Japanese Baseball Cards—Fun with Menko!

Japanese Menko Card, 1949 JRM, Makoto Kozuru

Japanese Menko Card, 1949 JRM, Makoto Kozuru

I don’t know much about Japanese baseball. I don’t know much about Japanese baseball cards. I *really* don’t know much Japanese.

Apparently, Japanese baseball is relatively similar to American baseball. Of course there are some differences, especially cultural ones where crowds and players are concerned. But they share all of the basics: bats & balls, pitchers, bases on a field, etc. By most accounts, baseball was introduced to Japan in the 1870s, roughly twenty to twenty-five years after Americans started to professionally organize the game. . . .

Old Japanese Baseball Card of Catcher

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Really, though, that’s about all I know—or all I can recall—about that. Other folks like Dr. Fitts or Robert Whiting (coincidentally both named Robert) know quite a bit more about Japanese baseball.

Japanese Menko Card, Tetsuharu Kawakami

Japanese Menko Card, Tetsuharu Kawakami

Old Japanese Baseball Card of Hitter

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

When it comes to Japanese baseball cards, my knowledge is equally limited. Some Japanese baseball cards were made for a popular game called menko. (While menko cards do not account for all Japanese baseball cards, they do appear to be the earliest.) In this game, players throw their cards down upon a flat playing surface in an attempt to flip the other cards belonging to opponents. Yeah, it’s like pogs. Unlike baseball, though, Japan’s menko came well before the American pogs of the 1990s.

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Masayasu Kaneda

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Masayasu Kaneda

Again, there are others with plenty of more expertise in this realm. For example: Dr. Fitts (once more), who runs an additional site just for blogging about Japanese baseball cards; Gary Engel, co-author of Sayonara Home Run!: The Art of the Japanese Baseball Card; and, of course, the Japanese Baseball Cards blog.

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Hideo Fujimoto

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Hideo Fujimoto

As for Japanese, the language—well, I got nothin’. But I found these Japanese baseball cards that sure do look pretty cool.

Old Japanese Baseball Card of Pitcher 4

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Old Japanese Baseball Card of Pitcher 2

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Old Japanese Baseball Card of Pitcher 2, back

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Oh, there’s more alright. . . .

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Tokuji Iida

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Tokuji Iida

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Tokuji Iida (back)

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Tokuji Iida (back)

Japanese Menko Card, 1960 Takagi

Japanese Menko Card, 1960 Takagi

Japanese Menko Card, 1948-1949, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948-1949, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948-1949, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948-1949, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948-1949, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948-1949, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1947 JCM, Ted Williams back, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1947 JCM, Ted Williams back, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1947 JCM, Ted Williams back (back), player name

Japanese Menko Card, 1947 JCM, Ted Williams back (back), player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, player name?

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Hideo Fujimoto

Japanese Menko Card, 1948 Hideo Fujimoto

Japanese Menko Card, circa 1960s Sadaharu Oh

Japanese Menko Card, circa 1960s Sadaharu Oh

Japanese Menko Card, circa 1960s Sadaharu Oh (back)

Japanese Menko Card, circa 1960s Sadaharu Oh (back)

And last but not least. . . .

Japanese Menko Card, 1950 Babe Ruth

Japanese Menko Card, 1950 Babe Ruth

Poor Japanese Catcher, Anonymous—from the Handbuch des Sports Album, Part II

I know next to nothing about baseball in Japan. Here’s what I do know: baseball is big in Japan, very big; folks have been playing baseball in Japan for roughly one hundred and forty years; and, as in the Americas, baseball cards appear to be popular collectables, with menko being just one of several types of vintage Japanese baseball cards.

That’s not all. Today’s MLB teams are filling their ranks with both veteran stalwarts and younger talents who hail from Japan. Of course many fans may be familiar with current Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, who previously played ball in what’s known as Japan’s Pacific League. (Although far from peak form, Suzuki’s BA, OBP, and OPS figures are slightly up from last season.) Nori Aoki plays for this year’s surprising (re. winning record) Kansas City Royals; he’s Japanese as well. Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is also from Japan–and with his 2.47 ERA, he remains a promising feature member of New York’s starting rotation (despite some elbow issues). This is just to name a few. Here are some more.

It may further surprise you to know that Tom Selleck was quite the ballplayer and made a name for himself in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons.

(Note: most of this information I’ve gleaned from the million-legged Wikipede and something called Mr. Baseball, which I caught on TV late one night.)

Finally, there’s this guy. . . .

1933 Sanella, Japanese Catcher

It’s a 1933 Sanella–so a German card of a Japanese baseball player. Apparently, he was a catcher. Again, though, that’s all I know. His name is nowhere to be found on either his card or the trading card album in which his card appears. However, he must have been pretty good, as he’s only one of two ballplayers featured in the entire Handbuch des Sports.