History of Japanese Baseball Cards
Japanese Baseball cards 1973-90
1977 Calbee Hank Aaron & Sadaharu Oh
In 1974, the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants reign came to an end. Prior to 1974, the Giants had won 19 of the 24 Central League pennants. Since 1974, the league has become more competitive and the Giants have only captured 10 pennants in 28 years. The highlight of the 1970s was Sadaharu Oh hitting his 756 homerun in September 1977. He retired in 1980. New stars emerged in the 1970s and 1980s. The Hiroshima Carp’s Sachio Kinugasa broke Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played, while teammate Koji Yamamoto led the team to five championships. Yutaka Fukumoto of the Hankyu Braves broke Lou Brock’s world record for most stolen bases. Japan’s greatest player of the 1980s, Hiromistu Ochiai, picked up three triple crowns but also managed to alienate most of the baseball world through his outspoken predictions.
Baseball cards proliferated during this period. Numerous companies produced sets ranging from 8 to 1,436 cards. Menko were still produced in small quantities. Many menko from the 1970s were produced on heavy stock and are thus known as “thick menko.” None, however, dominated the market like Calbee Potato Chip cards. In 1973, Calbee produced its first modern baseball card set of 91 cards. A single card was included in each package of Calbee snack food - Calbee collectors needed to eat (or throw out) a lot of potato chips! Since 1973, Calbee has produced at least one baseball set each year. The number of cards in each set varies greatly from the mammoth 1, 436 card 1975/76 set to the small 1993 set of 144 cards. Calbee cards come in four sizes. From 1973 to 1980, the cards were slightly smaller than standard American cards. During the 1980 series, they reduced the card size to roughly the same as the 1950 Bowman cards. This size was kept until 1990, when the company once again changed the size in mid-series, this time to the size of telephone cards. In 1998, the cards were increased to the size of modern American cards.
Calbee cards are the most widely collected cards in Japan. Putting together the pre-1989 sets is extremely difficult. Not only were the cards only available with the chips, they were issued in series. Much like Topps high numbers, some series were produced in short quantity. Calbee also produced insert cards and redemption cards during some years. These cards are highly sought after. Only a handful of collectors have put together all the Calbee sets.