If you want to read about sports cards, you may think you are limited to blogs, Beckett, or another book about that Honus Wagner card. Well you are wrong. How does that feel? Not good? Good. I’m here to expose you the limitless…well, acutally limited…world of sports card related books. This is my first in an occasional series called The Book Report. Book #1, and one of my personal favorites, is “Sayonara Home Run!” by John Gall and Gary Engel.
Japanese baseball has a cult following in the United States. I can’t say that I’m a part of that cult, but I am fascinated by the differences in the game and I like a lot the team names over in that part of the world. Japanese baseball cards apparently have a cult following of two, John Gall and Gary Engel. This book is the encyclopedia of their knowledge. It’s entertaining and it, like, half-coverted me. I’m not willing to live in the compound or anything but I get why they’re doing what they’re doing. They cover all the early periods of Japanese cardboard and give incredible detail about the methods used to create the cards and the players featured on them. I learned as much about Japanese baseball history as I did about the cards, and I don’t shake a stick at knowledge.
They also provide a fantastic collection of images. The early Japanese cards were very comic-like. The art was highly stylized and it really draws you in with the vivid colors. The printing techniques were different and traditionally Japanese. These are miles apart from American cards of any era. The book also details WWII era die-cut cards and masks, which are the types gimmicks that we didn’t see in the States until the 90’s. Unfortunately by the the late 50’s the American style cards made their way East, with sets very similar to the late 50’s Topps issues. I for one think it is a shame that the cards lost their personality.
As I mentioned the book also serves as a nice primer to Japanese baseball and some if it’s all-time greats like Sadaharu Oh and Eiji Sawamura. While Oh is practically a household name even in America, guys like Sawamura are fairly unrecognizable to an American audience even though he was a baseball hero in the 30’s in Japan. As an aside, Sawamura, as a 17 year old, struck out Babe Ruth in an exhibition game, along with Jimmie Foxx and Lou Gehrig. This is an impressive feat, no doubt. But why do I feel like I’ve heard that story before…oh, it’s because I have. You may remember Jackie Mitchell, the first professional female baseball player, who also struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Again, an impressive feat. But why do you make such a big deal out of this story, why couldn’t a woman, or a Japanese man, with a decent arm be able to strike out Ruth or Gehrig? Ruth struck out almost twice as many times as he hit a home run, odds are that if you’re a somewhat competent pitcher you have a better chance of striking out Ruth than giving up the long ball. I’m not trying to take anything away from these groundbreaking ball players, I’m just saying.
The book also contains a list of Japanese baseball nicknames. The standouts: Human Locomotive (sweet), Emperor (whoa there buddy…it’s gone to your head), The God of Batting (that’s awfully…direct), Bozo (does that mean something different in Japan?), Big Demon (fuck yeah), and, my favorite, The Heavy Drinking Pitcher. Does the Heavy Drinking Pitcher mean that he was a drunkard or was a solidly built vessel for holding liquids. It’s a bit unclear, but either way it’s the best.
I could go on recapping the details of the book, but I’m risking turning into a “Reading Rainbow” kid. (BTW, you should read this book because it is a good book and it is fun to read and the book is really cool and the main character is awesome and the end is happy. I always wanted to do a book report on Reading Rainbow, so I needed to get that out of my system). The take away I’m going for here is that this book is worth a look and so are old Japanese baseball cards. As someone who gets bored by the constant recycling of card gimmicks and designs, I loved seeing something so different. If I could get my hands on them, I would be a collector of Japanese vintage cardboard if for not other reason than to add a little color and diversity to my collection.
I do, in fact, recommend this book to all collectors. It’s worth it, the authors know their stuff and it can be had for cheap. Don’t delay, your knowledge on this subject is low and it’s not increasing by you not reading this book.