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  #121  
Old 10-02-2018, 11:46 PM
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Default Tetsuya Yoneda

Tetsuya Yoneda spent 22 years pitching, mostly for the Hankyu Braves. He broke in as an 18 year old in 1956, and pitched until 1977. Only the last couple seasons did he appear for any team besides Hankyu. Over the course of those 22 years he managed to become one of Japanís winningest pitchers (#2 in fact, behind Kaneda), with a career record of 350-285. (I assume heís also one of Japanís losingest pitchers.) As one might expect from someone who pitched for 22 years and won 350 games, his career innings pitched total is quite impressive, at 5130. That figure would put him 11th all-time in MLB, between Grover Cleveland Alexander and Kid Nichols. Incidentally, his win total would put him 10th in MLB history, below Roger Clemens and above Tim Keefe. Early in his career he was a strikeout monster, but dropped to only above average in K rate shortly thereafter. His raw totals make it look like his ability to strike out batters steadily degraded as he got older (which wouldnít really be a surprise), but this is actually an artifact of changing context. Apparently batters just started putting more balls in play. Due to an above-average ability to strike out batters, and an extremely long career, he is second all-time in strike outs (although he is way behind Kaneda for the lead).

One thing that he canít blame on league context is his reduced workload over the years. Early on he was pitching ~300 innings per year, but 1970 was the last season in which he threw more than 200 innings, and he was largely a relief pitcher for his last couple seasons.

Seaver-like his career started with controversy. The Tigers signed him out of high school, but Hankyu complained that the contract was invalid (on grounds that are unclear at the moment). The league ruled in their favor. And so although the Braves missed out on Seaver, they did get Yoneda. Or something like that.

Probably the biggest problem that Yoneda ran into is that Hankyu was not especially competitive for the first half of his career. Despite good pitching, the offense couldnít hold up their end of the bargain. In 1959 he had a 2.12 ERA and still lost 24 games. In the mid-60s they had something of a rebirth, however, and he ended up appearing in the Japan Series five times. They lost all five.

Albright has him ranked as the 15th greatest Japanese pitcher, and 75th greatest player over all. Iím inclined to think that he rates peak performance too highly, thereís a huge amount of value in being a good pitcher for 5000 innings. Now, my inclination is not exactly dispositive evidence, but if I was starting a team and had to choose between a pitcher that would go on to have Yonedaís career, and one that would go on to have Hideo Fujimotoís career, itís not obvious to me that I would pick Fujimoto. Now, Fujimoto was clearly the more talented pitcher, but he also pitched only half as many innings as Yoneda. The MLB pitchers that Albright lists as comps are: Phil Niekro, Gaylord Perry, Don Sutton, Early Wynn, Robin Roberts, Fergie Jenkins, Steve Carlton, Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat and Tommy John. This is a pretty good list. Before reading Albrightís article I had Niekro and Blyleven picked out as comparable major leaguers.

Everyone who writes about Yoneda mentions his prowess with the bat. So I guess that I will too. Now, itís not that he had a very refined hit tool. He seems to have been a ďswing hard at anything near the strike zoneĒ kind of hitter Ė the pitcher version of Adam Dunn Ė but he did (like Dunn) have good power (for a pitcher). He totaled 33 home runs, including multiple seasons of 4 and 5, to go with a Dunn-like .171 batting average. His bat was sufficiently well-respected that he made 22 appearances at positions other than pitcher.

The card is a menko from 1960. The set is JCM 12e.
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  #122  
Old 10-07-2018, 04:28 PM
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Default Junzo Sekine

Junzo Sekine was a two-way player. Early in his career he was a pitcher; from 1957-on he was an outfielder. From 1950 to 1964 he played for Kintetsu, 1965 was the last year of his career, and he spent it with the Giants. The switch to the outfield was probably a good idea. In 1957 his OPS was 100 points above league average Ė thatís 16%. It would be like having an 850 OPS in todayís American League. Basically, in 1957 he was Nelson Cruz. He totaled 1137 hits, 59 home runs, and a 279/336/372 slash line. As a pitcher he had his moments, but was really only above average in 1954; the rest of the time he was a middle of the road starter.

