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Japanese Fans Have Something New to Trade: Baseball Cards

April 21, 1991|From Associated Press

TOKYO — Japanese baseball fans have something new to trade.

First there was salary arbitration. Then demands for free agency. And now, more than 100 years after the Japanese first played the game, stadium vendors are preparing to sell Japan's first official baseball cards.

Featured on the cards are the color photos of 120 players, including such household words as slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, three-time triple crown winner Hiromitsu Ochiai and last year's rookie of the year, pitcher Hideo Nomo, better known as "Doctor K" for his many strikeouts.

Like their American counterparts, the cards will carry the players' vital statistics, and even have space for autographs.

The Japanese cards, however, will not be biodegradable.

"We did a survey and found that Japanese children would prefer plastic to paper, maybe because they are so accustomed to high-tech," said a spokeswoman for Nomura Trading, which is marketing the cards.

Bringing baseball cards to Japan is the idea of Don Nomura, a former second-stringer for Japan's Yakult Swallows. Nomura now divides his time between business interests here and the Class A team he owns in Salinas, Calif.

After eight months of negotiations with Japan's 12 pro teams, Nomura received approval to begin selling the cards on May 1, his spokeswoman said. About 4,000 cards will be sold at a game Friday to test the market.

Baseball is the most popular professional sport in Japan. Along with sumo wrestling, it is often called Japan's national pastime. The first pro team was founded in 1934. Horace Wilson, an American teacher, is generally credited with organizing Japan's first baseball game in 1873.

So why did it take so long for Japanese to get baseball cards?

"The system," said the spokeswoman, who is Nomura's personal secretary in Tokyo. "We had to go through separate negotiations with each team, and then with the commissioner's office. It took a long time."

The cards will be sold in sets of two, with one player each from the Central and Pacific leagues, Japan's two top divisions. Each set costs 500 yen ($3.68).

Nomura's spokeswoman, who requested that her name not be used, said the cards are not intended to become high-priced collector's items as they have in the United States.

"We are really aiming our business at the kids," she said.

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