Seriously, I love these tickets and I think they’re a great way to honor the franchise history. I’d buy a set of them as cards if the team put them out. Here we’ve got Larry Andersen – center of the best trade in franchise history (sorry Verlander, but Bagwell still outranks you on a franchise level), and “Holy Toledo!” it’s Milo Hamilton! Then there’s the famous shot of Bagwell lifting Biggio with Mike Hampton joining in as the Astros clinched the NL Central in 1997, securing their first playoff appearance since 1986. Finally, we’ve got recent Astros Derek Bell and Randy Johnson.
A quick look on B-Ref shows that the 1999 Astros went 6-4 in these ten games. The arrival of online ticketing and ticket apps is leading to the demise of the good ol’ ticket stub. I’ll miss fun stuff like this whenever they’re gone for good. It’d be nice to see teams put some more effort into making season tickets cool again, at the least.
So here’s where things get interesting. The seller reached out to me about paying for these items – specifically, he asked me not to pay for them immediately as his Paypal account had been compromised, and he was going through a whirlwind of trouble trying to get it sorted out, between communicating with eBay, Paypal, and his buyers. I told him no worries, and that I wasn’t in a rush. Somewhere in there, we figured out the two of us were both in Houston, so I asked if he wanted to just arrange a local pickup in order to take some of the hassle out of it.
Well, it turns out that the seller has an booth at the local antique mall, about 15 minutes from my office – and about 5 minutes from the PO Box I have to go check a couple times a week. Knowing full well that I could squeeze such a trip in on a lunch break, we arranged a meetup, and I held out hope that I might find something else at his booth.
During some chatting about the Paypal ordeal, and collecting, and the Astros, I perused his case and spotted a couple stacks of signed cards. Seeing an opportunity to knock off some tougher Astro-graphs, I asked to rifle through them, and found this Donne Wall. He’s not very responsive TTM, so this was a good find.
During the transaction, my eyes spied something else of intrigue on the same shelf: a 100-card plastic case that appeared to be almost full, showcasing some small vintage cards featuring Japanese on their face.
The price tag read just $15, so I thought perhaps that was the price per card. I asked Tom to see them, and then asked if that was the price for the entire contents of the case. When he said yes, I immediately added them to the pile. Having absolutely no idea what I was holding, I still knew it would be worth at least as much fun as the price tag even if it was a stack of reprinted duds, though they certainly felt original.
Tom even knocked another five bucks off the price. Clearly no one had shown interest in these before, and he didn’t seem too interested in hanging on to them.
Full of excitement about my find, I immediately posted my good fortune on Twitter – hoping that someone might also point me in the right direction that I might learn some more about them. I tossed up a quick picture of the card backs on the thread as well.
*I’m using the spelling Marukami as that is what Gary Engel’s checklists use, although it appears that Murakami may be correct here, as it is more plentiful online.
Stanka, it turns out, had quite a career in Japan. He was a member of the ’59 White Sox, but didn’t appear in the World Series that year. In ’64, however, he pitched very well for the Nankai Hawks, leading them to a 7-game victory over the Hanshin Tigers to claim the Japan Series title. He threw shutouts in games 1, 6, and 7 of the series and was awarded the Series MVP award. What’s more, games 6 & 7 were not only back-to-back starts, but on consecutive days. So he threw two shutouts in less than 48 hours! This is his ’64 Marukami on the right here.
Which quickly led to me finding another Oh in the middle of the stack, and yet another toward the bottom. I’d recognized the one on the left (a second card of Oh from the ’63 Marukami set) as familiar from a quick Google search of Oh cards, doing a double take when I flipped over the card and noticed the number 1 and matching kanji. The third one comes from the ’64 Marukami set. I was floored. This purchase had easily become the coolest thing I added to my collection all year – and I had already picked up some cool stuff (which you’ll see in the next couple weeks)!
I’m planning to go into more detail about these cards and players in future posts, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dying to show you the rest of these cards right now. They’re just SO COOL. I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for more of these. So, without further ado, here are some snaps of the menko as grouped by team.
This shot features the Hankyu Braves (top row) and Tokyo Orions (bottom row).
And finally, your 1964 Pacific League and Japan Series champions, the Nankai Hawks.
All told, I’d picked up 84 menko cards: 40 of them comprising a complete set of 1964 Marukami, another 30 of the 1963 Marukami, and 14 cards from the 1963 Marusho flag backs. Dave clued me in as to how the cards probably made it stateside in an email:
[A]ll three of these sets were imported by Bud Ackerman in the sixties – Ackerman was in the Air Force and stationed in Japan and he had set up a mail order business selling a bunch of the menko sets. I know for the Marusho set he’d actually stamped numbers on the back of each card. So I’m curious if all your Marusho cards have the stamped numbers. You were wondering how these cards got to Houston – someone probably bought them from Ackerman in the 60’s.
My Marusho menko do indeed have the stamped numbers on the backs, and they correspond to Engel’s checklist. Neat!
Learning about all of this stuff is fascinating, and I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for more cool old stuff like this. I dubbed this post “the find that broke my collection” in part because I’ve been feeling some hobby burnout lately. All of the same old sets and their endless parallels and inserts run amok have me feeling a bit down. I’m still planning on adding any new Astros that come my way, but I’m most certainly narrowing my collecting focus come 2019. Unlike the past couple years where I’ve slowed down but still sampled most of what’s come out, I doubt I’ll be picking up much in the way of new cards. After all, it’s the older stuff, the oddballs, the stuff completely out of left field that really gets me going.
What a hell of a find. What a day. Even five days later, I’m still in awe and pinching myself. I hope each one of you finds something cool that gets your heart doing backflips, whether that’s the hawt rookies or some neat old cardboard that you’ve stumbled across.