Baseball may be America's pastime, but I don't think anyone can deny that the game has become an international phenomenon. Major League players have long been imported from far away lands, with some of the biggest names in the sport today including Masahiro Tanaka, Yoenis Cespedes and Jung Ho Kang. Meanwhile, there are professional baseball leagues that dot the world map - you know about Japan, Korea, Mexico, etc., but did you know that places such as Italy and Germany even have their own upper echelon of baseball?
Therefore, I think the time has some to form the United Nations of Cardboard - featuring trading card representatives from as many foreign hotbeds of baseball activity as we can (by that, I mean as many foreign cards as I have). Full disclosure, most of them have a Cubs connection.
Therefore, allow me to introduce the founding members of the United Nations of Cardboard, in ABC order:
Stuart was snack company based out of Canada (think Hostess or Little Debbie) that, in 1983, produced their own set of baseball cards depicting the Canadian teams in Major League Baseball. The fact that this card features the cult-like beloved Montreal Expos and honest-to-goodness French on the backside made this an easy call for me. O-Pee-Chee was just too obvious... or I wasn't able to find a good one, one of the two.
This cardboard confection found it's way into my collection because Wright, before he was an "instructeur," he was a moundsman for the Northsiders from 1960-61.
Now, we travel to the opposite side of the world, a place with a much warmer climate and a more contentious relationship with our homeland:
Cuba may not love America all that much (the relationship does appear to be warming), but they sure do love our sport. They sure do produce some great ballplayers too - Jose Abreu, Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman and maybe these Gourriel brothers too.
Importing Cuban players was much easier before the Revolution - Jorge Comellas here was employed briefly by the Cubbies, for 7 games in 1945. Around that same time, he found his mug on the front of thin, paper-like trading card that was packaged with a caramel.
Speaking of countries with testy relationships...
We get two Cubs for the price of one on this card honoring the managers of the Israel Baseball League.
Both all-time lefty Cubs great Ken Holtzman and short-term passer-through Art Shamsky helmed clubs in the ill-fated league meant to showcase Jewish talent in the promised land. However, the IBL
only lasted for a single season (2007) before it was shuttered. Unfortunately, interest was lacking and financial mismanagement was rampant.
This is definitely the only card in my collection which features Hebrew text!
This card right here was my very first card to come from a different country - appropriately, Kosuke Fukudome was the Cubs very first investment in the Japanese baseball market. We all know how that turned out.
Common knowledge is that BBM and Calbee are the big guns when it comes to the Japanese baseball card market. However, Upper Deck tried to nose their way in, with the help of Tokyo-based MRM marketing, back around the millennium with this slightly undersized edition of Victory, featuring English on the front and Kanji on the back. Looks like UD accidentally added an "h" to his Fukudome's while translating.
Kosuke might have been a bit of a dud; that said, "the Land of the Rising Sun" has produced some exceptional ball players (go Ichiro!). So too has...
Puerto Rico! OK - look, I know that they are a territory controlled by the United States; but, they aren't yet a state, have their own constitution and this is my blog and I can do what I want. Finding a card from Puerto Rico is a little different than getting one from New York.
Hiram Bithorn's story has been discussed in detail on this blog before, so I won't retread old ground. This card was actually an advertisement and admission coupon used for a big-time Puerto Rican card show, Feria Nacional de Toleteros y Juntacosas, that's been held yearly for a couple of decades now. They love their cards just as much as the rest of the United States!
Our next stop on the globe happens to be another country with a murky history of sovereignty:
Taiwan, without getting too political or detailed here, is basically the government that was kicked out of China as a result of their own communist takeover - hence the segue.
Asia, much like Latin America, seems to be the area outside of our borders where baseball has planted it's firmest roots. South Korea, the previously discussed Japan, China and Taiwan all have strong, well-respected leagues and a great deal of crossover with MLB. In Taiwan, there has been at least one professional league since 1989.
This 1997 Pro-Card, chromium single featuring rookie hurler Chang Hao-Hu was actually dug up in a Frankfurt, IL thrift shop, of all places. Additionally, it's the only card in this United Nations of Cardboard without a Cubs connection.
'ello gov'na - would you like some baseball cards with your tea and crumpets and a Dr. Who marathon?
Back in the late 80's, Topps released a series of sets to be distributed in the U.K. The mini cards were produced in 1989 and 1990 before the project was abandoned. Despite our best efforts, baseball just hasn't really caught hold in the land of Big Ben and the river Thames - cricket and football will likely forever reign supreme.
Nevertheless, they will be represented in the UNoC by an Andre Dawson with a cockney accent.
You didn't think the country that more or less invented the game wouldn't be represented did you? What do you think this is, the League of Nations?
With a gluttony of options to chose from, the vast majority of my cards are American after all, I opted to go with a card to showcase the red, white and blue. Long before Phil Nevin served as a lackluster injury substitute for D-Lee in '06, he was a star for Team USA, as shown on this Stadium Club single. Also, look at Topps, finding a way to sneak an add for their company on their own card.
Sticking with the Americas, but migrating a little bit southward, we have...
The season previous, Brock sipped on a cuppacoffee with the Chicagoans for 13 games - his only Big League action.
With that, we've tasted all of the international flavor that is present in my collection; behold the founding membership of the United Nations of Cardboard! There are baseball cards featuring the Italian, Mexican, Australian, Korean, et al professional leagues, but I do not currently have any in my collection. I'd also be willing to admit a KHL hockey card too. So - if anyone has any extra international cardboard laying around (preferably with a Cubs/Blackhawks tie-in) we should talk trade.
In the meantime, you can rest easy knowing that all international cardboard affairs will now be presided over by this multi-cultural coalition... of inanimate objects.