Sekine was a star at Hosei, and was recruited to play for Kintetsu by their manager (and his former manager at Hosei).

One of his claims to fame is that he was selected to the all star game as both a pitcher and an outfielder. Albright does not rank him on his list of the top 114 Japanese players, and says that he thinks that he doesnít belong in the hall of fame. I agree. Because he was a two way player there really arenít any American comps. Heís no Babe Ruth, and even John Ward was better than he was. He had one above average season as a pitcher (and a bunch of average-ish seasons), and then a run as Nelson Cruz. Thatís a nice career, but it really doesnít add up to being a hall of famer.

After retirement he spent a while as a manager, helming the Whales from 1982-4 and Yakult from 87-89. None of his teams had a winning percentage above 500. However, if Wikipedia is to be believed, he was instrumental in helping Sachio Kinugasa develop as a batter. He was the hitting coach for the Carp in 1970 and reportedly forced Kinugasa to practice long after everyone else had left the field Ė including catching him coming home from carousing with his friends at 3am and forcing him to practice until daybreak.

It seems that early pro ball in Japan had no shortage of pitchers who could hit. Sekine and Fujimura are probably the best examples, but Sanada was also a good hitter. This is purely anecdotal of course, but it seems to me that competence on both sides of the ball was more common then than it is now (and than it ever has been in the US). If thatís right, it should tell us something about the level of play in early pro ball in Japan. The skills involved in hitting and in pitching are very different. So the probability that youíre good at hitting, conditional on the fact that youíre good at pitching, isnít much higher the probability that youíre good at hitting, conditional on background conditions alone. And vice versa. So if a player is on the far right tail of the distribution of hitting ability, itís not very likely that heíll be on the far right tail of the distribution of pitching ability. (Nor vice versa.)

Now itís certainly possible that thereís some player who is good at both Ė Babe Ruth did exist. But if there are a bunch of players who are good at both, itís likely that theyíre not being drawn from the far right tail of the hitting distribution, or from the far right tail of the pitching distribution, or both. More likely is that their skill level is closer towards the mean. (I am assuming that these skills are normally distributed, that is that the distribution makes a bell curve. Hence the ďfar right tailĒ is the small number of people who are really good, and the mean is the top of the bell.) Which is all a long-winded way of saying that if a league has a bunch of people who are good pitchers and good hitters, it is likely that the level of play in the league is pretty low. If all this is right, and if hitting and pitching skill is normally distributed, it means that the pipe-line that fed Japanís early pro leagues wasnít very efficient. There were probably guys who were better hitters or better pitchers than the people playing pro ball who, for one reason or another, never got a chance.

The card is from JCM 123. Its date of issue is uncertain, either 1950 or 1951. If the former, then this is Sekineís rookie card.
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  #123  
Old 10-12-2018, 12:12 AM
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Default Atushi Aramaki

Atsushi Aramaki had a 13 year career, pitching mostly for the Orions. He pitched from 1950 (at age 24) through 1962. While the inning totals that he posted were certainly healthy, he didnít put up the quantity of innings that other star pitchers of his day did. As a rookie he pitched 274 innings, and he never again topped that mark. Several times he would have been among the league leaders in rate stats, but he didnít pitch enough innings to qualify. Nevertheless, he was effectively finished in 1959, pitching a total of ~60 innings during his last two seasons with the Orions, and making two nominal appearances for the Braves. On a rate basis his career numbers are good. Aramaki posted a 2.23 career ERA, which is a very nice mark even in a league with a collective ERA well below 3. (Itís 8th all-time.) Because his career was so short, and his innings pitched per season were not on a par with his contemporaries, his counting stats are unimpressive. He totaled just 173 wins (although he lost barely more than 100 games, so his winning percentage is quite nice), pitched 2200 innings, and struck out barely more than 1000 batters.

In fact, as near as I can tell, Aramaki was a below-average strike out pitcher. That probably means he was a pitch-to-contact type. I havenít (yet) read anything about his arsenal, but Iím guessing that it included lots of slow breaking stuff. His statistical profile is not that of a fireballer. (Ah, and the internet confirms my suspicions.)

