Monday, June 13, 2016

Calbee Does America

This weekend, my lovely fiancee and I decided to go out and sign up for our wedding registry at the local Bed Bath and Beyond.  Several hours were spent wandering about the vast and seemingly endless retailer, debating which hypothetical cutlery looked best with our hypothetical dish ware, whether or not we needed new mixing bowls, etc.  It started out fun, getting to go on a "shopping spree" as we scanned any and every item we wanted/needed without having to pay up in the end, but it quickly became a chore.

Furthermore, in order to ensure that we got there and entirely through the store before it closed, we skipped dinner.  By about halfway through the experience, my stomach was growling so loud that people were probably looking for my service dog and wondering why he was so irritated.

Luckily, BBB has a large snack food and gourmet beverage section, jam-packed with off-the-wall stuff that you can't find at your everyday grocer.  Shopping hungry is almost always a bad idea; however, I was able to restrain most of my urges and walked away with only a single bag of salty goodness.

Seafood is my favorite food, with shrimp being right next to lobster in terms of my preferred kinds.  Once I saw these, I absolutely had to try them.  I was hungry enough that I don't think it would have mattered what I was eating, but they were yummy; they tasted as if you were eating the breading off of fried shrimp.

Anyway, as we were driving home, I looked at my snack and finally made note of the company behind my fishy snack:  Calbee.

Thanks to excellent, informative blogs like Japanese Baseball Cards and This Card is Cool, I know that Calbee is one of the major manufacturers of baseball cards in Japan, inserting packs of Nippon Professional Baseball cards in with their chip-like products and snack food.  Unfortunately, their division over on this side of of the Pacific does not.  Licensing issues and lack of interest keep them from including their Japanese cards on our shores, I'm sure.

However, that got me thinking - what if Calbee North America did include baseball cards with their products?  Also, what if they focused on North American baseball instead?  So, I fired up Photoshop and started on my next weekend project as soon as we got home:

On the right, we have an original 2016 Calbee single, featuring an unidentified Yomiuri Giants player (I can't read kanji, after all).  On the left, we have my interpretation of how that same card would look if it was stashed in a Bed Bath and Beyond in Orland Park, IL, as modeled by Munenori Kawasaki.

As you can see, a la Stadium Club, Calbee really lets the photo do the heavy lifting with their no frills design.  It's a design which has, more or less, stayed the same over the last 15 or so years with only slight tweaking from season to season.

That said, Calbee has upped their ante for a few sets; so, I decided to try my hand at a few of those as well:

Here's my take on a 1990 Calbee design.  Hisanori Takahashi was only a Cub for 3 games in 2013 and thus, never had a card that featured him in a Chicago uniform; this seemed like the perfect opportunity to rectify that.

Again, I can't read kanji, so I'm taking some liberties with the text on my reproductions.  Also, that name bar has many variations throughout the checklist, but I decided to opt for the two-tone one.

1984 Calbee appears to be directly inspired by 1981 Topps - so, I pulled up a scan of one of those Cubs cards, did a little bit of tweaking and, voila, Calbee America!

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

From what I've gathered, the checklist of cards released by Calbee from 1975 through 1976 is both vast and complicated.  There are several different designs and layouts used throughout the collation, including this pink-bordered template that reminds me of 1981 Fleer with a little added flair.

Perhaps the fine folks at Fleer were drawing from international inspiration?

As you can see and I'm only now just noticing, I significantly enlarged the baseball on my Tsuyoshi Wada-bearing reproduction.  Drat.

Here's another design found within the checklist of 1975-76 Calbee; it's sort of their version of Topps' beloved Super Veteran cards, featuring a current photograph of the player in action and an old, black and white picture of the player in an inset.

It makes for a garish look, in my opinion - but, that's just me.

Kyuji Fujikawa, by the way, I'm convinced he doesn't age.  I could not find a picture in which he looked significantly younger, so I opted for a general action shot from his days with the Hanshin Tigers (a team to which he has returned to this season, after being cut by the Rangers).

Now, most of the rest of the cards in Calbee's history are very much similar to the above card, minus the inset photo.  No border and all picture with sparse text that floats freely at the bottom.  The most variation to be found is in the color of said text, which can bounce from white, to black, yellow, etc.  However, at this point I was having too much fun to quit.

Luckily, Calbee does more than just baseball - they have branched out into international soccer and non-sport as well.  I'm not much of an anime fan, but the following design seemed ripe for an American-ized baseball treatment:

Shades of 1954 Topps, if you ask me.

Now, I'm sure you've noticed by now, that I'd been using all of the Japanese, Nippon League imports to have ever blown into the Windy City for my previous mock ups.  Murton isn't Japanese of course, but he did play for Hanshin for several seasons after his initial stint with the Cubs, even breaking the single-season record for hits over there.  The Northsiders imported him back to America this off-season to give him one last chance to make it in the Majors; he's currently biding his time in AAA Iowa.

Without any more Japanese players to pull from, that was as close as I could get.

With that, my Archives-like treatment of Calbee finally ran out of steam.  However, I was able to get, literally, all that and a bag of chips - so, that's pretty cool.  Additionally, I figured I should throw my treatments up on the ol' blog and see what you all thought.

Also, Calbee North America - if you're interested in jumping into the trading card ring, I work for peanuts!... well, shrimp chips actually.


  1. Good stuff! I really like your version of the '75-76 set.

  2. Shrimp chips? That sounds pretty good actually.
    I was actually a little bummed they brought Almora instead of Murton last week. I'm sure he'll get a chance at some point.

  3. Woof, those cards look good. As much as I've been advocating for cards to be packaged with potato chips in the US for seemingly forever, the unfortunate truth is that licensing fees are going to make any distributor say "nope" and back away.

  4. I got very excited at the prospect of Calbee at BB&B... "Is it possible he could've gotten cards with those?"

    My disappointment was short-lived, because I love your customs! In fact, they have earned two of the highest complements I pay towards customs:
    1) I would buy those!
    2) I wish I'd thought of that...

  5. Great customs!

    I also went through the registry process at Bed Bath and Beyond. They have quite the racket there by giving you lists of exact amounts of each item you should register. The process of registering for gifts seems more fun than it actually is. The only place I enjoyed was Target because I kept scanning beer.