Fast Five: Americans In 1979 TCMA Japanese Baseball

Today’s Fast Five features players from one of my favorite all-time oddball sets, the 1979 TCMA Japanese Baseball set. I don’t remember exactly when I got this set, but I know I’ve had it since the early 1980’s and it was a significant part of my general fascination with the game in Japan.

Bobby Jones was a local kid (Elkton, MD) who got drafted out of high school by the Senators in 1967. He didn’t make it to the Majors until a cup of coffee in 1974, by which point the “local team” had become the Texas Rangers. He went to the Angels on waivers, would play two seasons for the Chunichi Dragons, returned and played for the Rangers again. He’d go on to have a long career in the Rangers organization, retiring after 2016 – his 50th season in professional baseball.

Bobby Jones is the king of oddball cards… Aside from this Japanese set, he’s been in a multitude of minor league sets (as a player and manager), team-issued sets and several Senior League sets.

Chris Arnold spent 6 seasons with the Giants, shuttling between San Francisco and AAA Phoenix. He’d play three seasons with the Kintetsu Buffaloes to end his career.

He appeared in Topps sets in 1972, 1973, 1974 and 1977.

Leroy Stanton played for the Mets (9 games), Angels and Mariners before a single season with the Hanshin Tigers and a year in the Mexican League.

Stanton was sent to the Angels as part of the infamous Nolan Ryan/Jim Fregosi trade.

Leron Lee was drafted 7th overall in 1966 and put in 8 years with the Cardinals, Padres, Indians and Dodgers before starting a second career in Japan. Leron played 11 seasons for the Lotte Orions. He hit 283 homers in Japan, and according to baseball-reference.com holds the NPB record by batting .320 over his career.

Just a little uniform note… The Orions were wearing the “racing stripes” down their shoulders and sides before the Expos, Mets and Indians did it in the Majors.

Leron’s younger brother Leon was also drafted by the Cardinals and got as high as AAA before following Leron over to the Orions. He also played for the Taiyo Whales and Yakult Swallows. He once held the record for most homers hit by a foreign-born player, a record since broken by Tuffy Rhodes.

Leon is also the father of former Major Leaguer Derrek Lee, who played for the Cubs, Marlins and 4 other teams.

And Now For Something Completely Different: 1979 TCMA Japanese Baseball

I felt the need to post something a bit different today, so I went poking around my folders full of scanned card images to see if anything jumped out at me.  I ran across a bunch of scans from my 1979 TCMA Japan Pro Baseball set, and I knew that it was the kind of thing I was looking for.

These cards are from a 90 card set which, intentional or not, ended up being a one-time endeavor.  The set featured current-at-the-time players and managers from both the Central and Pacific Leagues in Nippon Pro Baseball, and today I’m going to feature four American players.

Bobby Mitchell started off in the Red Sox organization, was selected by the Yankees in the Rule V Draft, and was later traded to the Brewers.  He’d spend 4 seasons with Milwaukee before going to Japan.
1979-tcma-japanese-bobby-mitchell
Mitchell played 4 years with the Fighters, batting .250 with 113 homers, 255 runs and 294 RBI.

Dave Hilton was the first overall pick in the January, 1971 draft, and made it to the Padres in short order.  He’s one of the players who got the “Washington Nat’l Lea.” treatment in 1974.
1979-tcma-japanese-dave-hilton
Hilton played in 1978 and 1979 with the Swallows, being named to the Central League’s 1978 “Best Nine” team and playing in that year’s Japan Series.  In 1980, he would play for the guy on the next card…

Don Blasingame played 12 seasons with the Cards, Senators, Reds, Giants and A’s, and then had a second career in Japan;  he spent 14  years there playing, coaching and managing.
1979-tcma-japanese-don-blasingame
Blasingame managed the Tigers in 1979 and 1980, and then managed the Nankai Hawks for two years.

When I was a teenager I loved these Hanshin Tigers caps and would’ve killed for one.  I never did get one, but I still ponder it sometime (but it would have to be one like this with a yellow bill and yellow and white logo).

Adrian Garrett played for the Braves, Cubs, A’s and Angels over 8 seasons and only made it into 163 games over those 8 seasons.  He played 3 years in Japan, hit 102 homers, scored 193 runs and drove in 247 more.
1979-tcma-japanese-adrian-garrett
He’s also the older brother of former Mets/Expos infielder Wayne Garrett.

So there you go… Nobody remotely resembling a Hall-Of-Famer today, but hopefully some of you are also open to a change of pace.

