Japan, which started its first professional baseball league in the 1920s, has been playing the sport almost as long as the United States has. Still, it took a long time for Japanese-born players to reach the big leagues. Once they did, though, they made an indelible mark on America’s pastime. Below are cards from some of the most celebrated Japanese players to ever perform in the MLB.
Mansanori Murakami 1965 Topps
Murakami came to the United States as a baseball exchange student in the early 1960s and entered the San Francisco Giants minor league system. He zoomed through the minors and made his MLB debut at the age of 20. His team overseas, the Nankai Hawks wanted him back, but so did the Giants. He pitched one more year in the big leagues before returning to Japan for good.
As the first player born in Japan to play in the big leagues, Murakami has a special legacy. His rookie card stands as a prominent collector’s item. It is valued at around $150 in PSA 9 condition.
Hideo Nomo 1995 Bowman Foil
For decades, MLB players who were seemingly past their primes went on to continue their careers in Japan. But no stars from Japan were coming to the US. That changed in 1995 when Hideo Nomo joined the Dodgers. The former member of the Kintetsu Buffalo took the league by storm winning the NL Rookie of the Years, making the All-Star team and leading the league in strikeouts.
Nomo would go on to have an excellent career in the states, though he never quite reached the heights of that first year. His best rookie card was the 1995 Bowman foil issues. PSA 10 copies sell online for a touch over $100.
Ichiro Suzuki 2001 Bowman Chrome Refractor
Up until 2000, big league clubs primarily focused on bringing over pitchers. Ichiro Suzuki, who joined the Mariners in 2001, was the first prominent position player to come over. In his first season, he not only won the Rookie of the Year Award, he was named the American League MVP.
Over the course of his spectacular career, the outfielder would make 10 All-Star teams and break the single-season record for hits. Ichiro’s Bowman Chrome rookie, which features Japanese writing, has been a hot card for decades. Collectors can pick up a PSA 9 refractor for around $1,500.
Masahiro Tanaka 2014 Bowman
Masahiro Tanaka, a star for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, joined the New York Yankees for the 2014 season. And over the next 7 seasons, he would become a constant in New York’s rotation, delivering fine seasons each year, making the All-Star Team in 2014 and 2019.
In 2020, though, Tanaka decided to do something rare for other Japanese players had failed to do in the past. While he was in his prime and capable of making big money in the states, he decided to return to Japan and continue his career there as he does to this day. Tanaka’s 2014 Bowman card is quite affordable, selling for around $20 in a PSA 10.
Shohei Ohtani 2018 Bowman Chrome Batting
Shohei Ohtani is quite possibly the most remarkable baseball player of the last century. He is an insanely talented hitter who won the AL MVP award in a 2021 season that saw him hit 46 home runs and steal 26 bases. He is also an ace pitcher who throws 100 miles per hour and provides the Angels with terrific starts every 5 days.
Ohtani has more than met the hype that preceeded his MLB debut. There are tons of different Ohtani rookie cards, but one of the best bets is his Bowman Chrome rookie. The batting version of the card sells for around $800 in PSA 10 condition.
*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.