On May 2, 1993, an 18-year-old phenom hit his first major league home run for the Yomiuri (Tokyo) Giants against Shingo Takatsu of the Yakult (Tokyo) Swallows. This was his first of 507 hit in two continents across three decades.
Hideki Matsui was that prospect that lived up to the hype. From his teenage years in amateur ball, he was touted as a future legend. Today, he is one of the best-known people in Japan and even has a museum honoring his accomplishments.
Hideki Matsui struggled early in his rookie season and was demoted to the minor leagues. His second home run was on August 22 upon his return. He didn’t miss another of his team’s games until May 2006 with the New York Yankees.
Each of his 507 home runs is commemorated in a special card set produced for NTV (Nippon TV) by Toho and then continued by Upper Deck and Topps. As a Yankees collector who wants to have everything, this set piqued my interest, for the 140 cards, one for each Yankees home run from 2003-2009. Angels, A’s, and Rays homers are represented also, along with one for each of his 332 home runs with the Yomiuri Giants.
Cards for his 1st, 200th, and 214th home runs
What I like most about these is that each has a unique picture- featuring the actual home run. What a contrast with the Topps Alex Rodriguez Road to 500 or the Barry Bonds 756 set! For milestone home runs the card was even more special. On the back Matsui tells the story of the home run, along with the date, the opposing team and pitcher.
The cards were sold by subscription starting in 1993. Subscribers were notified when a group of 5-10 or more were ready, usually two or three times per year. The cards sold for about 50c-$1 per card. There were also several albums offered for $10-15 each that held anywhere from one year to several years. Albums can be found for certain years, or by team. An album was even released for the Rays, where Matsui hit just two home runs!
The cards and albums were sold by NTV throughout the run, but because of licensing the manufacturers changed. Toho produced the cards from 1993-2002 coving his years in Japan. There were 332 cards representing each of his home runs in Japan. Upper Deck continued the collection through much of 2009, when Topps took over until Hideki’s retirement in 2012 after a stint with the Rays.
Matsui in America
But there’s more! There were additional Matsui cards offered to subscribers around special events. There were editions to honor postseason home runs. There were at least five folios with cards during his Yankees career. One in 2004 covers Hideki’s return to Japan with the Yankees for opening day. Also, there is a two-card collection for Matsui’s 55th (he wore number 55) home run in the USA, and another 17-card folio with a card for every Matsui hit in the 2009 World Series. A single bonus card welcomes back Matsui from the disabled list in 2006.
A few of the special event series
I purchased the main set and have enjoyed going through these albums reliving his career. They really bring out the passion that Japanese people have for baseball, and one of their greatest heroes, Hideki Matsui.
Special thanks to Jason Presley, an expert on Asian baseball cards.
4 thoughts on “Matsui Home Run Cards- A Japanese Tribute to a baseball Hero”
Definitely more interesting than the Bonds and A-Rod sets.
My favorite Matsui moment was a fielding play, not a homerun. I couldn’t tell you which game it was though I know it was against the Red Sox in Fenway. It was probably a game early in his U.S. career, likely 2003 or 2004.
He’s playing left field, which was not unusual, and a fly ball to left was headed for the Green Monster. I could tell from watching on TV that the ball was going to hit the Monster but I see Matsui camped out like he’s going to catch the ball short of the wall. All I’m thinking is “what is this guy thinking?” He then makes a quick transition to play the ball perfectly off a carom off the Monster, holding the baserunner (I think it was one runner) on base in check. Fantastic play.
Great memory! I never really hear (or see) anything about Matsui in the field, as his whole persona seemed to be wrapped around his power at the plate. I have one more Matsui card, I’m not sure if it was issued as part of the Home Run set, but it is an electronic card with what I assume is him talking about one of his home runs. I’ll make a video of it and throw it up on my YouTube channel if the card still works.
This set made me lose so much respect for Upper Deck for their lame sets with the same photos over and over, when you know two or three photos exist for every home run that has been hit in the last 30 years.
Great point Jason and thanks again. I have seen the “talking” card but the seller wanted more than I wanted to pay. For what its worth I’ve found 4 additional folios of Matsui just on the Yankees with special home run cards. There’s also a few with Yomiuri, though I have less interest because I just collect Yankees.
When I look at cards from the 90’s and 00’s it just underscores the trash designs and pictures that Topps has sold us since the monopoly. And Fanatics will likely continue.
I’ve found Japanese players are exceptionally well drilled on fundamentals and their heads are always in the game.