08 August 2014

CPBL Sets For an Ever-Shifting League

       Late last year (2013), I got excited by a posting on the official CPBL blog on what I thought would be the first real set to contain a card of Manny Ramirez in the Chinese Professional Baseball League.  Manny played for the EDA Rhinos for the first half or so of the 2013 CPBL season, and as the league usually issued sets after the end of the season, I thought it reasonable to expect to see a card with Manny in a Rhinos uniform by early 2014.

       My excitement was misplaced, as it was not, in fact the new 2013 CPBL Player of the Year set that was released in January of 2014, but it was the very late set covering the 2012 season.  What initially confused me (aside from the odd timing) was that they did not list it as "2012中華職棒年度球員卡", which translates roughly as "2012 Chinese Professional Baseball League Player of the Year".  That title had already been used for the set that covered the 2011 season.  Instead, they listed the new set as "職棒23年年度球員卡" which translates roughly to "Year 23 Player of the Year Baseball Cards".

    In the past couple of weeks, the CPBL blog has been ramping up for the release of the actual 2013 CPBL Player of the Year set.  The 2013 set (being released mid-2014) covers the 2013 season.  I think this is the reason for the naming shake-up for the set covering the 2012 season.  So effectively the sets since 2009 break down like this:

2009 CPBL Player of the Year - covers 2008 season
2010 CPBL Player of the Year - covers 2009 season
2011 CPBL Player of the Year - covers 2010 season
2012 CPBL Player of the Year - covers 2011 season
Year 23 Player of the Year - covers 2012 season
2013 CPBL Player of the Year - covers 2013 season

     Several of the CPBL sets since 1990 have made direct reference to which season they covered, but since 2009, the blog has usually just tied the year to the set.  But somehow, possibly due to the fairly unstable nature of multiple teams in the league over the past few seasons, the league is now nearly a full year behind in issuing their sets.  What's more (and this will require some investigation), it seems possible licensing or team rights issues have resulted in one yearly set almost completely missing entire teams.

     Here is an example of the problem.  The 2009 CPBL set covers the 2008 CPBL season.  In 2008, the CPBL consisted of these teams:

Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions
La New Bears
Brother Elephants
Chinatrust Whales
dMedia T-Rex
Sinon Bulls

    Professional baseball in Taiwan has suffered from the influence of organized crime and game-fixing scandals for almost its entire history.  In 2008, the dMedia T-Rex were an expansion team that had just joined the league.  The Chinatrust Whales were a long established team that had joined the league 10 years earlier.  Both teams played the entire 2008 season, but both teams folded due to game-fixing scandals (dMedia) and financial difficulties (Chinatrust).  The 2009 CPBL set barely acknowledged the existence of either team, only including a single card for the Whales (because Fu-Te Ni lead the league in strikeouts) and three for the T-Rex (Szu-Chi Chou was a Best Ten selection, Cory Bailey was the May MVP and Chia-Hsieh Hsien set a record for fastest to 100 HR in 516 games).  Normally, each team would have occupied upwards of 40 cards in the set.  Rather than make a drastic cut in set size, cards 247-270 were dedicated to the swing or throwing motion of two players per team, and cards 271-310 just covered the starting lineups for the remaining four teams while effectively leaving some 65+ players unaccounted for.  Given that 2009 marked a return of the CPBL issued sets after a one year absence, perhaps they wanted something of a clean slate.
   For the Year 23 set, Sinon Co. was in the process of selling their franchise to the E-United Group (who renamed the Sinon Bulls to the EDA Rhinos for the 2013 season), and negotiations between CPBL and Sinon Co. were unsuccessful with regard to CPBL using Sinon Bulls trademarks.  As a result, the set was released late, 26 December 2013, instead of the usual mid-July timeframe, and is completely missing the Sinon Bulls.  The CPBL posted to their official blog a list of all the missing cards from the set.

   The above occurrences make a strong case for the CPBL needing separate licensing bodies for the players and the league/teams as American baseball has with MLB Properties and the MLB Players Association.  For American companies, this allows for the present situation where Topps has the exclusive license to use team names and logos, but Leaf and Panini (among others) have the license to use the players' names and likenesses.   Separate licensing bodies would have at least allowed the CPBL to issue the Sinon Bulls cards without names or logos (assuming they would have been interested in that).  However, in Taiwan and Japan, I suspect such a licensing body could never exist due to the teams all being owned by separate companies who never seem to have the league's best interests in mind.

    The Inventory Manager at SportsCardForum.com has now been updated with the Year 23 PotY and 2013 PotY sets.   Oh, and after all of that, despite the EDA Rhinos being present in the 2013 set, Manny Ramirez, the single biggest box office draw in the CPBL in the last decade, is nowhere to be found.

1 comment:

  1. The CPBL is run like a semi-pro league in Japan. Maybe even worse. Taking nine months to issue a card set after the season is one major example that's visible for us. But as you mention, problems with game fixing and gambling, team ownership, and the every player and owner for themselves attitude is really holding the league back. Korea's KBO's success should be paralleled in Taiwan.