The Yankees Prospect Curse Continues

I’m not your typical New York Yankees hater. While I’ve never jumped on any Yankees bandwagon, good or bad, my second favorite New York baseball team sure seems to have prospects falling over themselves trying to ruin their careers. It started with Brien Taylor, the #1 overall draft pick of 1992, who signed for a then unheard of $1.5 million dollars but never made it to The Show due to an injury sustained in a fight.

For those unaware of just how big of a deal Brien was, Topps Company chose Taylor as the first player included as a certified autograph in a Topps brand. Yes, Topps chose Taylor as their inaugural autograph despite guys like Joe Dimaggio and Mickey Mantle being readily available. For context, Upper Deck beat Topps to the punch two years prior and chose Hall of Famer, Reggie Jackson, as their first autograph.

Not long after Brien’s sad fate we had the Yankees’ Ruben Rivera, who was being touted everywhere as the “Next Mickey Mantle” by publications like Beckett Baseball. By 1996, the word was out and everyone was expecting big things from Rivera, who hit 33 bombs and drove in 101 runners, while also managing to steal 48 bases in the Minors in 1994. The future looked bright for Ruben and the Yankees.

Ruben was eventually released after stealing a glove from fellow teammate, Derek Jeter. Rivera played less than 100 games for the Yankees and through parts of 9 MLB seasons, never put up numbers anywhere close to his amazing 1994 season. As of 2019, 46-year-old Rivera was hitting bombs in Mexico, where he had become somewhat of a baseball legend. Between MiLB, MLB, and Independent/Mexican leagues, Ruben hit 504 home runs.

That brings us to 2022 and the story of Jake Sanford, a 24-year-old, 3rd round draft pick from 2019, who followed closely in Rivera’s footsteps by stealing his teammates’ equipment. Sanford, not to be outdone, also made several online deals through social media and decided to rip people off by not sending over the goods after receiving payment, which is one level worse than Ruben Rivera.

Having no shame, the Ottawa Titans, an independent league team, immediately signed Sanford to a contract after the Yankees washed their hands clean of Jake. As of May 19th, Sanford has deactivated both his Twitter and Instagram accounts but you can still get to see your former, favorite Yankees prospects if you’re in Canada and certain U.S states by checking out the Titans’ schedule HERE.

Leaf is Just Existing

As a lifelong baseball card collector (and opinionated blogger), I believe I’ve earned my stripes. I’ve spent 31 of my 42 years on Earth engulfed in this hobby. As a writer, I’ve studied the trading card industry for fifteen years and have written over 3,000 articles on the subject. During that time, I’ve addressed industry scandals, new product previews/reviews, and covered the secondary market extensively. I cover the hobby fairly and right down the middle. If anything, Panini America has perhaps the worst coverage on my website because quite honestly, they are the biggest cardboard criminals around, but it’s always Leaf or more specifically, their C.E.O., Brian Gray, who I have the most interaction with.

For those who aren’t familiar, Brian Gray once paid a hell of a lot of money to sign 42 MLB draftees to exclusive trading card deals for the debut of 2008 Razor Signature Series. This move was a big deal, as Brian was looking to take on the establishment, AKA Topps Company & Upper Deck and for a while, there was quite a bit of hype thanks in part to a popular forum shilling Razor products on overtime. As it turns out, not even Freedom Cardboard could help as 2008 wasn’t the best draft class and what ultimately would be that year’s most accomplished player, Buster Posey, didn’t sign an exclusive deal and appeared in Topps’ dominant Bowman products.

Unfortunately for Brian, through no fault of his own, Razor failed miserably. Upper Deck’s debut may have toppled (see what I did there?) Topps in 1989 but in 2008 the card market was a different beast and there was no way a newcomer would be able to survive without logos or an elite design team and Razor had neither. By the end of 2009, Razor as a baseball card company had been lapped by Topps & Upper Deck and was somehow even worse off than Tristar. Something had to be done to wash the bad taste Razor left in the mouths of collectors, so Brian went and purchased the Leaf Trading Card brands and that brings us to modern day, as in 2022.

If baseball cards with pictures of jerseys are your thing, you are probably a diehard Leaf collector. If sticker dumps with dying legends barely able to sign legibly and disgraced gambling degenerates are your thing, you probably LOVE Leaf. If baseball cards that look like they were designed on Microsoft Paint by a 40-year-old who still listens to Korn & Limp Bizkit in 2022, Leaf is your go-to company and you will defend them as if your paycheck depended on it. I believe Brian had an amazing opportunity to put his company in a place to be able to compete with the establishment but instead decided to live off the hard work of a brand he had absolutely no involvement with.

Twelve years after Razor became Leaf (in name only), I still see only one great thing the company has done in its time and that is Leaf Memories, which gave us buyback rookies not available anywhere else of players such as Frank Thomas. Again, the only credit I can give to Brian here is the booking of talent to sign and the small Memories stamp all the cards carry because the design and photography belong to the original Leaf company and even the signature placement was the player’s decision. It reminds me of a new record company releasing and re-releasing a legacy band’s greatest hits over and over again. It’s special but only thanks to the hard work produced prior to the money grab.

