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  #141  
Old 01-10-2019, 06:29 PM
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Good stuff in here!!
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  #142  
Old 01-12-2019, 09:22 PM
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Default Tomoaki Kanemoto

Tomoaki Kanemoto was a slugging outfielder with very good on-base skills. He played from 1992 to 2012, and is one of the most recent inductees into the hall of fame. From 1992 to 2002 he played for the Carp, and he spent the balance of his career with Hanshin. For career numbers heís got slightly more than 2500 hits, 476 home runs, and a 285/382/503 slash line. It seems that he had a fair amount of speed, but he didnít always make good use of it, and lost it as he got older. But anyway, he did manage to steal 30 bases one year. Just going by his raw numbers, 2005 stands out as his best year. He managed better than 120 runs and RBIs, knocked in 40 homers, and put up a 327/429/615 line. All of those numbers except for the on-base percentage were career highs.

Letís compare that 2005 season to league average. The Central League that year hit 270/331/411. Thatís a pretty good match for the current American League. Last year they put up a 249/318/416 line. The lower batting average was driving the lower OBP (made up for by a few more walks it looks like), but otherwise pretty similar. To translate Kanemotoís 2005 season into a contemporary American context, you donít need to do much at all. Shave off a little AVG and OBP, but itís close enough Iím not going to bother actually calculating this one. Nobody in the American League had a season last year that was a good match for Kanemotoís 2005, but Christian Yelich, MVP winner over in the NL, is close enough. Theyíre actually the same kind of player, itís just that, except for this past year, Kanemoto was better than Yelich.

The weird thing about this guy is that he got such a late start. Kanemoto broke into the league at 24, but didnít play a full season until he was 28. Thatís really old for a hall of famer. Usually those guys have established themselves as superior ball players when theyíre in their early 20s (or, in plenty of cases, earlier). Kanemoto has such good career numbers because he managed to hang around so long. He played through his age 44 season. If heíd gotten started at a more normal age (for a hall of famer) he might have managed to join Harimoto in the 3000 hit club. Super weirdly, he made a best nine even before he played a full season. He was selected in 1995 despite missing about 20% of his team's games.

One thing that he was known for was endurance. He appeared in 1,766 consecutive games, and broke Cal Ripkenís streak for consecutive innings. (Ripken sent him a bat to commemorate the occasion.) The game that ended his consecutive-games streak almost didnít. He was sent up to pinch hit, but a runner got thrown out to end the inning and so he wasnít credited with an at bat.

Although he played in the outfield for his entire career he seems to have had a rather weak arm. He was nicknamed ďMole KillerĒ for bouncing throws to the infield. Thatís pretty harsh.

Even late in his career Kanemoto was one of the highest paid players in Japan, pulling in more than $5MM per year. (Also, can this possibly be right? In 2008 the Carp were, on average, paying their players <$20K?)
After retiring Kanemoto took over managing the Tigers. They finished the 2018 season in last place and Kanemoto apparently blamed himself. Despite attempts by ownership to get him to sign a multiyear contract, he announced last October that he was resigning.

As with many former Tigers, thehanshintigers.com has a nice biography of him.

And I canít read it, but he also has his own website.

In the early 2000s Upper Deck made a foray into the Japanese market. It didnít last long, but they did put out a few sets. This card is from the 2000 Ovation set. It's got one nice feature. The stitches on the baseball are... what's the opposite of embossed? Exbossed? Anyway, they stick out, which is a neat touch.
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  #143  
Old 01-13-2019, 11:04 AM
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Even late in his career Kanemoto was one of the highest paid players in Japan, pulling in more than $5MM per year. (Also, can this possibly be right? In 2008 the Carp were, on average, paying their players <$20K?)
.
Doing the math, that page says it is the average of 738 players. Divideby the 12 teams and that is about 60 players per team.

So that average pay includes that paid to the minor league 2 gun players, who would draw the average down a bit, though not that much. The author seems to have understated the average by a factor of 10 when doing the conversion into US dollars, it should be about 200k US for the Carp!
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  #144  
Old 01-15-2019, 11:22 PM
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Default Michio Nishizawa

Michio Nishizawa had a long and storied carrier with the Dragons and the Stars. Incredibly, he broke into the league at the age of 15. Granted it was only ten innings pitched, but I sure wasnít playing professional baseball at 15. The only American to manage it was Joe Nuxhall. Nishizawa still holds the record as the youngest professional Japanese player.

