card and three gold signatures.

But you can see that they use identical images, so the SP inserts are simply a parallel set. You may have noticed that the 2018 SPs also have gold foil accents in the lower-left corner, while the 2019 foils have a BayStars 70th Anniversary logo in that corner.

I've mentioned before, but on-card autographs are very rare, but available. I've seen a few of them at shops and shows, and I'm not dropping $100+ on one. Each card is pretty large - perhaps about five to six inches on a side.

I actually like these sets since they are so unique. That shouldn't be surprising, since I've also professed my love for manupatches, acetate cards, and multisport sets. The biggest reason I'm not chasing a full set is that the Mini Trading Paper sets are team sets. If they came out with a set of one player per team or the Best 9 teams for each league, I'd probably grab it. Or, how cool would these be with pictures of each of the stadiums? Perhaps an aerial shot on the regular set, and a shot inside the stadium for the SP set.

I'm in a hotel right now; I have some scans still before I get back home but things could get busy this week and next. Hopefully I can get some interesting posts queued up.

Until next time!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Two Vintage, Not Too Vintage

I've recently come across a couple cards I need for my type collection. That's not so strange - there are hundreds of singles in any shop's showcase I need, though they're usually priced higher than I'd like to pay. And tons on Yahoo Auctions, but I'm not scouring through thousands of listings at this point.

But something pops up in a random search, or some card catches my eye, and I end up with a card that's eluded me for the past eight years.
 You might have seen this image on this blog before. This is from Calbee's first set, and it's quite the iconic image. Tigers players Yutaka Enatsu and Tabuchi in a studio shot, with that great 1970s Kodachrome color. I'm assuming it's Kodachrome... is there anything else? Fuji Film, since this is Japan?

Enatsu is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. In 1968, he struck out 401 batters. Even Nolan Ryan couldn't reach that... and the only players who had more than him pitched in the 19th century. He retired with more than 200 wins and nearly 3000 strikeouts over a 17-year career. That's pretty impressive when you realize that for about half of his career, he was a relief pitcher, racking up 193 saves.

Koichi Tabuchi was a home-run hitting catcher for the Tigers, with 474 over his career; in 1973 he hit four consecutive home runs. He was also pretty good behind the plate, with one of the highest caught-stealing rates; he lead the league in this category twice.

This isn't the regular Calbee card, though. That card is pretty valuable and popular, but this is the blank-backed, postcard-sized "large premium" which is much rarer. Unfortunately, this particular card is fairly damaged; you can see some dirt and rough top-right corner. I don't care! I don't remember the last time I actually saw a card from this set, if ever. And I got it for a price far lower than I expected to pay. If this card were in mint condition, it would be worth $700. I didn't pay that. And I'm happy!

Hiromu Matsuoka pitched for the Swallows for nearly 20 years, compiling a nearly-even 191-190 record with a 3.33 ERA, and just barely reaching the 2000-strikeout milestone (he retired with 2008 K's). This card is from the 1976 Yamakatsu Blank Back Green Box set; it's about 7x10 (not a typo), making this quite large. It's too narrow to fit in a US 8x10 photo frame, though the image is too large for a 5x7-centered matte... such is life. I'm not framing it anyway, though as a kid I bet I would have.

Yamakatsu issued a bunch of these oversized cards, but identifying them is difficult. I was glad to find that I really did need an example from this particular set, and even happier to pick it up for just a couple dollars. I was looking for Calbee over the New Years holidays and saw it hanging on the wall at a card shop. A quick check of the (blank) back, and a much more scrutinizing look at Engel's vintage guide, confirmed that it was from a set I hadn't seen yet!

Now if I could only find some of those other 1970s Calbee cards I need for my type collection, and one of those Holograph hologram cards from 1989. And all those other oddball vintage cards.

Until next time!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Uncut Sheet: Hideki Matsui

I recently had a discussion about tackling the 1995 BBM set. It's a large set to begin with, and it's full of SPs that will nickel-and-dime you to death if you're trying to finish it by hand.

There are three nine-card short printed puzzle sets included in that lot. Ichiro is the most popular, of course, followed closely by Hideki Matsui and Hideki Irabu. Packs could include one piece of a nine-card puzzle, but all three puzzles were available in some way via uncut sheets.

I got Ichiro several years ago, and now I have Hideki Matsui:
 This is the front. The nine cards show Matsui's swing progression, and I'm sure someone with more interest than I have could crop this image and turn it into a GIF of his swing.
The backs fit together to form one big image from a different angle. This reveals that the uncut sheet has extra image space; I don't have the regular cards to see if they do this as well. Actually, this raises a lot of questions. Are the regular cards like this? If so, why? If not, why is the uncut sheet like this? Also, if not, does BBM discard small strips of cardboard where the images meet? Is this how card companies due borderless cards while avoiding card edges from looking funky? Why don't I know anything about card printing processes? Do uncut sheets exist for the entire set? Where I can get one? ....

Anyway, this was another pickup from Mercari (Japan). I'm very happy to have it, though if I do tackle the full 1995 BBM set I'm not sure if I'll keep this as part of that set or try to obtain all nine regular cards.

Storing it with the regular set would be challenging. I like oversized cards, though; cards up to letter size fit easily enough in binders using different types of card pages, and large cards look great displayed behind player figurines (yes, I take my bobbleheads out of their boxes; I'm a collector, not an investor).

What do you think about oversized cards?

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Vintage: Pop Culture, 1960s Japan Style

Topps has been producing its Allen & Ginter line since 2006. This will be its 15th year; that's a long time for a secondary card brand. I would guess that they never thought it would last so long after other throwback lines like Topps206 and Cracker Jack were only successful for a couple series.

But A&G is popular because it balances baseball with pop culture. That's exactly why I like it, too. However, even today I see people complain about the inclusion of subjects like eggs and gamblers; you'd think that after 15 years people would know what to expect.

And what they probably don't realize about sets like Allen & Ginter and Goodwin Champions is that the multi-sport/pop culture nature of the checklists is an homage to the original releases. The original Allen & Ginter N28 set included only ten baseball players in a set of forty sports personalities. And the other two sets they issued with baseball stars had only six players in each 50-card set.

The cards below come from a similar set issued in Japan. Most vintage Japanese collectors already know that a lot of the 1950s and 1960s sets (especially menko) included cartoon characters or other pop culture subjects. This is the JGA 149: c. 1962 Sideways Playing Card set.

JGA 149 has an unknown manufacturer, and was issued in either 1962 or 1963. The 44-card set includes movie and TV stars, sumo wrestlers, and of course, baseball players. The set came on two uncut sheets, each with 22 cards. It doesn't include typical menko symbols, so it rightfully isn't classified as a menko card. However, I'm guessing it was distributed similarly to menko, or it could have been a premium (prize).
Like many menko and other game cards of the era, the cards were distributed as sheets, and later cut into individual cards. The backs are identical and styled similarly to a playing card. The kanji below the playing card image is the player's last name. Usually, the position is included, too. The card above is for Katsuya Nomura, but his position isn't included on the card due to space concerns.
The key card in the set is Sadaharu Oh, who you see on the left, above. His name is only one kanji character, so his position follows. On the right is Masaichi Kaneda, and the last two characters represent his position as well.

I'm missing two baseball players: Shigeo Nagashima (7 of Spades) and Yoshio Yoshida (10 of Hearts). For some reason, Engel's latest guide values the Oh card at twice the value of Nagashima; in Japan it would probably be the other way around, or they would at least be equally valued.
My six-card lot included two sumo wrestlers and Superman.

As little interest as I have in sumo wrestling, I think it would be neat to have a set of the uncut sheets!

Until next time...