A Quick Overview Of 1979 TCMA Japanese Pro Baseball

This past weekend, CommishBob over at The Five Tool Collector featured a set called “Play Ball Japan”, which was a 1980’s Broder set of baseball players who were active in Japan at the time.  That reminded me of the fact that I’ve been meaning to write about another American-produced set of Japanese cards, one I’ve had for many years.

I first encountered the 1979 TCMA Japanese Pro Baseball set in the 1980’s when I ran across someone who was selling a complete, 90-card set for an affordable price.  Having been fascinated by Japanese baseball since the late 1970’s, I jumped at the opportunity and it’s been one off my favorite oddball sets ever since.

I don’t know what else to tell you about the set itself, so I’ll just show you some of the more notable cards in the set… well, notable from a Western point of view… I’ve read that the set contains some Japanese HOFers, but for the most part I couldn’t tell you which ones those are off the top of my head.

I’ll start right off with the key card from the set, Japanese Home Run king Sadaharu Oh.  This card shows Oh near the end of his playing career;  he’d hang ’em up after the 1980 season.
1979 TCMA Japanese Sadaharu Oh
Here’s the back of Oh’s card…  Very basic, but still informative.
1979 TCMA Japanese Sadaharu Oh back

Naturally, the majority of cards in the set are for Japanese players. Here’s another Japanese player that many of you will recognize…
1979 TCMA Japanese Masanori Murakami
…But as he’s the first Japanese player ever in the Majors,  you probably recognize this card of his better:
1965 Topps Rookie Stars Estelle Murakami

Another guy you may be familiar with is a relatively young Charlie Manuel, well before he managed the Phillies.
1979 TCMA Japanese Charlie Manuel

Carlos May was a two-time All-Star and played mainly for the White Sox and Yankees before playing four years with the Nankai Hawks.
1979 TCMA Japanese Carlos May

Tony Muser put in parts of 9 seasons with the White Sox, Orioles and two other teams. 1979 was his only year with the Seibu Lions.
1979 TCMA Japanese Tony Muser

Vern Law was one of the greatest players ever to come out of Idaho, 1960 Cy Young winner and father of former Major League infielder Vance Law.  He was a coach with the Lions.
1979 TCMA Japanese Vernon Law

These last two cards are, to Mets fans like me, the biggest appeal of this set (along with Sadaharu Oh).

Wayne Garrett was a Met for 8 seasons, including a couple where he was the starting third baseman. He played two seasons with the Chunichi Dragons.
1979 TCMA Japanese Wayne Garrett
His older brother Adrian also played in Japan and was featured in this set, but I’ll get to him in another post.

Felix Millan was the starting second baseman for the Braves and Mets in the 1970’s, and capped it off by playing for the Yohohama Taiyo Whales for three seasons.
1979 TCMA Japanese Felix Millan

There are other cards of interest in this set, but as the title of the post says, this was meant to be a quick overview. Even though more than half of the set shows players I know nothing about, it’s still one of my favorite sets in my collection.

1976 SSPC #131 – John Scott (Padres)… PLUS A 1979 TCMA Japanese John Scott BONUS!!

1976 SSPC #131 John Scott
John Scott… was the second overall pick in the January, 1970 draft (after Chris Chambliss) and was one of the Padres’ top prospects in the early 1970’s. His prospect status didn’t translate into Major League success, as he played a grand total of 118 games, mostly with the 1977 Blue Jays. Despite his lack of MLB time, he played 13 years as a professional, including three years with the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League.

In Japan he won two Diamond Glove Awards (similar to the Gold Glove) and made the 1980 Central League All-Star team.

In 1976, John Scott… spent the year with the AAA Hawaii Islanders, batting .315 with 15 homers, 82 RBI and 38 stolen bases.

Betcha didn’t know… John Scott was among the first players ever on the Blue Jays’ roster. Shortly before the expansion draft, the Padres sold Scott, Dave Hilton and Dave Roberts to the Jays; the first player ever on the Jays roster was catcher Phil Roof, who was traded by the White Sox the day before.

Cardboard History: John Scott didn’t appear on many baseball cards, but he has a strong presence in the “slightly oddball” category. Aside from sharing a rookie card with Jim Rice…

1975 Rookie Outfielders Augustine Mangual Rice Scott

…he also shared a 1977 Rookie Outfielders card with Andre Dawson, had his own card in the 1977 O-Pee-Chee set – a card I don’t yet own, but you can see it on the always-useful “O, My O-Pee-Chee” blog – and he was also in the 1979 TCMA Japanese set:
1979 TCMA Japanese John Scott

Shea-o-meter:
Shea: 38
Pretty sure it’s Shea: 7
Can’t tell: 6
Not Shea: 5

1976 SSPC #131 John Scott back

A Tribute To Charlie Manuel

I have a small selection of older Charlie Manuel cards that I was hoping to share under happier circumstances, but managers are hired to be fired. I don’t know why they couldn’t let Charlie finish out the season, other than to give Ryne Sandberg a test drive… But given the situation, I can’t imagine how badly Ryno would have to go down in flames to NOT come back next year.

