The love fest in Denver is over, the dust has settled, and most of the players have returned to sea level. But not before Major League Baseball hosted a Home Run Derby and All-Star Game that did exactly what the game needed and the hobby was hoping for.
In other words, it was a celebration of collecting, a celebration of the best young players in the game, and it was a celebration of the passion we all have for baseball. Fans were thrilled to be back, and the players are loving playing in front of fans instead of the cardboard cutouts that filled socially distanced stadiums in 2020.
Having one of the biggest card shows Denver has ever seen on the weekend before the event only helped set the mood. There is no doubt that shows are back to where they were in 1991.
The Home Run Derby, according to Nielsen, drew 7,126,000 viewers. That was the highest rating since 2017. The All-Star Game drew 8.24 million viewers.
What the ratings don’t reflect is the global growth of the derby and the game. Not only was there great international representation in the All-Star Game, but the interest level wrapped itself around the planet.
The Shohei Show
The biggest wave of international interest came from Japan, where the derby and game were televised live so that the entire country could watch Shohei Ohtani. In fact, everyone worldwide wanted to stop what they were doing to watch Shohei Ohtani.
Heading into the event, there was so much hype around Ohtani and the game’s young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. that the baseball world forgot that the best offensive player in the game and the best pitcher in the game were not there. The Mike Trout bandwagon seems to be getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror this season, and Jacob deGrom was not missed despite the fact that he is having one of the best years for a starting pitcher in baseball history.
Ohtani lived up to his billing and was must see TV. His battle with Juan Soto in the Home Run Derby will go down as possible the most epic duel in the history of the event. Derby winner Pete Alonso was also memorable, dancing and bobbing his way to a record 35 home runs in the first round. Alonso’s first round total may become one of those untouchable baseball records, like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or Cal Ripken Jr. playing in 2,632 consecutive games.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also made history as the youngest MVP in All-Star Game history and also became one of three father-son combos to hit All-Star Game home runs. He and his father joined Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr., and Barry and Bobby Bonds in that category.
But everything in Denver was all about Ohtani. He participated in the home run derby, and then threw a 100 mph pitch as the starter the following day.
By no surprise at all, the hobby reacted to the Ohtani hysteria. In the 30-day period ending July 16, Ohtani was responsible for $6.3 million in baseball card sales on eBay alone. A PSA-10 2018 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor Ohtani RC signed and numbered 7/50 sold for $26,917 in late June. After the hype that took place two weeks later, that might be looked upon as a bargain. His PSA 10 2018 Bowman base card has risen from $250-$300 at the start of the season to over $1,900 in recent days.
Ohtani’s 2018 cards are all over the map, just as any player’s cards would be. His ungraded Topps RC #700 is still affordable, listing on Beckett with a low of $12 and a high of $30. While young collectors or new collectors may not have the $10K or more to get into the low serial numbered signed PSA-10 Refractors market, they can certainly get their hands on a real Ohtani rookie card.
While Ohtani cards were hot globally during the week, Topps also had a number of offerings that were quick to sell out online. Their Now series featured card #496 which sold out at $9.99 per card featuring Ohtani during the Home Run Derby. There were Home Run Derby ball relic cards numbered to 10 ($199.99), 5 (349.99) and 1 ($999.99).
Card #508 features Ohtani on the mound pitching during the All-Star Game. That card sold out at $9.99 each. A signed relic version of the card numbered to 99 was also gone in a hurry at $449.99.
Ohtani was not the only hot seller, as all Topps Now All-Star Game and Home Derby cards sold out (but you can still find many of them on eBay, including the base cards).
We often here the term “generational player” in sports to describe a superstar. Julius Erving and Michael Jordan were generational players. So was LeBron James. In hockey, Sidney Crosby came into the NHL described as a generational player. Joe Montana and Tom Brady both evolved into generational players.
The term can also be used to describe the collectability of certain players in the sports card market. The frenzy that we have seen for Ohtani is generational because of the perfect hobby storm. Ohtani is revolutionizing the game and doing something we have never seen before. It is also happening at a time when sports card collecting is growing rapidly in collecting.
To put it simply, baseball fans – even casual baseball fans – have started collecting baseball cards because of him. There aren’t many baseball players who’ve had that type of impact on the hobby. Maybe Mickey Mantle in the 1950s. Certainly Ken Griffey Jr. in the late 1980s and early 90s. Sure, there are some great players who have driven sales. There was a huge hobby buzz over Frank Thomas, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter during the early stages of their careers, but that was generally among people already in the hobby. Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire cards were popular at one time, but their impact now has an asterisk. Even Albert Pujols, who is the most productive player of the 21st century, never truly drove the market, because while he was at the peak of his career, sports cards were somewhat dormant compared to where they are now. Pujols and Ichiro brought fans to the ballparks everywhere during the 2000s, but they didn’t turn as many fans into collectors the way Griffey, and Ohtani have.
The bottom line is that every year, we get excited about the All-Star Game, we watch it and usually, we forget it. Nobody – fans and collectors included – will forget the 2021 All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. It was a terrific springboard into the second half of what’s shaping up to be a big year for baseball cards.