If you havent heard about Strasburg, you have probably been marooned in the Swiss Alps with no internet or have been held against your will in a bunker somewhere. Im not going to discuss the merits of his injury, but I do want to touch on how this lesson factors into the buying habits of the general collecting public. See, the hype machine has become a ridiculous tornado of cash surrounding a few different people in the hobby over the last few years, and so far, none of them have lived up to the billing. Starting with Reggie Bush, moving to Joba Chamberlain, and ending with Strasburg, its funny how things have worked out. Now, with Tim Tebow beginning to make an enormous hobby impact in Football, I am wondering if people will ever learn.
Lets travel back in time to 2006, speed up to 88 mph and we are off. The Texans have the first in the NFL draft pick after a pretty terrible 2005 campaign, and Reggie Bush, the franchise back of the future is sitting there for them to build their team. He has had a monster career at USC and many of the scouts are saying he could be the next Barry Sanders. No matter that he has little size to carry the ball with that frequency, and his field awareness is oft criticized, the fans don’t care. They want Reggie. In a shocking twist, the Texans pass, and go with Mario Williams, leaving Bush to fall right into the lap of the Saints. His cards start selling at crazy astronomical prices, and his Exquisite patch auto climbs above $2,000 selling on eBay when the product is released. His draft counterparts Vince Young and Matt Leinart start to ride on his coattails even, with their cards selling for crazy money as well. Now, lets jump back in the Delorian and see what’s up. Bush has done little to nothing since his rookie season, and was actually in danger of being cut before this season. The Saints did win their first title, but it had NOTHING to do with the talents of Reggie Bush. In fact, if not for Adrian Peterson’s fumble-itis, his fumble on a punt return in the first half of the NFC championship may have stopped them short altogether. His cards still generate more than the normal run of the mill back, but they are never going to be back where they were in 2006.
Similarly, Joba Chamberlain had copius amounts of hype surrounding his arrival in the Yankees’ farm system. His cards were selling for amounts that would make a Sox fan cry, and many people thought he was going to be the next Roger Clemens. When the 2007 Bowman products hit shelves, people clamored to get a hold of his autographed rookie. So much so that his 2007 Chrome superfractor sold for close to $10,000. I was literally in shock that someone would pay that much for a guy destined to be a middle reliever or a middle of the rotation starter, but none-the-less, people were freaking out. It had a lot to do with where he was playing, and I always said that if his name was Jerry and he played in Pittsburgh, no one would care about his future. In 2010, he has settled into a setup role with the Yankees, but is no where near where he was back in 2007. He has already had a few shots as a starter with the team, only to be put back into the bullpen when success was limited. Cards that were selling above $300 in 2007 are now under 50 bucks, and there is even a fabled BGS 10 on eBay with no bids at under $150.
These players were far down the page in a long list of failed top prospects, but Strasburg is on a level all his own. Although his career is far from over, its probable that he is not going to get to the spot he was expected to be come the middle of his run. Fireballers like Strasburg have a propensity to burn out, even to the point where teams are starting to go in a different direction if they have the option. However, that is not even half of the craziness surrounding his upcoming surgery. The main batch of crazy here was the prices people were paying for his cards, despite the fact that a best case scenario in Tim Lincecum was valued far below the investment they were making. Even if Stras had come to be what Lincecum is now, the prices were ten stories above the value ceiling. That didn’t stop people from paying thousands for his stuff, and now I am the one who is among the many saying “I told you so.” Even worse, those bowman autos that were once climbing above $600 dollars are now unable to sell at even half of that price.
Not stopping there, I can now say that buying Strasburg stuff far exceeds the terrible investment anyone ever spent on guys like Bush and Chamberlain, mainly because the investment people had made had no chance of ever panning out. If you were a fan, that’s fine, spend what you want, but that’s not the way many collectors approached Strasburg “prospecting.” Even at the price tag he was selling for, people were lining up to pay top dollar just in case he became the next “better than” Tim Lincecum. Instead, they ended up with a season and a half, plus rust shaking time of sitting on cards that will probably never make it back to where they paid.
Like Strasburg, Tebow is creating a hype storm in football that rivals a lot of what guys like Matt Leinart brought in 2006. Despite a lack of an NFL level skill set, and a team with that has barely any weapons at all, people are paying huge prices for cards that don’t even feature game worn swatches. Tebow has managed two TDs in the pre-season, more than any of the other QBs drafted this year, but both were “well, but” touchdowns that have a line after the initial explanation. The first TD happened during garbage time against the third stringers, and the second TD was a three yard pass against the scrubs, only after a long run from another player. These “successes” also don’t take
into consideration that his terrible throwing motion, arm and accuracy led to an interception by a player who probably will only play special teams, among other problems. If he had these types of problems against the backups, what happens when guys like Darrelle Revis have a shot at his throws on a curl route to Eddie Royal?
Many people don’t understand why I hate on Tebow as much as I do, and I will say that some of it comes from the hype machine itself. I cheer against the sand that is kicked up around guys that have potential but nothing to show for it yet, and it’s the same reason I never buy into their cards. I almost always root against the hype machine, mainly because so much of the hype stands against normal reasoning. If the hype machine actually put out what we put in, maybe my tune would change, but for right now, the results are pretty much a landslide in the opposite direction. Because America is such a please me now society, no one is willing to wait on buying cards of a guy who is being helped by his hype. Even though prices will almost surely decline rapidly once production levels out to normal expectations, no one cares. Card collectors NEVER learn their lesson, and I have a feeling that they wont stop creating hobby titans like Strasburg and company.
Does this mean that we need to adjust the way WE collect? No, it just means that we have to be more careful when the hype machine comes knocking at our door. Let the others live and die by their dollars spent on unproven “pre-superstars,” and instead take the bird in hand every time. Remember, its not “prospecting” when you are buying high and selling low.