Want to trade your
Sadaharu Oh card? No way? Well, how about your Shigeo Nagashima for, say, Cecil
Fielder? Still no? O.K., how about Nagashima for Fielder, Warren Cromartie, Bob
Horner and Larry Parrish?
Fact is, you could
throw in the cards of Orestes Destrade and Willie Upshaw, two other former
major leaguers who have played in Japan, and you would still have a difficult
time finding a 10-year-old Japanese baseball fan to cut a deal with you.
Youngsters in Japan are becoming as enamored with baseball cards as their
counterparts in the U.S. are. The one new factor in dealing is home-team or,
rather, home-country loyalty.
were introduced in America 100 years ago as a lure to get fans to purchase
consumer products like tobacco and candy. Not until the late 1940s did
manufacturers begin featuring the cards as the main attraction. According to
Larry Fuhrmann, general manager of Kobe-based International Sports Management
& Consultants, and perhaps the leading authority on Japanese baseball
cards, the business in Japan is evolving in a similar fashion.
cards were introduced in the '30s and '40s on a limited basis, and like the
original U.S. cards, they continue to be used as a come-on for other products.
For example, the country's leading cardmaker, Calbee, attaches individually
wrapped baseball cards to bags of potato chips. Because the card is on the
outside of the package, someone could easily remove it without shelling out the
40 yen (31 cents) for the potato chips. "But that's not a problem in
Japan," says Fuhrmann. "Kids just don't do that kind of thing."
Other card users
have included Kabaya-Leaf candy, Jintan gum, Kobai caramel, Lotte gum and
Mermaid jellied candies. One company, Takara, sells a pack of cards as part of
a dice game. The Japanese cards have come in different shapes and sizes,
although Calbee is beginning to print them in about the same dimensions as the
Not every player
in the Pacific and Central leagues, the equivalents of the American and
National leagues, appears on a card. Only stars make it, and the card
manufacturers—not the teams, the players or the sportswriters—determine who is
a star. "In some cases, even being a big star is no guarantee that your
face will appear on a card," says Furhmann.
Even though the
Japanese are very enthusiastic about baseball, card collecting there is still
in its infancy. The most sought-after card in the U.S. is probably the Honus
Wagner issued by Sweet Caporal cigarettes around 1909. One of those items
recently sold for $115,000 at auction. By contrast, a 1973 Nagashima from
Calbee and a 1967 Oh from Kabaya-Leaf, two of the most coveted Japanese cards,
probably would fetch about $400 and $500, respectively.
in Japan are brought up to idolize studious role models, such as people in
white-collar professions," says Robert Whiting, author of You Gotta Have
Wa, a book about baseball in Japan. "Professional baseball players are
considered to be part of the lower class and not to be emulated by Japan's
youth. Kids talk about baseball cards there, but not yet in the same manner
that American kids clamor for baseball cards."
Japanese kids have
a problem in common with American kids—mothers. Says Fuhrmann, "In Japan,
where space is at a premium, if a mother finds boxes of baseball cards taking
up valuable room in the hall closet or attic, out they go."
Maybe that's why
so few of the early Japanese cards are known to exist. Says Robert Klevens, a
collector based in Davie, Fla., "The original Japanese baseball cards were
very crude by today's standards. The earliest ones were simple color drawings
of men playing baseball, and the cards rarely carried a company name or a year
on them." According to Klevens, who is also a U.S. dealer in Japanese cards
through his company, Sports Card Heaven, "Japanese cards didn't start
showing much sophistication until the 1950s."