Beware the Hype Demon

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.

There Is A Perfect Strasburg Storm A Comin’…

Topps is plowing through their late 2010 release calendar, and most of the products that populate that calendar are ones that I would love to see burned as a sacrifice to the almighty cardboard deities. The recently re-released Topps Tribute, Topps Sterling and Topps Triple Threads form the unholy trinity of Topps High end that I talk about as what to avoid, and I stand by that regardless of the gimmicks they use. This is mainly because the products focus more on packing cheap relics onto the cards than making cards that actually look good or have unique concepts. Topps Tribute may be a newer product than the old and stale Sterling and Triple Threads, but it is already falling into the familiar pattern of a design that doesn’t change, retina burning neon foil board, and stickers that are built into the design to draw your eye. Sounds like I have heard that one before, I wonder where?

Regardless of my feelings on these terrible excuses for products, there is one card that I believe could make more waves than people are expecting. Well, with all the parallels, its probably closer to 9000 cards. Of course, I am talking about the Triple Threads Stephen Strasburg Triple Relic Auto (OMGZ STRAS-JO!!11!!!!). Because Topps is actually taking the step to get some hard signed cards into the product for once in their life, this particular card should be one of those instances. Now, think about how perfect this storm is turning out to be. The people who pay 800 dollars for those Strasburg autos are probably the same people who buy four cases of Triple Threads each year. I see a distinct correlation between the two. I say this because it takes a certain type of person to buy Strasburg cards when they are selling as high as they are, and it also takes a certain type of person to love what Triple Threads brings the table each year. I think you catch my drift. When you combine the two, things could get ridiculous.

Even though the Stras cards from Triple Threads could end up being redemptions as a result of the timeframe needed to produce and sign the cards, it wont matter. Those people, you know which ones I am talking about, will go nucking futs when one is posted on eBay. Hell, they may even send it to Beckett and get it graded first, because after all, that group of people also overlaps this venn diagram from hell. Of course, this is after they post a card by card break on a message board, and combine it with a recap from their latest mail day. Yup, that’s about right.

The cards from Triple Threads will also be some of the first to have MLB Strasburg relics in them, something that will drive the prices even higher than they already would be. Yeah, see what I am saying? Its going to be like that movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, a hobby apocalypse, and I am going to be stuck shivering in the New York Public Library while the Triple Threaders are going to be making snow angels in the piles of two dollar hits they will get from their boxes outside.

Don’t get me wrong, Topps is doing everything right in this case. They have a player they can exploit like a sweatshop worker, and they have shown that they will plaster his face on any possible thing to sell more cards. Funny enough, collectors sure are responding like it’s a new concept. They don’t care if Topps puts out blowup Strasburg dolls that they can use in the privacy of their own home, they just want them and they will pay through the nose to get them. Its that crazy right now.

I still stand by the frame of reference of how popular a Nationals pitcher can become when someone like Tim Lincecum has already won 2 Cy Young Awards. Lincecum’s cards arent worth half of what Strasburg’s are right now, and he plays for a much more popular team. When was the last time you met a Nationals fan outside of Washington? Im pretty sure they don’t exist actually. So, if Strasburg goes on to win 2 Cy Youngs, like Lincecum already has, where does that put his value? Lincecum’s has already peaked and it isnt anywhere close to the value of a Bowman Strasburg auto. What does that say for future prospects of value? Its NOT likely that Strasburg will accomplish anything close to what Timmy Longhairs already has, and its actually more likely that he wont last more than a few years if fireballer history lives up to its name.

In all reality, I am going to sit back with a cold beer and watch the fireworks when Triple Threads hits shelves. Its like watching that kid open his Nintendo 64 on Christmas. Triple Threads collectors have very similar reactions in most cases, and it is equally hilarious. Even more so when this Christmas is Stras-mas too.

Strasburg Still Blowing It Up In Ginter, Just Not As Much

Remember those first Strasburg minis that popped up on eBay? They sold for ridiculous prices just like every other gift from Topps’ epic Stras-mas haul. Among reports that the minis were ridiculously short printed and may not even be a part of the main set, prices went wild. Of course, once people started pulling them a little more frequently, prices dropped dramatically, but still remain high for some reason.