Early Japanese pro ball had lots of two-way players, but Nishizawa was probably (with maybe the exception of Fujimura) the greatest of them. He was a good pitcher from 1937 (age 15) through 1943 (age 21). In that time he managed about 1100 innings pitched. 1944-5 were lost years. In 1946 he came back to pitch another 120 innings. That was the end of his pitching career. In total Nishizawa pitched 1297 innings, almost exactly the same number of innings as Mariano Rivera, and he managed it before turning 25 and after losing two seasons to the war.

Nishizawa served in the war for two years. Wikipedia says that he was injured, baseball-reference merely says that the war ďput additional toll on his armĒ. Both sources agree that something war-and-arm-related led to his conversion into a position player.

His early years were spent with Nagoya Ė later called the Dragons Ė and he returned to them immediately after the war, but switched teams, to Gold Star (later Kinsei Stars), mid season. It was with the Stars that he transitioned into a position player. When he returned to the Dragons two years later, it was as a first baseman. His first year in the field he was below average as a hitter, but only slightly, and it didnít take long for him to develop into an offensive force. He had an OBP 100 points above league average in 1948, and 200 points above average in 1949. His best season as a hitter was 1950, when he slugged 46 home runs and drove in 135 despite the short season. As a hitter he was a slow slugger, and patient too. He walked more than he struck out, and while there were seasons in which the league as a whole did that, his ratio was better than normal. Not, that is, that he did much of either. He was walking and striking out around 40-45 times a year, so he made a lot of hard contact.

As a pitcher, he was good but not great. His best season as a pitcher was probably the spring season of 1938 (this was back when they still played split seasons), when he posted an ERA about 30% better than league average. His most successful season was 1940, when Nagoya finished with a winning record for a change (but still finished in just 5th place); he won 20 games that year. The pitching feat for which he is best remember is a 28 inning, 311 pitch complete game against Taiyo. The game ended in a tie.

This is just my second die-cut card. Itís from the JDM21 issued in 1949, so itís from the brief period when Nishizawa was on the Stars. If a player has a team that heís really associated with, I never know quite how to feel about cards from when he was with some other team. Somewhere around here Iíve got a 1975 Willie McCovey, which was issued during those five minutes (okay, 2.5 years) that he was on the Padres. And whenever I see it I always say to myself ďreally, the Padres?Ē
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  #145  
Old 01-24-2019, 11:39 PM
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Default Masaaki Mori

Masahiko (or Masaaki) Mori was elected to the hall of fame by the special selection committee on players. If he really is being inducted for his work as a player, I would have to say that he is wildly overrated. Mori was the catcher for the Giants from 1955-1974, right through the big V9 years. He spent a few years getting his toes wet Ė he actually broke into the league at 18 Ė and was a regular at 22. My guess is that he held the job the rest of his playing career, but had a few injuries to deal with towards the end. He made 11 consecutive all-star appearances, and was picked to eight consecutive best-nines. I donít feel like wading through Central League catchers in the mid 60s at the moment, but I am extremely skeptical about this.

As a player he wasÖ ehÖ he was a catcher. Career slash line of 236/283/318 isnít going to scare anybody, pretty much regardless of context. Little in the way of on-base skills, little power. He never cleared a 400 slugging percentage in a full season. Eyeballing it, his best year looks to have been 1964, a year in which he was a little bit worse than average in on-base percentage and a little bit better than average in slugging percentage. And that was his best year. Maybe he was good with the glove?

Allow me some speculation/commentary on American baseball. In the American game guys who play important defensive positions on great teams tend to be held in higher esteem than they actually deserve. Sometimes they even get elected to the hall of fame (cf. Phil Rizzuto). Maybe thatís what was going on with Mori, because the guyís offensive profile is just not impressive. Albright does not rank him among the top 115 Japanese players, and doesnít give him an honorable mention, either.

Now, catching for Yomiuri isnít all that he did. He was also a very successful manager. Mori was in charge of Seibu (the Lions) from 1986 to 1994, and then spent a couple years in this century with the Bay Stars. This was during the Lionsí streak of dominance Ė they won the Japan series six times in nine years. In total the teams that he was Ė in one way or another Ė involved with finished in first place 27 times. As a manager he was relatively relaxed, not a devotee of the Kawakami school of managing. (Peculiar, since they were teammates and Kawakami was later his manager. Or maybe itís not peculiar, maybe he hated doing 500 fungo drills per day or whatever Kawakami had them doing.) Despite being non-traditional, the success was hard to ignore, and Mori won Japanís version of the manager of the year award (Matsutaro Shoriki award) twice.

