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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

1931 Yakyukai Magazine Bromides

 Say hello to the oldest Japanese card in my collection.

In fact, it doesn't get much older than this. Baseball's first professional teams formed in the 1920s, though the first real professional team (which would become the Yomiuri Giants) wouldn't form until 1934. Before that, most baseball was played by high school and college students. The Koshien high school baseball tournament started in 1915, with the spring version starting in 1924. The Tokyo Big6 Baseball League (college) was established in 1925, though college baseball was big for more than 20 years prior.

The first identified bromides in Engel's guide come from 1930, with all pre-war sets consisting of college players or US players from the Japan tours. It's definitely possible that cards were issued before 1930; in fact, I'm pretty sure they have been, but just haven't been cataloged yet. 

And that puts us with this card here:

The card above is identified as JBR 71: 1931 Yakyukai Magazine Sepia Bromides. Cards were included in the February 1932 issue of the magazine inside an envelope, and came blank-backed. The bottom text has the school name, player's surname, and position, from left to right. The card measures 3-3/8" by 5-3/8". Three cards were in the set. The card I have above is Kiyokazu Igawa, from Keio University. The remaining players are Osamu Mihara from Waseda, and Takeo Tabe from Meiji.

Yakyukai Magazine was issued for a very long time - from late 1911 through October 1959, it appears. Only two sets of bromides are listed in the Engel guide from the magazine, however: this one, and one for the January 1934 issue. The image above is the February 1932 cover. I'm not sure why Engel calls this a 1931 card, though while the cover date is February 1932, the magazine was possibly on shelves just before or on New Years.

Finding information on Igawa isn't easy. It appears he might have participated in the Koshien Tournament in the 1920s, and more famously, I think he was partly involved in what translates as the "Apple Incident" on October 22, 1933. While it seems that rivalry has caused problems for a long time, this particular event, involving the throwing of trash, including an apple core, was the impetus for creating specific cheering sections for fans.

To this day, sporting events have "cheering" sections where only that team's fans can enter; for smaller matches such as independent leagues that just means sit on your team's side, while NPB stadium rules basically prohibit entering another team's fan area (if you're wearing a Giants jersey, you aren't allowed in the Tigers fan area, and vice versa), and these fan areas can be fairly well "fenced in" to prohibit infiltrating enemy lines (and keep people from sneaking into more expensive seats). 

Odd note I discovered while preparing this post: the Japanese version of Wikipedia has a page explaining what a strike is in baseball. The page's photo shows Barry Bonds from behind home plate as an umpire calls a strike.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Down to One

 A long time ago, there was a magazine called SCM. Well, not that long ago. The last issue came out in 2017. SCM stands for Sports Card Magazine, and it was the Japanese equivalent of Beckett. It had previews of upcoming sets, articles on featured sets or players, and a price guide which rotated through different prices - Calbee sets, BBM sets, soccer sets.

It was issued by BBM, which brings up questions of confict of interest; a card manufacturer produced the magazine listing card values for their cards. But, then, the prices in the magazine were supposedly provided by JSCA (Japan Sports Card Association), which after some research, seems to be the card shop association, or possibly associated with or run by Mint (the major chain of card shops here in Japan). Which, too, brings up several questions about conflict of interest and price fixing.

But that's not the point of this post. Also found in the magazine were cards. Some cards had original designs, but others served as previews for new or upcoming releases. Since the magazine was produced by BBM, the cards inside were also BBM cards. And because BBM produces sets for a wide range of sports, the promo cards also cover the range of sports from baseball to wrestling. NPB Card Guy has a comprehensive list on his blog.

I soon took notice of SCM promos as I visited card shops (and the Weekly Baseball promos as well), and eventually realized that there were more than just baseball cards in those magazines. As a collector of women in sports cards, I made it a goal to get as many as I could featuring female athletes, and eventually, thanks to Dave's list, I was able to have a definitive list of cards to seek out.

