The Find That Broke My Collection.

I tried not to conduct a ton of eBay buying this year, but I did pick up some things here and there. I haven’t been posting them here, mainly due to my eternal struggle to catch up on all the trades that came in over the past year. However, I did find several things I wanted to highlight, so the next series of posts here will be covering my favorite online finds from 2018.
First, though, I need to tell you about an auction I won a couple weeks ago. This one would have made the list, except I’d already made said list. So, I figured I’d just push this post back into next year. But then something extraordinary happened, and putting this find off any further would be a severe disservice to the cards, and to you, dear readers.
Let’s talk about the auction, first: a lovely ten-spot of unused (!) tickets from the Astros 1999 season. Specifically, these are season tickets, which featured a lovely design denoting the final season in the ‘Dome, with each ticket showcasing an image or person from the franchise’s history. I actually have a couple of these stubs saved from games I attended, although we weren’t season ticket holders.
I’m going to keep these images small, because we have a lot to get to in the post that doesn’t pertain to these tickets. I know, this is all a big tease right now. You can click on the tickets to see the larger images, but what we have here features Rusty Staub, Fred Gladding, the old “Pitcher to the Showers” graphic from the scoreboard, the grounds crew vacuuming the Astroturf, and a frenzy of excited Astros that just clinched the NL West in 1980.

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.

The better find, though, was this pair of signed ’62 Topps cards peering out at me from the top of the case. They had price tags of $10 each on them, and seeing as how both of these fellows have passed away, I asked for them as well. Tom cut me a deal and gave me all three signed cards for $10. Gernert and Buddin were both original Colt .45’s, and neither was around by the time August rolled around. Gernert was an expansion draft selection picked up from the Reds, and was released on May 19, having hit just .208 in 10 games across 29 plate appearances. Buddin was picked up in a trade in November of ’61, and was sold to the Tigers on July 20 having hit a dismal .163 in 80 at-bats across 40 games. Their performances with Houston weren’t much to speak of, but it was really nice to pick up a pair of original members of the team.

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.

It wasn’t long before Nick V. chimed in to alert me that I’d found some early 60’s Japanese menko cards, pointing me to a pair of TCDB checklists and a post over at the indispensable Japanese Baseball Cards blog, run by Dave – aka NPB Card Guy.
When I got home from work, I began investigating further. It turned out that the cards I’d picked up dated to 1963 and 1964, from a trio of sets: 1963 and 1964 Marukami* “Bat on Right” and the 1963 Marusho “Flag Back.” Nick had pointed me to a specific post that explained the subtle difference in the Marukami backs, utilizing Jim Marshall’s respective cards from those sets, which immediately let me know that I had at least three cards of him in the stack. He’s the Chunichi Dragon pictured here, the three cards on the left in the bottom row. For the record, the two cards to the left are the Marukamis. Nick D. then chimed in and asked if there were any more foreign players in the stack, which prompted me to begin the hunt by pulling out all the white guys and identifying them. Other players shown here are Daryl Spencer, Joe Stanka, Johnny Logan, Kent Hadley, Jim Baumer, Tony Roig (x2), and Jack Bloomfield.

*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.

Of course, the big question was looming – who else was in the stack? There is, of course, the really big question that any of us would have been wondering – and Nick V. wished me well there. So, having identified all the gaijin in the stack, I began looking into at the Giants. A little googling found me a uniform number to look for, and then, well: BOOM.

Yes, indeed, I found an Oh. I googled him to double check the Japanese characters, and sure enough, it was him. I was shaking. This wasn’t real. Somehow, I’d wound up with a Sadaharu Oh card, for an absolute steal of a deal. Some quick math let me know that I’d paid just 12 cents for this beauty – or really, I’d paid 10 bucks and gotten over 80 more menko cards for free. If I wasn’t over the moon already, this had sealed it. This is why you meet the seller for local pickup! I thought to myself. I’d come soooooo close to just telling Tom, “hey, just go ahead and mail me those tickets.” Now I was extremely thankful that I hadn’t.
Here’s a nicer scan of the card. It’s truly a beauty to behold. To give a quick breakdown of the text, the top is the player’s surname – in this case 王 = Oh. The middle portion is the position. 内野手 = infielder. The portion in parentheses, 巨人, is the team name: Kyojin, or Giants.
Nick V. followed up and asked if I found any (Shigeo) Nagashima cards in the stack, alerting me that he also played for the Giants, wore number 3, and was the more beloved player by the Japanese because he was “true” Japanese, as opposed to Oh who is Japanese-born but of Chinese descent. By this time, I’d learned that the uniform number was the only Roman character on the back, making it easy to figure out. So having thumbed through the menko and stacking them by team, I quickly found that I’d come into the ’63 and ’64 Marukami of Nagashima as well.

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.

Here are all of the Yomiuri Giants.

This shot features the Hankyu Braves (top row) and Tokyo Orions (bottom row).

The Kintetsu Buffaloes. The bottom right card is a Marusho. Not only are these particularly gorgeous, but they are easy to spot as they feature the uniform number in the column of text.

Kokutetsu Swallows.
Taiyo Whales.
The aforementioned Chunichi Dragons, complete with three Jim Marshalls.
Hiroshima Carp!

The Toei Flyers. I really dig the third one on the top row.

Nishitetsu Lions.

Your 1964 Central League champions, the Hanshin Tigers. Check out that bat rack card on top!

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.

0 Replies to “The Find That Broke My Collection.”

  1. Nice deal on the autos… but then NPB cards! Holy Cow. Three cards of Sadaharu Oh is just nuts for 10 bucks!
    Hey, I finished a book on Oh over the summer. It's an interesting read on him and the NPB. I'd be happy to send it your way if you're interested. Just let me know.

  2. I know next to nothing about Japanese baseball, or it's history, but it's always nice to see somebody get excited about something old. It's always neat to see somebody stumble into a crazy good deal as well 🙂

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