Years ago, I was optimistic that Brian’s version of Leaf Trading Cards would one day become something special, maybe even battle for MLB licensing but after seeing over a decade of bland, forgettable products, I’ve come to the realization that Leaf (in name only!) will always be a poor man’s baseball card company. If Topps is compared to Target, Razor/Leaf would be the equivalent of the Dollar General outside of the ghetto that has all the stock in boxes down the aisle and just one employee running the entire store. Yes, there will be customers, but collectors aren’t exactly picky and, in this climate, at least for another 3-6 months, everything will sell out, even this trash.

Enter the Junk Auto Era

It took a former Yankees #1 prospect, hobby social media darling, and fellow collector, Phil Hughes, for some to finally see just how oversaturated the sports cards market is. In the tweet above, you will see how many signatures Phil signed for the upcoming Topps Archives Signature Series Retired. Topps paid Phil $4,000 to sign 800 cards, including an astonishing 74 “one of ones”. That money is well worth it as Hughes, as he’s known to do, came up with some fantastic inscriptions.

The problem here is that there are 74 different 1/1s in one brand of just ONE player. If you’re not a fan of Hughes, who peppered in a couple of good seasons throughout his 12-year career, that could be a pretty disappointing box break. It harkens back to when Topps had Ken Hrbek sign more cards & stickers than he has likely ever signed in his lifetime for releases spread throughout the entire 2021 calendar year. Hrbek autographs became so common that pulling one became universally known as being “Hrbek’d”.

Hughes did collectors a favor by pulling back the curtain on Topps’ watering down of the 1/1 market, which I’ve been saying for years is a big problem. Today, you can pull a 1/1 Mike Trout and while it will sell for astronomical figures, just how special is it when there will be multiple 1/1s of Trout in that same product as well as multiple 1/1 Trouts spread throughout 40 different releases in 2022? I don’t even think his certified autographs are special anymore considering he’s been signing non-stop since 2009.

Collectors criticized players like Mickey Mantle & Pete Rose for signing thousands of items after their careers ended but will turn a blind eye at Topps’ overproduction. Topps pays these beloved athletes $5 per signature and will turn around and sell a box with a guarantee to pull it for $500. At card shows and private signings, these athletes were making much more than what Topps paid so good for Mantle & Rose. Millionaires or not, if it helps them pay their bills, then so be it.

Rose, Mantle and others devalued their signature by signing till the very end, some seemingly on their death bed. That’s no different than Topps having Shohei Ohtani sign over 15,000 different cards in 2018. Vladimir Guererro Jr. has just one full season under his belt and currently has over 2,000 certified autographs on eBay. Collectors have been using the word Junk Wax 2.0 to describe the current market, I believe what we are facing is the Junk Auto Era and for those who lived through the 90s, we all know how this ends.

Tears of a Flipper

Twitter was a shit-show yesterday. For starters, the most polarizing man on the planet, Elon Musk, became the new owner of Twitter, to the delight of the Right-wing and the many nasty human beings and bots that call Twitter their home. As one can imagine, the Left was up in arms, threatening to leave Twitter, with some prominent Twitter influencers keeping their word and immediately deleting their account. I for one do not care and will continue using my account for its intended purposes.

On the collecting side of Twitter, there was an even bigger storm brewing, followed by a full day of Retail Flipper tears raining down on us as perhaps the biggest card of 2022, a Topps Platinum 1/1 Wander Franco was finally pulled from a cheap hanger box purchased at a Walgreens in California. While I’m not big on Franco (or any modern player), I understand just how important this card is and going on secondary market value alone, this is what you’d call a life-changing baseball card.

I know what you’re thinking, how could anyone be upset that the biggest card of the year was pulled? Why wouldn’t collectors be happy for someone essentially becoming filthy rich overnight by doing something as fun as buying a pack of baseball cards? Most of us have done the same thing most of our lives, secretly chasing that same dream. Besides, with unopened Hobby boxes reaching an all-time high, someone beating the odds should be a great thing. Well, not always …

It appears that a certain element of Twitter, specifically “flippers”, are up in arms over this transaction. These greasy-haired, Mtn. Dew fueled, Hot Cheetos shirt-stained bozos who own more cargo shorts than underwear cannot handle that Topps put such an illustrious card inside a hanger pack at Walgreens. To these people, this card should have been included as a Hobby-exclusive so that that some popular group breaker with 25 cases of product could stream it on Instagram. To them, that’s the only way to do it.

Never should such a card be found in a value pack at a local drug store. To these people, spending $500 on a box of cards should promise the world to them. To breakers who hoard cases by dropping tens of thousands of dollars, this is a travesty. To that 25-year-old living with Mom & Dad, who just wiped-out Target of $5,000 worth of Panini product so that he can add an 80% mark-up, this is a slap in the face. Elon just bought Twitter and some nobody in California just struck oil on a Tampa Bay Rays rookie card. The world is coming to an end!