There are about 75 cards, and I was able to find all of them except for the badminton cards from Issue 60. Four total cards were found in that set: one soccer card and three badminton cards previewing an upcoming box set. The team card featuring nine players wasn't too tough to track down, but the two single-player cards have been tough.

After setting the two cards on my watch list, I've sat, waited, and watched for over a year, and finally, late last year, Reiko Shiota's card came up in auction. It is number 0, but otherwise has no hint that it came from SCM. 

So that leaves Kumiko Ogura. The hunt remains on, and hopefully it won't take another year to finish it off. Though, perhaps, I should check through that checklist again to be sure I haven't missed anything...

Sunday, January 3, 2021

New Release: 2020 BBM Fusion

The last 2020 set* from BBM was Fusion, a now-annual issue which fuses accomplishments from the prior season with identical, or at least similar, accomplishments in the past. One card highlights an event in 2020, with the following card (or two cards) showing that same event in a previous season. It serves as a good summary of the last season.
*BBM released a set called Glory after Fusion was released, but it has a 2021 "issue year" so it doesn't count.
There are 99 cards in the base set, and all but one have the design seen above. The front shows the date of the highlight, with the text below it explaining the highlight. The next line has the player's name, team, and position, followed by his name in romaji and jersey number. The back has the typical bio stats at the top, with an explanation of the highlight in the middle; the bottom has the player's 2020 and career stats.
Card 99 is the only one with a different design, paying tribute to Hayato Sakamoto's 2000th hit.

There are several inserts to be found in the set. The first two are found at the same rate as regular cards.
As in the past, BBM included a "1st Version Update" set mostly containing traded players plus some new ones. There are 24 cards in this set using the 1st Version design, numbered 601-624 to add to the end of the flagship set.
13 Ceremonial First Pitch cards #FP14-FP26 continue the insert found in 2nd Version. While the 2nd Version cards featured first pitches from prior seasons, the Fusion set has first pitches thrown out in the 2020 season. There are several variations of foil parallels of this set, found serial numbered to 250 (holo), 200 (silver), 100 (gold), 50 (silver holo), and 25 (gold holo) copies.
Title Holder originally was a subset found in the base set, but are now numbered as a separate set. They still appear at the same rate as the regular cards. The 24 cards in this set have 12 Central League and 12 Pacific League leaders in various categories. There are two parallels: silver #/150 and silver holo #/50.

The next two sets are standard BBM inserts, found at a lower rate than the base cards.
Legendary Players features 12 retired players, one from each team. These can be found in silver #/100 and gold /50 parallels.
The Great Record insert set features two players from each team, for a total of 24 cards, reaching various career milestones. These too are found in silver #/100 and gold /50 parallels.

There are two premium insert sets, Phantom (#/25, 12 cards, one per team) and Esperanza (#/50, 24 cards, two per team).

As for autographs, regular autographs can be found for many subjects #/10-90. The cross-set Cross Sign Autographs feature 16 cards using the Cross Blossoms design, serial numbered between 10 and 30 copies each. Finally, nine First Pitch Autographs can be found #/25-55 copies, with a special Foil version #/5.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Kellogg's MLB Japan Cards - A Quick Revisit

This post has been edited and republished after finding some new information. Thanks, NPBCardGuy, for inspiring some additional research.

From 2007 to 2010, Kellogg's cereal in Japan could be found with cards highlighting some of the best active MLB stars. I eventually decided to collect the entire set run of these cards, and that task was completed a couple years ago.

(Edited) The cards were included inside the boxes, one per box. There were chances to win prizes as well. At least, for 2008 and 2010. I haven't been able to confirm 2007 yet.

They were packaged inside little cellophane wrappers, one card per pack. None of the packs I've seen had any kind of marking on them, and probably just served to protect the cards in their display, or allow them to be attached to the cereal if the retailers so desired.

The 2007 set was produced by Upper Deck, had 10 cards, and had this design:

Moving on to the 2008 set, which was again produced by Upper Deck, and again totalling 10 cards: 
Let's skip 2009 for a minute.

