The other day I was watching highlight videos on the website for Japan’s Pacific League – The link was provided by NPB Card Guy Over At the Japanese Baseball Cards blog – and watching those game highlights took me back to my youth… Kinda.
Back in the late 1970’s there was a TV station in or near New York City that broadcast foreign language programming, and I would occasionally catch a Japanese baseball game. Just like the highlights on the Pacific League website, I didn’t know the context of what I was watching, I didn’t know most of the players and I couldn’t understand the broadcasters but I didn’t care, because it was Japanese baseball – familiar and exotic at the same time.
Those televised games in the 1970’s started something of a lifelong fascination with Japanese baseball. When Hideo Nomo and others came over, I started a Japanese player collection… but that collection more or less got abandoned after Ichiro came over. The overabundance of Ichiro and Hideki Matsui inserts, plus the increased number of players coming over overwhelmed my tenuous ties to the players, and I lost interest in collecting them as a group (I still collect certain players).
All along, however, the one card I wanted was the rookie card for Masanori Murakami, the Japanese pitcher who played for the San Francisco Giants in the mid-1960’s.
One could call this card a “white whale”, except I didn’t try all THAT hard to get it. I’d always look through the 1965’s at a show, say “Oh, well” when I didn’t see this card within my budget, and I moved on.
But those days are behind me, because at the last show I went to, I found this:
And it is mine, mine, mine! Yet another addition to my growing 1965 collection (52 cards right now).
BTW, Dick Estelle pitched professionally from 1960 to 1972, but his only MLB experience came during 12 games from 1964 to 1965. He was a very young pitcher who didn’t stick and didn’t make it back despite pitching for 8 years in AAA.
There are a few tributes to this card that are already in my collection. Back in 2002, Topps did a series of “East Meets West” inserts that featured Murakami and current-at-the-time Japanese Major Leaguers:
For what it’s worth, there’s a purple-bordered Rookie Stars card in the same #282 slot in 2014 Heritage, but it’s Heath Hembree and Kevin Siegrist… both pitchers, but only Hembree’s a Giant and neither is Japanese.
As long as I’m writing about Murakami, I should also show off the 1979 TCMA card I’ve had since the early 1980’s:
I think it may have been this set that first clued me in to the fact that the team is the “Fighters” owned by Nippon Ham, and not the “Ham Fighters” of Nippon.