Pictures of his hall of fame induction ceremony here.

The card is from the JCM39 set, a pretty common one. And itís not as yellow as it looks in the picture.
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  #146  
Old 02-10-2019, 11:44 PM
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Default Choji Murata

Choji Murata pitched for the Orions for 22 years Ė 1968 to 1990. He was 18 in his first taste of pro ball, and retired at 40 with a 3.24 ERA in 3331 innings. (He couldnít manage just two more innings?) The mid-to-late 70s were his best period. During this stretch he regularly logged an ERA in the 2s with innings totals that wouldnít be embarrassing in MLB. 1976 was his single best season: he went 21-11 with a 1.89 ERA in 257 innings.

Murata was the second Japanese pitcher to get Tommy John surgery. The arm abuse that Japanese pitchers put up with took its expected toll, and in 1982, at 32, he, like so many pitchers before him, simply couldnít pitch anymore. He tried basically everything else that you can do to get your arm working again, including, unwisely, trying to pitch through the pain. Predictably, it didnít work. As a 32 year old he pitched 40 innings, and then that looked like that. In a last-ditch effort he flew to LA to get ligament-replacement surgery and missed the entire 1983 season and almost all of the 1984 season. He would never again manage the kind of innings pitched that he did as a young man, but by the time he was back on the field he was in his mid-30s, so some age-related decline is to be expected. By age 35 Murata was again pitching more-or-less full-time. He was reasonably successful in 85 and 86, dipping to below-average production for a couple seasons afterwards, and then led the league in ERA in his penultimate season. The same year he was named the all-star game MVP and given a $14,000 prize. (Presumably the amount is approximate. The figure is from the AP.) If forced to pick a comparable American player, I might come up with someone like C.C. Sabathia.

He was a three-time ERA leader, but made only a single best-nine and never won a Sawamura Award.

Post-career, Murata stayed in shape. In what appears to have been a publicity stunt NPB had Kazuhiro Kiyohara-he was retired already, this was in 2013-try to hit a home run off of a few old-time pitching greats. Anyways, Murata struck him out, topping out at 83 mph. Now, 83 mph is really slow for a professional, but considering that Murata was sixty four years old at the time, I think that we can forgive him.

Hereís a short clip of Murata pitching.

The card is a Calbee, from the 1989 set. The last (I think) of the super small cards that Calbee produced in the 80s.
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  #147  
Old 02-12-2019, 09:22 PM
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Default Yoshinori Hirose

Yoshinori Hirose was an outfielder (although one with a fair amount of time at shortstop and a small number of games elsewhere in the infield) for the Nankai Hawks from 1956 to 1977. After 1972, however, he was strictly a part-time player. Hiroseís biggest calling card was his speed. With a total of 596 stolen bases heís Japanís #2 all-time base stealer. Now thatís still only 60% of Fukumotoís total, so Fukumoto basically laps the field on base stealing, but itís pretty good.

Actually, Iím surprised that there arenít more big base stealers in Japan. Japan is famous for playing small ball: bunts, hit and runs, etc. The stolen base should fit into their tactical philosophy perfectly. Of course Japanese seasons are shorter than American ones, and the history of Japanese pro ball is shorter than American pro ball, but Hiroseís stolen base total, #2 in Japan, would be tied with Dummy Hoy for #19 all-time in MLB. As for efficiency: he was successful in 82.9% of his stolen base attempts, which would be 26th all-time in MLB, a fraction above Jacoby Ellsbury.

As a batter Hirose was above average in both OBP and SLG, but neither one was outstanding exactly. I grabbed 1961 (age 24) pretty much randomly, and decided to translate it given the context of the 2018 NL. Youíd end up with an OBP of about 350 and a slugging percentage of 457. Thatís good and all, but neither mark would be among the league leaders. Heíd also have (eyeballing this one) stolen base totals in the low 50s. For a comparable American player Iím going with Max Carey. In context Hirose may have been a somewhat better hitter, but theyíre pretty close. His best season was 1964 when he was a huge offensive monster, with a slugging percentage like 66% higher than average, albeit one driven by batting average not by power hitting. Presumably that was a result of an unsustainable batting average on balls in play. Players (in MLB at least, probably elsewhere) have more control over their BABiP than do pitchers, but they also each have an established level to which they tend to regress. Given that Hirose never again (and never before) approached a 366 batting average, my guess is that he got lucky on balls in play that year.