In 2010, Topps took over; this final set only had six cards:
Why did Topps issue the 2010 set? If you remember, Upper Deck lost its MLB license after the 2009 season, so Topps took over both the Kellogg's set and the Hideki Matsui Home Run Chronicles set.

What happened in 2009? I'm not sure. Over the past eight years, I've never come across a 2009 Kellogg's card. Searching Google yields no images. Other years pop up in Yahoo Japan Auctions, but no 2009. But I did discover something recently that might be the answer:
 This is a plastic ruler. The measurement at the top is in centimeters, so this is a little under six inches long. It has a lenticular surface which shows four images of Daisuke Matsuzaka's delivery. The Red Sox logo is on the left, Daisuke's name is in Kanji on the right along with the team name and his jersey number, and most importantly, there's a Kellogg's logo on the lower-left.
The back is black on white; Matsuzaka's bio stats are in the box on the left, and MLB statistics for 2007 and 2008 are on the right; this plus the 2009 copyright at the bottom definitely helps identify the year of release.
I found the above image just now, which shows a couple rulers and cards from the 2009 release. The cards, according to the original post, were part of the box (if my translation is accurate). They do appear to be cut from the box.

If you're interested in checklists for the Kellogg's sets, I put them in this 2015 post (opens in new window). The checklists on that page include the 2009 set.

And now that I know what I'm looking for, I can start searching for the cereal box and/or rulers.

Friday, January 1, 2021

This Year's Goals: Short and Sweet

 A new year, a new set of goals. I have no idea what the next 365 days have in store for me, Japan, and the world.

I spent a large part of the past year living away from my apartment, and this year may be more of the same. The Olympics could happen, and I could be attending a few events. I would like to go back home and visit my mother for Christmas, but there are lots of factors at play right now.

But here are my hopes for this rotation of the earth around the sun, at least as far as card collecting goes.

1. Finish some player collections. I'm hoping to complete my Michael Jordan baseball collection, Bartolo Colon, Tony LaRussa, and Tyler Austin for the US, and Alex Ramirez and Motonobu Tanishige for the NPB. Plus, I'd like to add three figures for my player collections; I currently need nine.

2. Complete various collections. Pokemon needs 41 from the new generation, plus about 175 variations. I need around 50 minis to finish that Frankenset, and just a few cards each to complete my relic, alumni, and knuckler mini-collections. Some of those cards are quite rare or costly. Also bundled in here are the MiLB and non-sport singles I need for a couple collections; this goal keeps getting pushed back year after year but perhaps the time is now.

3. Get at least one BBM set and one Calbee set. I'm currently working on the 1995 and 1996 BBM sets, and need five other sets that I could pick up complete. For Calbee, there are six series from 1998 through 2010 that could make this happen, including the entire 2006 set. In addition, I need one more card to finish the 2008 Calbee set: a mascot card that has oddly eluded me.

4. 75 or fewer sets on the US want list. I'm at 84 including last year's sets. Some are very close to completion! And 60 or fewer sets on the Japan want list. I'm currently at 63, so it's not a big jump, but these cards seem really tough to find.

5. Type Collection Inserts to 70%. I'm at about 67% complete on insert cards for my type collection, and getting to 70% requires about 200 cards. I think this can be done with a little focus. A second goal for this collection would be getting parallels to 50%; I again need about 200 cards to make this happen.

6. Create custom sets. I'm already planning to make some cards to fit in my collection where cards don't currently exist. I'd like to make some other custom cards or sets from my travel photos and some other hobbies or themes. Time will be a factor here.

7. This year's to-do list: complete the type collection labeling project I started last year, and properly label my card scans.

That's about it, half the number of goals as I had last year. Some of my goals are somewhat combined, so overall I might have the same number of tasks. Five of seven goals are purchases, since these are things I can do online, no matter where I am. Time to get started on those purchases!