The first panel I saw at SABR47 was a fine interview of Jean Afterman by recent JT Spink Award winner (and former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter) Claire Smith. I was a bit worn out from a combination of travel and enjoying a night out in the big apple when Afterman recalled that she was working as a lawyer when she had the opportunity to work on a copyright dispute over Japanese Baseball Cards.
Baseball Cards!! I was jolted awake.
The case led Afterman to become acquainted with the card creator Don Nomura. The litigation led her to Japan where Afterman went to local ball games and found the competitive level of the players to be comparable with American baseball. The ensuing realization was that Japanese players were restricted from participation in MLB because of an agreement made following Masanori Murakami’s stint with the San Francisco Giants (1964-65). The Murakami case was the subject of a very interesting panel at SABR 45 in Chicago. The audio from that panel can be found here while my fan highlights from that day can be found at my web site.
Jean Afterman and Don Nomura did their homework and eventually found a way to get Hideo Nomo a Major League Baseball contract, with the Dodgers. This was followed by Alfonso Soriano (a Cuban that came to the US via Japan), Hideki Irabu and several other Japanese players. Eventually this led Afterman to a position in the Yankees front office.
One could therefore argue that a dispute over baseball cards in the early 1990s eventually led to Japanese players getting a chance to play baseball in the United States. Here we find ourselves a quarter century later and Ichiro Suzuki has become the MLB all-time hit king among all foreign born players.
1991 Q Cards
1991 Q Card All-Star Hideo Nomo (RC)
Ok back to the baseball cards. Naturally I wanted to find out what baseball card set began this chain of events.
An LA Times article dated April 21, 1991 discusses Don Nomura and Nomura Trading Cards. The article also contains some key info about the cards. Most notably the cards were made of plastic rather than cardboard – more of a credit card material. Perhaps due to the upgraded material a pack contained only two cards. The packs sold for 500 yen in 1991 which was estimated to be $3.68 US at the time.
I was unable to find anything online about Nomura trading cards but the info from the LA Times made it easy to find these cards on the fun and informative Japanese Baseball Cards blog.
The above Hideo Nomo card is an All-Star card from a 62 card supplemental set of the original 120 card series. The design appears largely similar to the base with an all-star logo in the middle center rather than a team logo.
1991 Q Card Takeshi Nakamura with 1991 Q Card Wrapper
Above we have one of the base cards with the original wrapper. As pointed out by Japanese Baseball Cards there is a window in the wrapper that allows the buyer to know the team of one of the two cards in the pack.
Sources and Links
Japanese Baseball Cards / NPB Card Guy