28 May 2013

1994 Chiba Lotte Marines Menko (JCM 25)

     Back around 2008 or 2009, I decided to seriously pick up the slack in my Hensley Meulens collection, and I started exploring the world of baseball outside North America.  I learned that Meulens had played in Japan for a few years, and upon discovering Robert Fitts' website, learned that he also had several Japanese baseball cards.  I emailed Mr. Fitts and as I had exhausted his supply of different Meulens cards, he suggested I look into purchasing a copy of Gary Engel's Japanese Baseball Card Checklist and Price Guide, 6th edition, so that I could become more familiar with the hobby and get a better idea of what was out there.

      I ordered the 6th edition (about 2 months before the 7th edition was due to drop, but I didn't want to wait that long) and I found that Hensley Meulens had 9 cards from Japan over three years with the Marines and Swallows.  About 6 months after that, while more methodically browsing through the book, I ran across the 10th card of Hensley Meulens from Japan.  This one was right up my alley.  Not only was it a Japanese card, but it was Japanese ODDBALL card!  From my years of chasing cards for my Winfield and Williams collections, I loved finding oddballs.

     This Meulens, however, would be a completely different animal.  It was from most of a continent, plus an entire ocean, away.  I didn't actually know what it looked like, I just had a small black & white sample scan of another player, and the description from the book to work with.

     From the pages of Gary Engel's Japanese Baseball Card Checklist and Price Guide, 7th Edition comes this description of the set:
These full color modern menko contain photos of most Marines players.  A word such as "pitcher", "batter", or "catcher" is written in Japanese on the front of the card.  The back contains the player name, uniform number, player data, a paper/scissors/rock symbol and a seven digit number all printed in blue ink.  All information is written in Japanese.  These cards were sold in uncut sheets encased in plastic.  R3
   The 7th Edition added that last little bit; the 'R3'.  That was the scarcity factor.  R3 meant "between 10 and 99 copies known of most cards."  So now, not only was it scarce by any normal North American collector's standpoint, but it was even rare in Japan!  However, the hunt was on.  By mid-2012, I'd found a reference to the set here:


    Just to the left of the bird's right foot was the Meulens I was looking for.  On one hand, this set had long been sold on Yahoo! Auctions Japan, as this blog entry was from 2007.  Flash forward forward to December 2012, and I happened across a completed (argh!) listing on Yahoo! Auctions Japan.  But at least that let me know that there were still copies on the market.  And then, just a few months later, BOOM!   Well a few weeks ago, KuboTEN came through with this beautiful work of art for just under $30:

     Similar to menko of the 1950s, the player photos are airbrushed over to look more like paintings.
     While the Guide does list the dimensions of the individual cards (2" x 4 1/16"), that actual size didn't really sink in until I finally had the set in-hand.  Altogether the sheet measures some 12" x 16 1/4".  Given that it is much larger than the average scanner bed, and larger than a 11"x17" piece of copy paper, I had some difficulty getting an scan.  I tried getting a scan of this with my nifty new handheld Magic Wand scanner, but couldn't keep my hand steady enough over the wrinkled plastic bag.  I ended up taking the set to work and scanning it in pieces on the Canon imageRunner 2020, and then using Microsoft's great (FREE!) Image Composite Editor to tie the individual images together to form the large images seen above.

     The checklist, from top to bottom, left to right is below.

1st Row
7016010  80  Soroku Yagisawa
6610410  23  Mel Hall
5135501  14  Satoru Komiyama
6017016  18  Hideki Irabu
4160603  4   Susumu Aoyagi
6326106  89  Futoshi Nakanishi

2nd Row
4331076  34  Takayasu Kato
5673310  11  Yukinaga Maeda
4061035  7   Tokitaka Minamibuchi
6121701  24  Norihito Yamashita
6315107  27  Yasuyuki Kawamoto
5064103  44  Shigeru Shimada

3rd Row
5108636  8   Ken Hirano
6641032  31  Hensley Meulens
5011335  55  Iwao Omura
6321610  46  Mike Hartley
4103506  6   Kiyoshi Hatsushiba
5107633  49  Masaru Uno

4th Row
3651086  3   Norifumi Nishumura
4103066  1   Takeshi Aiko
5011335  45  Masahiko Jozume
6106326  5   Koichi Hori
7016321  28  Kazumi Sonokawa
6010701  57  Yukihiko Sato

Here, in all its glory, is the last of the Japanese cards of Hensley Meulens to complete my collection (for now).


(enlarged to enhance texture)


  1. Very cool. Looks just like the late 50's/early 60's menkos with the "menko numbers" and the rock-paper-scissors symbols.

    I've never seen Futoshi Nakanichi looking so svelte.

    Congratulations on a great find!

  2. That's a great final pickup! I'm glad you found it. Watch me find five of them in one place now (doubtful, but Murphy's Law applies)!

  3. I thought I would be searching for this one forever, and was really only hoping to find the Meulens, not the while set. I've learned that if one is sufficiently patient and thorough, almost everything shows up on some internet auction site somewhere. Initially I was thinking of breaking it down into the component cards, but the more I look at it, the more I'm thinking I would like to figure out some nice way to display it as a complete sheet. Nevermind that there would be precious few prospective buyers for any of the cards, save Ryan for his type collection.

    For the moment, this is the final "legitimate" card of Hensley Meulens I needed. The only remaining cards of his I am aware of (until this year's Emerald Nuts SF Giants team set) are the black & white Giants Fan Fest cards from the past couple of years, a 2010 Upper Deck 1990 20th Anniversary Buy Back that was officially unreleased and was apparently back-doored and the gold-edged 1993 Stadium Club thing that recently hit eBay.