Japanese baseball cards are often avoided by American collectors. They generally aren’t printed in English, don’t feature American players, and resources to learn more about them are often quite limited. That leads to decreased interest among those in the U.S. Still, Japanese cards do have quite a following of collectors in the states. And among the more interesting cards for American collectors are ones found in a set cataloged as JCM 44.
‘JCM’ cataloging is used to help sort various Japanese baseball sets. They are similar to the designations provided in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog.
The JCM 44 set is one of many Japanese Menko releases. Menko is a Japanese game where cards are used by players with the object being to flip the cards of the opponent(s). If successful, that player then receives both cards. It is similar in concept to games played by American children. These children came up with all sorts of games when early tobacco cards became popular. In those games, the goal was also often to win your opponents’ cards.
The difference here is the purpose of the cards. Menko cards were created specifically to be used in a game. Tobacco cards were premiums used primarily to help stiffen cigarette packs and as a sort of collectible. Children just happened to play games with them as well once they were removed from the packs.
Nevertheless, Menko is a popular Japanese game. All sorts of cards have been printed for it over the years and while many of those are non-sports subjects, there are plenty of Menko sports cards featuring Japanese athletes (both generic ones and actual ones).
One of the more intriguing sets for American collectors is the aforementioned 1947 JCM 44 set. That set features Japanese players with eight known cards that are generally checklisted. According to PSA, players in the set include: Takeshi Doigaki, Isamu Fujii, Keisuke Imanishi, Tetsuharu Kawakami, Hirofumi Komae, Hiroshi Oshita, Hideo Shimizu, and Kazuto Tsuruoka. But while those players may be well known in Japan, most American collectors could not identify any of them.
The more interesting part for U.S. collectors is the player pictured on the back — Hall of Famer Ted Williams.
The fronts of the cards in this set are varied and colorful. But in general, they have cartoon pictures of Japanese players inside of a red border. Player names and teams are printed inside of a baseball along with the pictures. Red is the predominant color on the cards with yellow, blue, and green also used a good bit.
Now, Williams is not named on the back of the cards but it is clearly a picture of the slugger using only blue ink. It is clearly modeled after a common pose of Williams and his iconic follow through that has been seen many times. And despite the card not bearing his name, it is recognized by collectors as a Ted Williams card with even PSA classifying this as the 1947 Menko JCM44 set with Ted Williams Back.
Williams is pictured along with a standard math equation and a separate number that Old Cardboard says is not a card number. The number, I am guessing, is related to the Menko game in general.
These are very unique cards that feature one of the all-time greats in another country. While it is a bit unusual to see Williams featured here, American players on Japanese cards was not a new concept. Other Japanese issues also pictured American players, such as Babe Ruth and more.
Rarity and Price
The JCM 44 cards are not impossible to find but they are not common, either. That is especially true for collectors in the U.S. where they are not seen too often. As of right now, there are a couple listed on eBay. To date, PSA has graded only a total of 72 cards in the entire set.
Despite the rarity, prices for them are not outrageous. Decent mid-grade cards generally start somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 when you can find them. A lot of five lower-grade examples recently sold for just nearly $300 in a 2018 auction.
If they are so rare, why are they so affordable? Part of the relatively low pricing is almost certainly based on the fact that Williams is not named on the card. Despite it very clearly being a Williams image, it would help if his name was affixed to the cards. Plus, as an international set, there’s less interest from American baseball collectors for the cards. Finally, the card are also similar to the Nap Lajoie 1913 Game Cards where Lajoie is literally found on the back of every card in the set. While that makes it easy to find, it also does not technically make them all that scarce, which helps keep prices low. If Williams was found on only some of the backs, prices would be undoubtedly higher.