This blog has a really nice progressive leaderboard for stolen bases (as well as lots of nice pieces on Japanese baseball). Hirose was the all-time leader from 1970 to 1976 (inclusive).

The card is a menko from JCM 13a. It was issued in 1960.

I sent Rob Fitts (from whom I bought this card) my want list and he said that several of the players on it have no playing-days cards available. Iím not interested in modern cards commemorating older players, so Iíve removed them from the list of players that Iím targeting. With those guys now excluded, Iím pretty close to finished: 90%. (This figure includes a couple players whose cards I have in hand but havenít posted about yet. Expect write ups on them later in the week.)
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  #148  
Old 02-14-2019, 12:26 AM
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Quote:
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I sent Rob Fitts (from whom I bought this card) my want list and he said that several of the players on it have no playing-days cards available. Iím not interested in modern cards commemorating older players, so Iíve removed them from the list of players that Iím targeting. With those guys now excluded, Iím pretty close to finished: 90%. (This figure includes a couple players whose cards I have in hand but havenít posted about yet. Expect write ups on them later in the week.)
Nice, you are getting close. I'm curious, besides Sawamura, which other members of the Hall of Fame have no career contemporary cards of them?
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  #149  
Old Yesterday, 12:18 PM
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Rob tells me that there are no playing-days cards of Masaru Kageura, Miyoshi Nakagawa, Yukio Nishimura, Eiji Sawamura, or Masaki Yoshihara. Additionally, the only Tsunemi Tsuda cards are from when he was an umpire, so I've removed him from the list also.

My want list didn't have any of the players who made the hall of fame for their amateur play on it, so there may be (almost certainly are) amateur HOFers for whom there are no vintage cards.
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  #150  
Old Yesterday, 11:11 PM
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Default Masaji Hiramatsu

Masaji Hiramatsu pitched for the Taiyo Whales for 18 years. In 1967 he broke in as a 19 year old, and he retired at 36 after the 1984 season. He was consistently very good. But the WhalesÖ the Whales were not. Despite being a very good pitcher, Hiramatsu just barely managed a winning record: 201-196. I nominate Ted Lyons as a similar American player (although Lyons played until he was much older). In what was probably his best season he went 25-19 (both figures led the league) with a 1.95 ERA for a Whales team that managed to claw its way up to third place. But within a couple seasons they were back to fifth.

Japan in general seems to be more contact-oriented than the US, and Hiramatsuís strike out rate doesnít seem to be especially impressive. He was Kíing 5.5 per nine innings. Spot-checking a few seasons, it looks like his strikeout rate was slightly better than average. Likewise his control Ė about 2 Kís per walk for his career Ė was a little bit better than average. With that kind of profile, my guess is that he had some good defenders behind him.

And sure enough. I just checked the Whalesí shortstop, who would make the biggest difference for a contact-friendly pitcher. For most of Hiramatsuís career it was a man named Daisuke Yamashita. Iíd never heard of him before just now, but he is an 8x gold glove winner, and baseball-reference refers to him as a ďdefensive wizard at shortstopĒ. Yamashita isnít in the hall of fame, but I sure hope that Hiramatsu gave him a nice tip of the cap during his acceptance speech.

Hiramatsu himself made eight all-star teams, two best-nines, and took home the Sawamura award in 1970. His trademark was his shuuto pitch Ė sort of a hard slider/curve which is very popular in Japan but almost unheard of in the US. It may have been the best shuuto of all time. Over time arm injuries caught up with him, however, and he had to start mixing in more pitches that are easier on the arm.

As a boy Hiramatsu had been a huge Giants fan. I get the impression that just about every baseball fan in Japan is a huge Giants fan. Anyway, he starred at the Koshien tournament in high school (his team won; and in 2018 he was invited back to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in a few of the matches) and turned down a contract with the Dragons to play in the industrial leagues. Jim Allen reports that the Giants busily tried to recruit him during this time, but once he was eligible they turned him down. Ouch. He did get a little bit of revenge: despite playing for the dismally bad Whales, he had a winning record against the Giants.

Here is a really interesting look at his delivery. The text below talks about the nature of his shuuto and how he delivered it.

My card is from the 1979 Yamakatsu set.
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