So I’ve been on ebay buying baseball cards. It was coming. But I’m trying my hardest not to go too crazy and limit my bids to the $5 range. It’s hard, every week there’s a lot or two that comes up and looks very tempting. But I don’t have the time or space or money to jump on those and besides, I really do need to go and look at my old collection to remember what I have already.
What I’ve been doing instead is running down specific items of personal interest which I wouldn’t have cared about at all as a kid. For example, Masanori Murakami. He used to be a non-story. There’s one entry about him making his debut in September 1964 in the Giants Diary and while it mentions him being the first Japanese to play in Major League Baseball, it’s mainly an aside. Not a big deal at all. Nor, really, should it have been.
This was all before Hideo Nomo became a sensation in 1995 and opened the pipeline of Japanese talent to the US. Murakami wasn’t just the first Japanese Major League player, he was the only Japanese player. An oddity before we figured out how to deal with translators and not part of any legacy. Post-Nomo? Now he has a legacy and the Giants can claim to have been the first, three decades before anyone else. And as a nikkei Giants fan, this makes me happy.
Learning about Murakami also takes me into learning more about how players move from Japan to the US. I also really enjoyed learning about other Japanese players in the Giants’ farm system during the same era. As someone who’s followed international soccer for a couple decades, it’s interesting to me how different everything is with baseball. As baseball gets increasingly international with professional leagues abroad where the quality is at least as good as American minor leagues it’s going to be very interesting to see how these rules develop.
All this made me curious about whether Murakami had ever appeared on a baseball card. When I found out that he had appeared on only one I felt compelled to track it down. I’m a little sad that he doesn’t get his own card, but the photo is good and the 1965 design is fantastic so I can’t complain.
I’ve also learned a lot about baseball’s labor history since I was a kid. When I was little I found the contract holdouts and concerns about money to be absurd and frustrating. I eventually came to realize that my sympathies should be with the players even while the strike in 1994 broke me of both my baseball habit and my card-collecting habit.
I was surprised to discover that Topps had made a Marvin Miller card in 2005. I’m even more surprised to learn that it’s part of their Fan Favorites line. This speaks very well of baseball fans since Miller ushered in a lot of things which, on the surface, fans love to complain about.
Still, aside from the moral issues of treating labor fairly, fans have a lot to thank Miller for too. For all the complaints about contracts and mercenaries, the flip side is being able to fantasize about free agent signings and the idea that any player can move to whatever team he wants to play for.
I found it interesting that Topps chose to use its 1970 design for Miller card. Miller had already taken it to Topps with a player boycott in 1967 and 1968 so any of those years could’ve worked. But going with 1970 means that Topps is referencing the Curt Flood issue.
Which meant that I found myself checking for Curt Flood cards. Specifically for 1969 when he has traded. I couldn’t pass up the 1970 card because of how wrong it is to show him playing for a team that he not only never played for, but which he refused to play for and went to the Supreme Court to avoid playing for. And the 1971 card completes the set since it’s the team he eventually chose to play for.
I wish the 1969 card had a better photo. I know that 1969 was hampered as a set because of aforementioned player boycott of Topps so it’s possible that Topps just didn’t have a good photo of Flood on hand. Though given the nature of what happened to Flood, the eyeroll/no fucks given expression is also appropriate. The 1970 and 1971 photos are typical “hide the hat logo in case he changes teams” shots. I like that in 1971 he looks somewhat relieved even though he has about to retire.
It’s a shame how little this side of baseball history gets covered. Ball Four* touched on it but the timing is off in that it occurs before the main conflict and then all the afterwords are more about Bowie Kuhn and Marvin Miller and the concept of how the owners could’ve avoided free agency by being slightly more generous with salaries and meal money.
*Now there’s another theme for card collecting I might run down some day.
And that’s kind of the thing. Flood was objecting to being bought and sold as if he were a piece of property. This wasn’t exactly about free agency—which Flood eventually got by sitting out all of the 1970 season—but it signaled to the players where that fight would have to be fought.
So on to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally and the Seitz decision in 1975. The courts turned out not be the best place to fight labor issues but the National Labor Relations Board was. It still amazes me that none of this history is really mentioned anywhere. In soccer, free agency is named after the player who fought for it. In baseball, there’s no similar reference that suggests how things changed to become the way they are today.
Something about the spring-training glow in these photos perfectly complements the garish card design. We’ve got foliage and palm trees in the background. Process colors being run at 100% by themselves for maximum brightness. These are cards which are very much of their time.
I’ll eventually get 1976 and 1977 Messersmith cards. Unlike with Flood where the card the year after the fight tells part of the story, the 1976 Messersmith card is kind of redundant to the 195 one. His 1977 card though features him with the Braves, the team he signed for as a free agent in 1976.