"Tommy John surgery" and "You're the Winning Bidder" were two phrases many eBay users were not hoping to see uttered within hours of each other last week. Stephen Strasburg, the player who had been driving sales of 2010 baseball card products all season, will not return to the pitcher's mound for at least a year. The announcement left those who had been buying and/or investing in his rookie cards with a sick feeling.
And people had been buying them. Oh, had they.
According to Beckett, over $1 million has been spent on Strasburg baseball cards this year, with the average selling price at over $66 per card. Those numbers may have been skewed a bit by the much talked about Bowman Chrome Superfractor card, which sold for $21,403 a few weeks ago--not long after its first sale at over $16,000. Still, it was clear that America's collectors were believers.
Vintage card collectors scoffed. "I told you so" was the other phrase Strasburg buyers probably got sick of hearing by Friday night. Buying Ruth and Mantle and Aaron and Koufax is always a safer bet. It's not for everyone, though...not even with the inherent risks.
There are some comeback stories, of course, but it's hard not to conjure up the list of pitchers who saw early promise derailed by injury. David Clyde. Mark Fidrych. Brien Taylor. Kerry Wood. Mark Prior (having not one, but two dream prospects come crashing to earth within a couple of years of each other lends legitimacy to the Cub fan's claims of curses).
Speculators bought Taylor, Prior and Wood back in the day. All three were once in the 'can't miss' category. The amount spent paled in comparison to what was put down on Strasburg.
So is it over? Wasted money?
For others, though, it's just a bump in the road. By the end of the weekend, it became pretty clear that not everyone was staying away.
Two autographed Strasburg cards from Topps' Million Card Giveaway sold over the weekend--one for $360 and the other for $339. Both bidders appeared to have made their winning bid long after word about Strasburg's ligament tear became national headlines. Over 300 Strasburg rookies were still available--and receiving bids Sunday night.
Interest in his Topps Heritage card from the National Sports Collectors Convention giveaway had weakened. Once trading for $55-75, some sellers were struggling to get bids at $45. One sold over the weekend for $42...probably more than the seller could have expected after the bombshell.
The sports card industry got a big public relations boost from Strasburg's early success. Even the stories that made fun of the big money being spent meant people were writing about the hobby instead of ignoring it. Topps products sold well with the promise of more on the way before the year was out. Now, the buzz may not be as great and that won't help a segment of the industry still trying to wade through challenging economic times.
While "investing" in modern era rookie cards is rarely wise advice, those who can't resist sticking a few bucks into a prospect could sell what they have now. Others will wait until next year and try to find a bargain, when Strasburg has completely faded from the spotlight, hoping he picks up where he left off. The buy-and-hold strategy would probably be best for those sitting on a lot of Strasburg cards. If the magic is recaptured in 2012, Strasburg cards could be even hotter than they were in late June.
It's a big 'if'.
But whether you're a card collector or not, it's something to root for.