They are obviously short printed, but not to the point that would normally lead to prices as astronomical as they are. Strasburg is Strasburg however, and despite performances that really havent really blown people away more or less than Lincecum did in his rookie year, his cards are like napalm in the morning.
Then, when you see the price that the autos are selling for, you begin to question what people actually see in buying cards at these prices. Even if my favorite player had rookie cards that cost this much, ones that weren’t more special than any other rookie cards, I would still be saying the same thing about people who think that spending thousands on these autos is a good idea. Its just crazy.
Check out some of these prices:
Strasburg Base Mini – This is one of the originals. Note the price.
Strasburg Base Mini – Here is one that sold recently via auction. Note this price too. Funny what message board comments are capable of at the beginning.
Strasburg Auto Redemption – Really? Seriously? That much? Think of the other STRAS items this person could buy. He doesnt even know what these cards look like yet!
Listen, dont get me wrong, I see why Stras is popular. However, Ginter is a product that is meant for people who dont really spend thousands the way these cards dictate. The popularity of Ginter is widespread but it is usually a result of set collectors trying to build sets rather than high end collectors buying autos. Just an interesting situation that I STILL do not understand.

Allen & Ginter Adds High End To Its Impressive Resume

Allen and Ginter is a set collector’s dream, or nightmare depending on how you look at it. The cards are designed to have maximum collectability and most of the set isnt even baseball players. Its one of the most popular sets of the year, and Topps collectors wait all year for the opportunity to break it and put the set together.

Well, there is a new aspect to the set this year, and I am not sure how I feel about it. Booklet cards have infested the product for 2010, and my hatred for booklet cards in general make me want to completely bash every aspect of these ones. Ever since the satanic abominations that made their debut in 2007 Triple Threads, my all time favorite set, booklets have penetrated every thing. 2009 Exquisite football, Exquisite Basketball, almost every Topps product that they could fit them into, and even ridiculous TRI-fold cards in Triple Craps. Despite my hatred, for some reason, these look okay for once. It could be the white border, the lack of neon blue foil board, or the painted aspects of the cards, but I don’t hate these cards.

They are going for ridiculous money, and a few have started to show up on eBay. Obviously, the focus of the set is far from cards like this, but I have a feeling that with the inclusion of the Strasburg autos and minis, A&G is heading towards high end pulls for 2010. Cuts have always been an extremely rare part of the set, but rarely become the chase. These are surely to fall into that category, and I expect them to continue to be worth massive cheese for a long time.

Speaking of higher end pulls, the booklets arent the only part of the equation. I just saw that Ginter also has cards like this, and like this which take ridiculous to a whole new level. I cant even begin to imagine how much these will go for, but they are beyond words. I may have to keep an eye out to see if any Twins are on the checklist for these type of cabinet cards.

Who knows, maybe there are even parts we have yet to see.

Based On These Sales, Could Topps Set Records?

Its been a long time since a player like Strasburg has come on the scene. Some of his cards are even outselling Albert Pujols, and that says to me that people arent really paying attention to the cap of the card values but really just that Strasburg is on them. With recent sales topping ridiculous amounts, how high is the ceiling for the rest of Topps Calendar?

Allen and Ginter has already sold out at Blowout, and Bowman Chrome will not be far behind. Plus, with the supply of 2010 Bowman jumbo boxes drying up, things are starting to get so insane on prices that I cant even explain it to people not in the hobby.
Check these out:

Strasburg Orange Auto /25 – Wait what? Who in their right mind would drop that kind of cash on a card like this. I can only imagine what is going to happen when the Chrome version comes out. Its going to be even more insane.

Base Strasburg Auto BGS 10 – Ok, this may deserve to be on the top of this list because I am in utter shock. With the recent grading “scandal” I think its becoming more understood what really makes up a BGS grade. Then when you factor in that this bidder paid a premium of multiple THOUSANDS of dollars and you just have to scratch your head. Plus, im not even going to go into my difference between 9.5 and 10 argument again. Holy shit.
Base Strasburg Auto PSA 10 – Im literally floored by this sale. PSA 10s are generally believed to be at the level of a BGS 9.5 with a few 10 subgrades, and yet this thing sold for how much? Strasmus in june indeed.
Base Strasburg Auto BGS 9.5 – When comparing the base raw to the base 9.5 and seeing that the price doubles is completely fucking ridiculous. I dont have anything else to say about that. Show me another card where that happens. Plus, who is seriously paying 600+ for these non-chrome cards anyways?
Strasburg Million Card Giveaway Base – For this price you are already 5/6ths of the way to a base auto, so why even try? I still cant believe how much these are going for, and it is even more crazy how much the codes are going for now that there is a chance to unlock one of these. Unbelievable.
Overall, its pretty much understood that Strasburg’s cards are going to mean gold for a Topps brand that needed to prove that having the exclusive was worth everyone’s time. I would expect HUGE jumps in everything they release for the rest of the year, and for those of you who bought in to cases early, welcome to big money.