Tuesday, March 15, 2016

1979 TCMA Japanese Pro Baseball Set

I've had my eye on the 1979 TCMA Japanese Pro Baseball set for years, waiting for a deal too good to pass up to come my way. I'm happy to report that the deal has finally gone down, with the set arriving in the mail earlier this week. 

And let me tell you, after looking at these cards for a couple of days now, I realize just how awesome of an addition this set will be to any collection.

Collectors of minor league and "All-Time Greats" sets are probably familiar with TCMA, which produced these kinds of small sets from 1972 through 1990. The TCMA acronym stands for company founders Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein (in this classic blog post, Night Owl takes a few random stabs at the acronym; Tooling Component Manufacturing Association and Tennessee Country Music Alliance are my favorites). With no chance of releasing cards that featured current Major Leaguers, Tom and Mike had no choice but to be creative with their topics, even releasing a small set of umpires in 1976 and at least one semi-pro baseball set in 1974. 

Getting back to the '79 Japanese Pro Baseball set, this issue was yet another creative way for TCMA to put cards on the market. The set was groundbreaking in the sense that this was the first exposure that most North American collectors had to Japanese baseball; one must remember that back in 1979 the oceans were still deep and wide in those simpler, pre-internet times. Dealers began advertising the set in Sports Collectors Digest in mid to late 1979, with an asking price in the $6 range.

Complete at 90 cards, the set features players and managers from Japan's Central and Pacific Leagues. These standard-sized cards feature large color photos on the fronts, with the subject's position and name found in a light blue half-oval along the bottom. Card backs are printed in red and black, and feature 1978 season and career stat lines. All cards are numbered.

One doesn't need to know much about Japanese baseball to recognize two prominent names found in the set: Sadaharu Oh and Masanori Murakami.  Oh, who is represented before his retirement after the 1980 season, ended his 22 year playing career with 868 home runs, nine Central League MVP Awards and eighteen All-Star appearances. Murakami is known for being the first Japanese-born player in Major League Baseball, seeing action for the San Francisco Giants in 1964 and 1965 (he was immortalized in the collecting hobby thanks to his inclusion in the 1965 Topps baseball set on card number 282). 

A little research on the information superhighway will reveal tons of other Japanese stars within the set who had Hall of Fame careers. Carp third baseman Sachio Kinugasa, Lions catcher Katsuya Nomura and legendary Giants third baseman/manager Shigeo Nagashima are among the best ever to play pro ball in Japan. Hall of Fame Buffaloes pitcher Keishi Suzuki was coming off a career year in 1978 with a 25-10 record, eight shutouts and a 2.02 ERA.

Back when this set was released, only two foreign-born players were allowed to be a part of each organization (the number was upped to three in 1981). These "gaijin" players usually were, and continue to be, players with Major League/Minor League experience. While none of the foreigners in the '79 set are considered hobby superstars, card collectors may be familiar with several names that have appeared in other baseball issues.

Outfielder Leron Lee was an average Major League player from 1969 through 1976, but was an absolute offensive terror in Japan; Over the course of eleven season with the Orions, Lee smacked 283 home runs and maintained a .320 batting average. Outfielder and future Major League manager Charlie Manuel had a career year with the Buffaloes in 1979, winning the Pacific League MVP Award in the process. Outfielder Bobby Jones spent just two years in Japan, with the Chunichi Dragons, before heading to the Texas Rangers organization in 1981. When his playing days ended, Jones would go on to spend 24 seasons as a manager in the Rangers farm system; in November of 2013, he was named a coach for the Texas Rangers. Other former major leaguers with Topps baseball cards include Wayne Garrett, Tony Muser, Leroy Stanton, Bernie Williams (1970s), Vernon Law, Jim Lyttle, Don Blasingame, Dave Hilton, Adrian Garrett, Carlos May, Felix Millan and John Scott (who shares his '77 rookie card with Andre Dawson).

TCMA cards from the 1970s tended to be cut off-centered, just like Topps cards of the day. These Japanese Pro BB cards were printed on soft white cardstock, which gives great color and contrast to the graphics, but they are prone to soft corners and the backs can tone a bit over time if stored improperly. You'll definitely want to eyeball the Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima cards before purchasing, as these are the two key cards in the set. 

The current value for a NRMT set is in the $40 to $70 range. These cards weren't a particularly hot commodity when first released, and are probably appreciated more today than ever before. 