Bill Veeck wanted him on the Indians, and gave him a standing-offer of a tryout. Enos Slaughter thought that he was major league caliber. (Despite being just 5í8Ē and 135.)

Injuries must have been a large part of Aramakiís story. Itís hard to believe that the Orions would have coddled him when Inao, Kaneda, and so on, were being forced to pitch 7,000 innings per season (approximately, number may be exaggerated). Itís also the only plausible explanation for the sudden cliff that he fell off. Absent a major injury, players have some ups and downs as they get older, and in general see their production drop off steadily. Aramaki suddenly lost it. Like Roy Halladay. Like Brandon Webb. Like a million other guys who felt something pop in their shoulder and suddenly couldnít get the ball to move any more. This is speculation on my part (although Albright, who ranks him as the 103rd greatest player, thinks along the same lines as me), itís not like I have a report of an injury, but it is also the only plausible explanation.

The card is from JCM 129, issued in 1958. Cards from this set generally feature two players, one action shot, and a headshot of a different player. Aramaki is the guy pitching. The headshot is of an unidentified member of the Hawks. The word always used to describe this set is Ďgarishí. And itís the right one. This is one ugly set. The backs are variable, so the set designers werenít making any statement about Aramaki by paring him with the ace of spades and the atomic bomb. One thing that I do like about this set is that itís printed on thick, high-quality card stock. There are lots of ďmenkoĒ cards that are printed on glorified flash cards, you couldnít possible flip them over or flip anything over with them. The card stock on the JCM 129s, however, is more like what youíd find on a Goudey. A very satisfying card to hold. But my most favorite thing about this card is that they were really really really not messing around with that menko number.
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  #124  
Old 10-15-2018, 11:54 PM
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Default Hiroshi Nakao

Hiroshi Nakao pitched for the Giants for 16 seasons. He broke in as a 19 year old in 1939, missed several seasons for the war, and pitched until 1957. He was great when he was young, but his production quickly tailed off; his last couple seasons were pretty good, but 1948 was the last season in which he was really a star performer. At least season was a good one: he won just the second Sawamura award ever given out in 1948. (Bessho won the inaugural award a year earlier.)

Statistically, what is most noticeable about him was his ability to strike batters out. When he was young his strikeout rate was almost double the league average. ThatísÖ thatís not something you can really do today. To double the league K rate in the 2018 AL you would need to strike out 17 batters per nine innings, which is something that no one has ever done. Gerrit Cole led the AL this year with a mark a bit above 12. Which is remarkable in its own right (especially considering that heís a starting pitcher), but nothing like what Nakao was doing. He finished with a 209-127 record Ė which is good Ė and would have done much better if he hadnít lost the heart of his career to the war. Which, as tragedies resulting from WWII go, is pretty low on the list, but itís still regrettable. He served in the army, but I have been unable to determine whether he ever saw combat. With some very notable exceptions, prominent American ball players mostly did not. Likewise, I have found a suspiciously high percentage of Japanese players that were given not-very-dangerous postings (of course these things are relative, given how thoroughly the Japanese main islands were bombed, even civilians were in considerable danger), so there may have been some element of favoritism going on in the Japanese military as well. Although, as Eiji Sawamura can attest, not as much as in the American military.

As might be expected from an extraordinary strikeout pitcher, he was also extremely wild. He once threw a no hitter despite allowing ten baserunners on walks and hit batsmen. (It was the fifth no hitter in JBL history.) His walk totals were regularly among the league leaders. Nolan Ryan was the Platonic form of this kind of pitcher. Notice that despite all the no-hitters, Ryan never pitched a perfect game. A Nakao/Ryan comparison isnít apt, however, because Ryan was basically indestructible, whereas Nakao was very destructible. His innings pitched totals dropped and his ERA rose dramatically starting in his late twenties, basically the opposite of Ryan. Actually, on second thought, itís Nakao who is the Platonic form of the pitcher with a blazing fastball but no idea where its going. At least Ryan struck out more batters than he walked. Thatís not something that Nakao can say.

