This is the trouble with prospecting. Not that they were scorching hot since revelations of PED use came to light many months ago, but Ryan Braun baseball cards were pronounced dead Monday afternoon. You might have the odd duck who sees some poor sap selling Braun rookie cards cheap and buys them anticipating a bounce back that won’t ever happen, but for the most part, Braun cards have gone into the Barry Bonds/Mark McGwire/Rafael Palmeiro abyss. You can put them on eBay. You can price them cheap. But they’re not moving. Even if Braun never tests positive for anything again and puts up monster numbers, he’s tainted for life.
It used to be—back in the days of Fernando Mania and Joe Charboneau and Kevin Maas– that the only thing you had to worry about when buying current era cards on speculation was that the player would either 1) not live up to the hype or 2) suffer a career-thwarting injury.
Now, steroids or PEDs or whatever unnatural stuff gets put into a body can tarnish a player’s reputation, if not his stats. Forever. To many people it doesn’t matter that Bonds hit more home runs than any player in history. He’s assumed to be guilty of cheating on Hank Aaron and that is enough to send his collectible value on a slow train out of town. Hobby history is littered with the disappointment of so many young players that to add chemicals to the mix of possible derailments seems almost unfair.
Since rookie cards became the rage in the early to mid-1980s, every season has had its booms and busts. For every Cal Ripken Jr. there’s a Brien Taylor.
When a player is active, there’s more of a chance than ever that the roof will cave in. A few years ago, Alex Rodriguez signed a contract that provided bonuses when he reached certain career milestones on the expectation that the Yankees would sell enough memorabilia from those events to cover the cost and then some. It seemed shrewd at the time. Now, it seems completely ridiculous.
It’s why vintage collectors scoff at those who chase rookie autos. The payoff can be enormous if you pick a lucky pack or happen to choose a player who makes it big. The losses can be huge.
Braun? He had only five real rookie cards in 2005. A couple of years ago, when it became “obvious” he was on the path to a Hall of Fame career, those cards seemed like a sure bet. Some paid hundreds for high grade Braun autographed cards—not a bad price for a small market player.
In the meantime, vintage Babe Ruths and Mickey Mantles and certain pre-World War II cards in high grade have been soaring. It’s because collectors and more importantly, those entering the hobby for the first time, have come to realize that the old cardboard market is less complicated, more stable, more promising and more limited. Does it take more cash as well? Many times, yes. And if you’re not that into the historical part of the game, it may not be as much fun. The Babe isn’t hitting any more homers.
Trouble is, no matter how many more Braun and Alex Rodriguez hit, it isn’t going to matter.
Reach Rich Mueller at [email protected]