2010-11 Score Rookie & Traded #659 – Taro Tsujimoto
Back in the 1970s, the NHL draft was not televised or open to the public. They were either held in a hotel or conducted via telephone. In the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft, Buffalo Sabres general manager George “Punch” Imlach was bored. So, in the 11th round he had a little fun and drafted a player that did not really exist – Taro Tsujimoto from the Tokyo Katanas of the Japan Hockey League.
At least, that was his story, and he was sticking to it. Tsujimoto’s name appeared in The Hockey News as the Sabres’ pick, as well as in several official NHL publications at the time.
Finally, before training camp, Imlach fessed up and admitted the ruse.Imlach found a common Japanese name in a Buffalo-area phone book, and the team name “Katanas” is a samurai sword.
Record books today list the Sabre’s 11th round pick (183rd overall) as “invalid claim,” but the Sabres still list Tsujimoto on the draft listing on their website. The story has grown into a legend (and joke) in Buffalo, when fans used to chant “We want Taro!” during a Sabres’ loss.
Last Summer, Panini America issued this card in their 2010-11 Score Rookie & Traded Update Set. They won’t say who is shown on the front of the card, though the photo does look like it is from the 1970s.
What is intriguing though, is the text on the back of the card. Instead of explaining Imlach’s joke, Panini decided to write an origin story for the fictional hockey player.
In Buffalo, it’s not Where Have You Gone, Joe Dimmagio?; it’s Where Have You Been, Taro Tsujimoto? The first Japanese player ever selected in the NHL Draft, the Sabres tabbed the mysterious prospect in the 11th round back in 1974. The Canadiens, who had hoped to steal him later in the draft, were rumored to have worked out a deal for the diminutive center that would have sent Jacques Lemaire to Buffalo. Instead, the Sabres held on to his rights and continue to anticipate his arrival. To this day, whispers of his exploits with the Tokyo Katanas stir up the fans at the HSBC Arena, where the faithful often are heard to chant “We Want Taro!”
What is particularly cool about this story is that it gives a reason why Jacques Lemaire was erroneously pictured as a Buffalo Sabres player on his Topps trading card.
The only drawback to this card is that it was short printed, and was found only once in every 20 of the Rookie and Traded Set. It’s a card made about a joke, and yet one year later it still fetches $20 to $40 on eBay. It’s too bad that not everyone can have the card of a player that no team could have.
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk. ■