After retiring Nakao coached in the Giantsí system. As a coach he subscribed to Kawakamiís intense training philosophy, and he (and Kawakami) came in for criticism when a young pitcher (Toshihiko Yoguchi) had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized, and died. Officially the cause of death was heart failure, but Whiting reports that an investigation by the Shuken Post concluded that it was suicide.

By 1955 Nakao was the team captain of the Giants. I donít know exactly what this means. In America its an entirely honorary post. In Japan its different than the teamís manager, but I donít know what duties accompany it. Anyway, I discovered this tidbit in the 2/25/55 issue of the Kingston Gleaner. It contained an article about a goodwill tour that the Giants engaged in across South America, Jamaica, the D.R. and neighboring countries.

Fun fact: this thread has made its way into Googleís algorithm. While researching this post I encountered one of my earlier posts in which I mentioned Nakao.

Todayís card is from the JGA 19 set. The picture picked up every speck of dirt on the card, in hand it looks a good bit nicer than this picture. The card was distributed in the 1/1/52 issue of Shonen Club magazine. Originally it was a part of a 16 card sheet that was then cut into individual cards by the kid with the magazine subscription. Engel calls it a game card: above and below the picture of the player are printed the names of baseball plays. It is not clear to me that this is sufficient to make it a game card, how you are supposed to use the names of baseball plays to play a game is not exactly clear. My card is actually cut down quite a bit, as the names of the plays are completely gone.

Engel says that this set has an R4 rarity, fewer than ten of each card known. Now, Engel's rarity classifications are not to be trusted, and I have no idea how many of these cards are out there. But it would make sense if they were pretty unusual. Itís not like you could stop into the store at any point all summer and pick up a wax pack of these. These cards were distributed with one issue of one magazine.
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  #125  
Old 10-25-2018, 11:25 PM
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Default Shosei Go

Shosei Go had a long career, mostly in the outfield, for the Giants, Tigers, and Mainichi Orions. He broke in in 1937 and played until 1957. Oddly, after playing the thirties and early forties as an outfielder, he spent a considerable part of 1946 pitching. And then he went right back to being an outfielder. Especially when he was young, Go was a really terrific player. What stands out immediately is that he was fast. For example, he stole 54 bases in 84 games in 1943. Thatís pretty amazing. To American eyes his stat line looks like that of a speedy leadoff hitter with good on-base skills, but given the environment in which he played (e.g., one with absolutely zero offense), he was actually terrific at every offensive aspect of the game. He had great on-base skills, to go with lots of power. He was hitting .300 in leagues that collectively had batting averages below .200. Even if youíre not hitting lots of home runs (and he wasnít), thatís going to give you a lot more power than most of the people in the league. For that all-around skill set in a very weak league, itís tempting to compare him to Ty Cobb. On the other hand, Cobb is a top-5 player all-time, and Go isnít that. But they were both really fast, with really high batting averages (in context), and high slugging percentages that are due more to high batting averages than to lots of home runs. Other people you might compare him to have severe deficiencies in their cases. ďA faster Kirby PuckettĒ came to mind as a comp, but Go was better at getting on base than Puckett was. Maybe ďRod Carew with more powerĒ would give you the right idea, but none of these comps are really very good ones.

Despite his power (or because of his speed) he was a leadoff hitter. He recorded a pair of batting titles, and led the league in stolen bases once. In addition, he was the 1943 MVP.

As a pitcher he was above average. But he didnít spend much time doing it. He was a more-or-less full-time pitcher in 1946, but he appeared in only four other games as a pitcher throughout the rest of his career. A casual perusal of the internet fails to yield an explanation as to why one of the gameís top position players would temporarily become a pitcher.

His nickname was ĎThe Human Locomotiveí, and hails from Taiwan originally. If you count him as foreign-born he leads all foreign-born Japanese players in stolen bases. But considering that Taiwan was a Japanese colony when he was born, itís something of a fraught issue. Albright regards him as the 45th greatest player in Japanese history, and the greatest outfielder of the one-league era (that is, before 1950).

