Tuesday, January 20, 2015

1976 Indianapolis Indians Baseball #5, Joe Henderson

After 100-plus years of MLB card sets from tobacco and candy companies, one forgets how few releases exist for teams that played in America's minor league zip codes. Prior to the 1970s, those cities rarely turned local interest into collectible cards, thanks to the prohibitive cost of small-scale photo printing.

Indianapolis represents a bright spot from this period, as creator of 1970s cards replete with high stirrups and sweet mustachios. I've covered three of their team sets prior to today's post.

For modern collectors, the downside of these 1970s sets remains small print runs. Even an established minor league franchise like the Indians would run out of reasons to print cards after ten thousand or so, just drips and drabs compared to the millions of Topps gum cards. I borrowed today's #5 scans from TradingCardBB's set gallery because I've yet to locate a type card of my own in the public market.

I love the back of this Joe (nickname: "Fred") Henderson because of the story it tells. He briefly gave up pitching in 1967 and baseball itself in 1969. Born on the 4th of July, Joe still put in time as a Mexican Leaguer with Union Laguna in 1971. He was 1975 MVP for Indy, despite being a reliever, paralleling the era's emergence of star firemen like Rollie Fingers and Bruce Sutter.

While not reflected on this card, "Fred" also played parts of three big-league seasons, even winning a pair of mid-season games for the 1976 champion Cincinnati Reds. Joe's nephew Dave Henderson made some World Series noise himself in 1986, figuring in the game Peter Gammons called his top World Series moment.

The 1976 Indianapolis set comprises 26 cards: 22 players, 3 team staff, and a checklist.
  1. Jim Snyder (Manager)
  2. Larry Payne
  3. Ray Knight
  4. Arturo Defreites
  5. Joe Henderson
  6. Tom Spencer
  7. Dave Revering
  8. Jeff Sovern
  9. Tom Hume
  10. Rudy Meoli
  11. Sonny Ruberto (Coach)
  12. Tom Carroll
  13. Junior Kennedy
  14. Lorin Grow
  15. Dave Schneck
  16. Manny Sarmiento
  17. Don Werner
  18. Mike Thompson
  19. Keith Marshall
  20. Rich Hinton
  21. John Knox
  22. Carlos Alfonso
  23. Tony Franklin
  24. Mac Scarce
  25. Ron McClain (Trainer)
  26. Checklist (unnumbered)

I've bolded all players with MLB experience. As the Reds AAA affiliate in those days, most players got at least a September call-up during their careers.

Value: Ray Knight's the best-known Indianapolis emeritus from 1976, but several of its players appeared for the Big Red Machine, pushing collector demand above your average 1970s team set. I'd expect $25-35 as the set cost and most singles would be a few dollars.

Fakes / reprints: Haven't seen any in the marketplace.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

1967 Kabaya-Leaf Japanese Pro Baseball #5, Minoru Nakamura

I don't often get to write about pros who never played the American game, so Minoru Nakamura's arrival was my first big hit for 2015. After 15 years of working on this type collection, it's no surprise I'm down to the rarest of the rare for both domestic and foreign sets.

1967 Kabaya-Leaf #5 (design from 1959 Topps)

1967 is a watershed of sorts for Japanese collectors, as this marked their first comprehensive "American-style" card set. Prior to Kabaya-Leaf's effort, Japanese companies highlighted specific teams or star players in more traditional designs, like the rounded Menko game chip.

1948 Flower Edge Menko

If you Google for "Kabaya-Leaf," this single 1967 baseball set is their company's legacy, as collectors and auction houses post about its famous and obscure players. Their set, in turn, tapped into American tastes by mixing the Topps designs from 1959 (like my #5) and 1963 (below).

1967 Kabaya Leaf #11 Sadaharu Oh (design from 1963 Topps)

According to Japanese specialist Rob Fitts, American collectors have more access to Kabaya-Leaf cards because stateside importer Mel Bailey purchased a significant amount of the Japanese print run and resold them via collector newsletters in the 1970s. This also explains the higher grades found in what exists in the hobby, as collectors would be less likely to handle and mangle them than kids at a candy counter.

The first stat column isn't age, as Minoru was in his late 20s in 1967. It reflects Japan's traditional, Imperial dating system and 1966 marked year 41 of Showa, under the long-lived Emperor Hirohito.

The second stat column, mostly as quote marks, tracks Nakamura's one-team career with the Yomiuri Giants. He pitched there for 13 years (career stats) and for five straight title-winners (1965-69), a nice entry on any pitcher's resume.

It's possible Kabaya-Leaf prepped a larger set for the entire league, but printed just the most successful teams for financial reasons. Their complete 1967 checklist includes players from six of the 12 Japanese pro teams and skips whole swaths of numbers, with just 105 total cards despite numbering to #410. Several players catalog as "short prints," probably because the American importer couldn't obtain those cards in the same quantity.

For a wealth of individual 1967 card scans, check out PSA collector Mark927's near-set. For a further wealth of classic Japanese card designs, see Sayonara Home Run! by John Gall and Gary Engel. Amazon sellers ask $180+ for a physical book, so I flipped through Amazon's "Look inside" preview and checked my local library system. (The Boston-area system has a single copy.)

Value: I bought this EX #5 for $30 on eBay. A top-tier set auctioned for $17K in 2010, so you'll have to compete with deep pockets if you go after high-grade cards.

Fakes / reprints: It'd be pretty easy to fake this cheaply made set, but advanced collectors might see right through them, so I doubt many exist. If you're purchasing Japanese HOFers, stick to dealers who know foreign sets well.