I for one will celebrate the underdog. So will all the other thousands of collectors who have been completely priced out of buying baseball cards in 2022. As will the long-time collectors who just can’t find cards to buy during what could be the hottest this hobby has ever been. You know who else will celebrate with me? That card shop owner who was only able to secure 8 hobby boxes of Topps Chrome to sell to his dwindling customers because Houdini and his clones purchased 80 cases for YouTube and social media video group breaks.

Need I remind these so-called collectors that if you are overpaying for Topps’ flagship product looking for a 1/1, you are doing it wrong. Topps’ flagship is a low-level, set builders product and has been for over 70 years. If you want big hits or colorful parallels, flagship is not for you. Flagship is a product that is meant to be affordable and attainable to anyone who wants to feel the joy of opening a back of baseball cards. It’s unfortunate that grading has polluted the hobby with greed and even flagship is a tough find during the first month of release.

I for one commend Topps. Thank you for looking out for the little guy.

Oh, How the Mighty Fall

I’ve been in the game a long time, 32 years to be exact. I’ve seen the birth of pack-inserted, certified autographs and the introduction of the game-used relic. I was on the ground floor for the debut of Bowman Chrome in 1997 and have spent thousands of hours of my life writing about sports cards for this site and others. In my collecting lifetime, I’ve never witnessed a greater, swifter fall than that of 2022 Panini WWE Prizm. Okay, maybe I called it with my title last week but the speed at which the WWE Prizm market has collapsed is something truly remarkable and one of a kind.

In the span of seven days, the same time it took “God” to start and complete creation, Panini America’s long awaited WWE debut came crashing down harder than a D’Lo Brown running power bomb on Darren Drozdov. Just a week and a half ago, boxes of 2022 Panini WWE Prizm were flying off shelves at near $1,500 a pop, if you were lucky enough to even find one. In group breaks, single packs were pushing $200, which was probably the most shocking part of it all and nearly all of social media, the collecting side anyway, was buzzing about the hottest wrestling trading card set to ever see the light of day.

The problem is that there are a few wrestling card influencers who spent the better part of 2-3 months pumping and pushing WWE Prizm. During the lone week Prizm dominated the hobby, these “influencers” were louder and more obnoxious than ever. As you can imagine, that same energy was nowhere to be found as Prizm began its descent. Suddenly the narrative went from “Prizm is the second coming of Jesus” to “Well, we all knew secondary market prices were going to tank”. Who knew, exactly? I certainly have never seen $150+ cards drop 98% a week after release.

There may actually be an exact event that broke 2022 Panini WWE Prizm. Something so symbolic of the greed in this hobby that possibly led to WWE Prizm’s downfall, and it came when an eBay user won a WWE Prizm John Cena Color Blast insert on eBay for $11,200 and refused to pay. Many speculate that the move was calculated to screw over the seller, Dary Rezvani. Shockingly, Rezvani, had to endure not only losing out on a major sale but the ridicule of fellow collectors who certainly appeared to be jealous of WWE Prizm’s week-long reign of dominance on the secondary market.

Below, you can see what the completed sales of the Cena Color Blast beginning with the first one that “sold” for $11,200 to the most recent sale just 9 days later for a more realistic $1,888. This is one of the more extreme cases but still a good example as pretty much all of WWE Prizm is facing a similar fate on the secondary market as we enter week #3. Another issue first-week WWE Prizm collectors are facing is the release of WWE Prizm retail, which will continue to devalue the product. Panini America is well known for printing into the millions so for those early buyers, my sympathies go out to you.

To me it appears the divide among wrestling card collectors is being driven by the age-old conflict of vintage collectors vs. modern collectors. To those who collected wrestling cards before it was “cool” to do so, 1982-’83’s Wrestling All-Star sets was the King of Wrestling Cards. For starters, the print run on these two sets is 2,000, which is lower than anything Panini America will ever produce. Second, the way the cards were shipped led damage so finding a “mint” copy is next to impossible. Third, the set was only available in a regional, obscure wrestling magazine as a mail-order special.

The WAS market has boomed since the pandemic era with raw, key issues demanding in and around the high 3 figures with mid-level, graded copies setting new records each and every week. Topps’ WWE cards, with their flashy Refractors and serial numbering was not able to make even a single dent to the WAS market but Panini’s Prizm tidal wave clearly ruffled many feathers. Furthermore, the company that printed the WAS cards 39 years ago didn’t anticipate on collectors one day demanding 35 shiny parallels, autographs, etc. The card market was a completely different business in 1983.

At the end of the day, it’s okay to collect what you please. Some like the new technology that Panini Prizm brings to the table, while other prefer the classic, more toned-down flavor of WAS. The world in general is already divided. It’s divided by political parties, pandemic guidelines, who to support in outside wars, and so much more. There’s no reason for collectors to be bickering online over something as silly as trading cards. Let’s face facts: 1982 WAS is truly a scarce and hard to find product but 2022 Panini WWE Prizm blows it out of the water, aesthetically speaking. There’s no denying each’s strengths.

So, can we all just get along?