Finding a Go card took some patience. For whatever reason (maybe none?) Iíd been looking for a Go card in particular for quite a while. The first one that I saw was a round menko, but it was being sold as part of a large lot that I didnít want. This is only the second one that Iíve ever found; since I bought this one Iíve located one other, but didnít need it any more. Part of the (apparent) scarcity of Go cards is due to the fact that he retired right as they started producing tobacco-style menko cards, which, in my experience, are far more common than other kinds of vintage Japanese cards. Engel has only one set listed from 1956, and only a couple from 1957. So heís not in any of the really common sets. But there were plenty of pre-tobacco-style sets that he could have appeared in, so it may just be random variation that accounts for the fact that Iíve encountered relatively few Go cards. There arenít many Japanese cards for sale period, so it wouldnít take much to have an unrepresentative sample. In any case, this card is a bromide, from JBR 2. It was issued in 1950. At this point Go had a couple outstanding seasons left, but he was getting older and starting into a late career slide. Not that he ended up being bad exactly, he just declined from excellent to good.

My apologies for the time between posts. Part of it is that Iíve been busy, and the last couple days I blame the World Series. Iíve also burned through most of my backlog of cards Ė Iíve got just a couple other hall of famers in hand that I havenít written up yet Ė so pretty soon posts are going to have to wait until more mail from Japan arrives.
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  #126  
Old 10-29-2018, 11:32 PM
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Default Hideki Matsui

There is a peculiar gift to making the familiar seem unfamiliar. J.K. Rowlingís platform 9 ĺ did it well (at least for those who frequent Kingís Cross). Disaster movies play on this all the time: world famous streets, usually teeming with life, completely empty, famous landmarks toppled over.

I donít know if Iíve got what it takes, but Iím going to try.

Hideki Matsui is one of the all-time greats. He is a fearsome slugger, who also posted on-base percentages north of 400 for seven years running. He broke into baseball as a raw 19 year old in 1993, slugging a modest 451. By the time he was 28 his slugging percentage was just shy of 700. That year he hit 50 home runs and he walked more than he struck out. In fact, look at this slash line: 334/461/692. Mike Trout has never matched any of those numbers, much less put them all up in the same year. To be fair, he was only one point off on OBP this year, but heís never been particularly close to either of the other marks. And of course heís never hit 50 home runs either. I donít know whether Matsui got nicknamed ĎGodzillaí before or after leaving Japan, but itís apt. Throughout his 20s he was a monster, smashing his way through Tokyo. Or at least the Tokyo Dome.

Matsui is a line-drive hitter, who has power to his pull side. A natural right hander, he nevertheless bats lefthanded. (This is surprisingly common. I guess itís a good idea if you can manage it, but I canít even imagine batting left handed.) His reputation as a tremendous player predates his professional career. He appeared in Koshien tournament four times, once drawing five (!) intentional walks in a single game.

Statistically, the American player that he most reminds me of is Sammy Sosa. Matsuiís own transition to American did not go quite as well as expected Ė this is why ďHideki Matsui, all-time greatĒ might seem odd to American audiences. Davenport suggested that >90% of his production would carry over to his new environs. That didnít happen. Itís not that he was bad or anything. On the contrary, heís got a World Series MVP trophy to show off. But he hit a total of 16 home runs in his first season (162 games!) in MLB, and his annual output topped out at 31. In Japan he was Sammy Sosa, in America he was, well, Hideki Matsui. After his age 38 season he hung up his spikes for the last time. In Japan he played for the Giants, in America he spent most of his time with the Yankees (and brief stints with the Aís, Angels, and Rays). The Golden Playerís Club counts production in MLB, provided that a player began his career in Japan prior to coming over, so Matsui gets credit for what he did on this side of the Pacific. Consequently, he is a member of both of Japanís halls of fame. Post-retirement he has stayed in the US. He has a house in Connecticut, and is a roving minor-league hitting instructor for the Yankees.

He's a clip of Matsui in action.