Charlie Manuel played parts of 6 seasons in the majors, mostly with the Twins…
1970 Topps Chuck Manuel

He also played in Japan from 1976 to 1981.
1979 TCMA Japanese Charlie Manuel

After his playing career, he managed in the minors for a number of years before getting hired by the Indians before the 2000 season.
1991 Line Drive Charlie Manuel

Manuel’s been involved in professional baseball since 1963… it’s a shame he wasn’t given the opportunity to go out on a better note, but Ruben Amaro’s not going to fire himself.

Hey, I Know That Dude! 1979 TCMA Masanuri Murakami

I’ve been neglecting the Japanese cards lately, so let’s kick it back in beginning with a name from the 1960’s which many of you are familiar with….
1979 TCMA Japanese Masanori MurakamiMasanori Murakami was the first Japanese-born player in the Major Leagues, having pitched for the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and 1965. He made his Major League debut at Shea Stadium, pitching a scoreless inning against the Mets. Over his brief MLB career, he pitched 89.1 innings and had a 5-1 record with a 3.43 ERA, 0.985 WHIP and 9 unofficial saves. He returned to Japan in 1966 and pitched for the Nankai Hawks, Hanshin Tigers and Nippon Ham Fighters.

When I first became aware of Japanese baseball, I didn’t know what to make of “Nippon Ham Fighters”, and I wasn’t aware that the teams were named after their corporate owners… So rather than the “Fighters” owned by Nippon Ham, I thought they were the “Ham Fighters” of Nippon.

…Hey, I was a kid.  I liked to think that a Ham Fighter was some sort of Japanese warrior… Samurai, Ronin, Shogun, Ham Fighter.

My parents owned a couple of James Clavell novels with names like “Shogun” and “Noble House”, and even though I never read any of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if I that played some role in the misunderstanding.

Part of me is still a tiny bit disappointed that I was wrong about the name.

Murakami did make it on to a 1965 Topps card… one that, I’m slightly ashamed to say, I don’t own.

…Yet.

1965 Topps #282 - Rookie Stars/Dick Estelle RC (Rookie Card)/Masanori Murakami RC (Rookie Card) [Good to VG‑EX] - Courtesy of COMC.com

1965 Topps #282 – Rookie Stars/Dick Estelle RC (Rookie Card)/Masanori Murakami RC (Rookie Card) [Good to VG‑EX] – Courtesy of COMC.com

1979 TCMA Japanese Baseball Félix Millán

I used to watch Japanese baseball on TV, even though I’ve never been in Japan.  Back in the late 1970’s there was a UHF station in New Jersey, outside of New York City, which featured international programming.  I used to flip over every now and then to see what kind of unusual-to-me shows or commercials I might see and not understand (because they were often in languages other than English).  I always enjoyed the Spanish commercials for Colgate toothpaste because they pronounced it as a Spanish word:  Col-GAHT-eh

One night I flipped over, and there was a baseball game from Japan.  The play-by-play was all in Japanese, but fortunately you don’t need to understand the broadcasters to follow a game.

What I really didn’t need a broadcaster to understand was when former Met Félix Millán stepped up to the plate.  It was cool enough to be watching this familiar, yet strange game, but it was off the charts when a player formerly on my favorite team, a guy who me and my friends used to choke way up on the bat to imitate, is on my TV in a Yokohama Taiyo Whales uniform.  I think it safe to say that “freaked out” is an appropriate phrase.

Although I didn’t get to see a whole lot of games – that station wasn’t listed in my newspaper’s TV listings, so finding games was hit-or-miss – it started a lifelong fascination with Japanese baseball.  I bought the entire TCMA set that this Félix Millán card is in (it was relatively cheap back in the day), I read Robert Whiting’s “You Gotta Have Wa” and other books, and until fairly recently every Japanese player who came over to this side of the Pacific was instantly a player I collected.  This only stopped because it got to be too many guys and not all of them were worthy of excitement.  I also reached a certain degree of “Ichiro Fatigue”.

When I went to the National in 2010, one of the highlights of the show was the one dealer who was selling Japanese cards;  Not only was it something I was very interested in, it most definitely fell into the category of “Cards you don’t see at most shows”.  Japanese cards will be near the top of my want list for this year’s National.

My collection of Japanese cards is relatively small, but I’ll be sharing more of these cards in the future.