Random Facts: Brothers Leron and Leon Lee played together for the  Lotte Orions from 1978 through 1982. Leon is the father of retired Major Leaguer Derrek Lee, who was a two-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner.
1. Sadaharu Oh, Giants
2. Jinten Haku, Orions
3. Toshizo Sakamoto, Hawks
4. Tony Muser, Lions
5. Makoto Matsubara, Whales
6. Masayuki Nakatsuka, Whales
7. Daisuke Yamashita, Whales
8. Koji Yamamoto, Carp
9. Sachio Kinugasa, Carp
10. Bernie Williams, Braves
11. Bobby Marcano, Braves
12. Koichi Tabuchi, Lions
13. Katsuya Nomura, Lions
14. Jack Maloof, Lions
15. Masahiro Doi, Lions
16. Hiroyuki Yamazaki, Lions
17. Vernon Law, Lions
18. Dave Hilton, Swallows
19. Katsuo Osugi, Swallows
20. Tsutomu Wakamatsu, Swallows
21. John Scott, Swallows
22. Toru Sugiura, Swallows
23. Akihiko Kondo, Swallows
24. Shintaro Mizutani, Swallows
25. Tatsuro Hirooka, Swallows
26. Kojiro Ikegaya, Carp
27. Yutaka Enatsu, Carp
28. Tomehiro Kaneda, Carp
29. Yoshihiko Takahashi, Carp
30. Jitsuo Mizutani, Carp
31. Adrian Garrett, Carp
32. Jim Lyttle, Carp
33. Takeshi Koba, Carp
34. Sam Ewing, Fighters
35. Kazumi Takahashi, Fighters
36. Kazushi Saeki, Fighters
37. Masanori Murakami, Fighters
38. Toshio Kato, Fighters
39. Junichi Kashiwabara, Fighters
40. Masaru Tomita, Fighters
41. Bobby Mitchell, Fighters
42. Mikio Sendoh, Fighters
43. Chris Arnold, Buffaloes
44. Charlie Manuel, Bufflaoes
45. Keishi Suzuki, Buffaloes
46. Toru Ogawa, Buffaloes
47. Shigeru Ishiwata, Buffaloes
48. Kyosuke Sasaki, Buffaloes
49. Iwao Ikebe, Buffaloes
50. Kaoru Betto, Whales
51. Gene Martin, Whales
52. Felix Millan, Whales
53. Mitsuo Motoi, Whales
54. Tomio Tashiro, Whales
55. Shigeo Nagashima, Giants
56. Yoshikazu Takagi, Whales
57. Keiichi Nagasaki, Whales
58. Rick Krueger, Giants
59. John Sipin, Giants
60. Isao Shibata, Giants
61. Isao Harimoto, Giants
62. Shigeru Takada, Giants
63. Michiyo Arito, Giants
64. Hisao Niura, Giants
65. Teruhide Sakurai, Hawks
66. Yoshito Oda, Hawks
67. Leron Lee, Orions
68. Carlos May, Hawks
69. Frank Ortenzio, Hawks
70. Leon Lee, Orions
71. Mitsuru Fujiwara, Hawks
72. Senichi Hoshino, Dragons
73. Tatsuhiko Kimata, Dragons
74. Morimichi Takagi, Dragons
75. Yasunori Oshima, Dragons
76. Yasushi Tao, Dragons
77. Wayne Garrett, Dragons
78. Bob Jones, Dragons
79. Toshio Naka, Dragons
80. Don Blasingame, Tigers
81. Mike Reinbach, Tigers
82. Masashi Takenouchi, Tigers
83. Masayuki Kakefu, Tigers
84. Katsuhiro Nakamura, Tigers
85. Shigeru Kobayashi, Tigers
86. Lee Stanton, Tigers
87. Takenori Emoto, Tigers
88. Sohachi Aniya, Tigers
89. Wally Yonamine, Giants
90. Kazuhiro Yamauchi, Orions


  1. Awesome set. A few years ago I targeted these on eBay... but they were just too pricey. One of these days I'll go back and add this back to my search list.

    1. I was fortunate to snag my set for just under $25 delivered. I'm really glad to finally add them to the archives!

    2. Wow. Congratulations. That's an awesome price. I'd be all over that.

  2. I wish some American company would revive this concept. I would love to see a set, in English, based around the prominent players from Korea, Japan and Taiwan, that is NOT just another lazy World Baseball Classic set.

    1. Very true... Upper Deck is trying to be creative with their releases today, similar to TCMA a good 40 years ago... Makes me wonder why Upper Deck has not issued a set like this (I'm sure the licensing fees would be pretty reasonable).

  3. Interesting to see that in 1979, Donn Jennings was doing the mail-order operation out of his house. Just a few years after that, he would open what be the largest sports card store in Alabama for years. He even ended up as part owner of the Huntsville Stars and produced most of their early team sets. Sadly these store is long since closed (I think some time in the early 2000s), and I never found out how he liquidated his inventory.

    1. I was wondering if anyone would know Donn Jennings. He helped release a couple of pretty cool minor league sets in the mid-1980s, like you said, and I'd love to know how many cards are in his basement!