My card is from the 1997 BBM set. Pretty much in the middle of his career in Japan. Iíll free this card from its case eventually. The case is cracked (and is BCCG anyway). I just havenít gotten around to it.
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  #127  
Old 10-31-2018, 02:46 PM
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Default Great thread

I appreciate the thread--I think. Didn't own any Japanese cards until a few days ago, until I won the three below-- an Oh rookie with two Starffins. Now I find myself searching through even more cards on Ebay.


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  #128  
Old 10-31-2018, 10:42 PM
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Default

Nice way to start a Japanese collection! An Oh rookie is always nice, and I really like that bromide. Much though I adore menko cards, in some ways I like the black and white photography on bromides even more.

When you said that you were new to collecting Japanese cards, my first thought was to direct you to Prestige Collectibles. But I see that that's not really necessary!
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  #129  
Old 11-01-2018, 10:51 PM
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Default Kazuhiro Yamauchi

Kazuhiro Yamauchi was a righthanded slugger who played for three franchises between 1952 and 1970. The bulk of his career, including all of the seasons in which he was a real star, were spent with the Mainichi/Daimai Orions. In 1964 he joined Hanshin, and the last three years of his career he spent with the Carp down in Hiroshima. Yamauchiís best season was probably 1957 when, as a 25 year old, he put up a slash line of 331/451/621 over 126 games. The late 50s were not a super low offense era, like early Japanese baseball had been, but it was still a pitcherís era. League-wide OPS that year was more than 400 points below Yamauchiís mark. To match his 1957 production (relative to league average) in 2018ís NL, you would need an OPS of about 1200. That would rank 20th all-time in MLB, tied with Jeff Bagwellís 1994.

As for a comparable American player, Iíd nominate a second-tier slugging hall of fame outfielder. Someone like Duke Snider. Theyíre both good power hitters with a little bit of speed. Snider struck out more than Yamauchi did though. In fact, Yamauchi walked more times than he struck out, which is quite an accomplishment for someone who was obviously swinging from his heels pretty often. Actually, if you ignore the positional difference, Bagwell isnít that bad of a comp.

In context, however, Yamauchi was probably a bigger star than either of those guys. He made 13 consecutive all-star games (and ten best nines). Bagwell was selected for the all-star game a shockingly low number of times for as great of a player as he was, and Snider, despite being a deserving hall of famer, was obviously overshadowed by the other two centerfielders in New York at the time. Yamauchi is top 20 in many offensive categories, and is top ten in doubles. Albright probably thinks that my Snider/Bagwell comparisons are hilariously wrong: heís got Yamauchi ranked as Japanís 8th greatest player of all time and the best outfielder of the 1950s. Thatís more Ted Williams than Duke Snider.

He did win an MVP award, although not for his best year. He missed out in 1957, but took home the hardware in 1960. Three years later he was dealt to the Tigers in a blockbuster challenge trade. The Orions got pitcher Maasaki Koyama out of the deal. Trades like this are fun but super rare: superstars being traded for each other. Usually when a superstar gets dealt, there are prospects or some larger package involved. Colavito for Kuenn, Frisch for Hornsby, that sort of thing.

Post retirement Yamauchi spent a few years managing and many years coaching. He also has a company that sells sports equipment.

The card is from the JCM 12d set, issued in 1961. Itís a pretty standard tobacco-style menko card.
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  #130  
Old 11-04-2018, 08:38 PM
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Default Kaneda Redux

I decided to upgrade (?) my Kaneda card. Really, I have no confidence that this card is an upgrade, in any value or rarity sense, over my other one, but I like it better. Actually, I'm pretty sure it's a downgrade value-wise, as I paid more for the other one than I did for this one.

Until picking up this card I'd resisted duplicating any players who I've already got. This keeps costs down, and keeps the collection focused. But I've also passed on a number of cards that I would have liked to have. Now that I've crossed this bridge, however, who knows if my self control will hold.

It's from the JCM 69 set, from 1959. At this point Kaneda was 25 years old, in his 10th season, he'd won 31 games the previous year, and was right in the middle of the most impressive run of pitching in Japanese history.
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