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.

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