In case you missed it, Shohei Ohtani has completely taken over the sports world and the world of sports cards, simultaneously. During my return to writing at Wax Heaven, Ohtani was all everyone was talking about but because I had been away for four years, I was too busy catching up to pay any attention. Right before Spring Training, I finally began to do my research on what journalists, sports fans, and collectors were all calling “The next Babe Ruth” but all I could think back to was a fat, bearded Joba Chamberlain playing on his fourth team in five years and then suddenly retiring.
I’ve been collecting since 1990, which means I’ve seen dozens of “can’t miss” prospects completely miss. I’ve even lost good money on guys who were going to be the next Canseco (Ben Grieve), the next Ken Griffey Jr. (Jose Cruz Jr.), and the next Randy Johnson (Andrew Miller). I also wasn’t around for the storm that was Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg or more recently, Aaron Judge. To me, for over a decade, when I think examples of failures as players and in the hobby, the only name I can think of is that of Joba and his infamous 2007 Bowman Chrome 1/1 Superfractor.
I never understood the hype behind Joba but I will never forget how his rookie Superfractor was pulled and put on eBay and the day it sold for just a little over $5,000 dollars. A few months later, the card returned to eBay only this time slabbed and graded and sold for nearly $20,000. Eventually, Jobamania died down and so did this blog and I never found out what became of this card and the probably very embarrassed owner/s. As you can imagine, there were even several other Joba cards that hit astronomical figures but the Super was the card everyone talked about.
Now let’s go back to Shohei and his incredibly hot start to his American career which includes two wins as a pitcher and a 3-home run week following a very rough Spring Training in which everybody pretty much counted him out. Everybody as in respected journalists, hardcore collectors, and even an 11-year card blogger we all know and love. Yes damn it, I thought he was going to be another Joba or better yet, another Hideo Nomo who started out HOT and fizzled out once Major League hitters figured out his stuff. However, I don’t feel the same way about Ohtahni. At least not anymore.
Recently, Ohtahni’s most popular card (for now) from 2018 Topps Heritage sold for well over $6,000 dollars. This was a high for the card whose sale price may have been helped by the 1/69 serial number and the fact that Major League ball player, Pat Neshek was the seller. I wondered if price was a fluke until his 2017 Black Refractor sold for just under $13,000. His Topps Now autograph then hit $12,500. Clearly, this man is here to save the hobby. That is of course, unless he starts losing and striking out. Then what? In a week, 26 Ohtani cards sold for over $3,000. That is scary.
Now I have a decision to make. Do I jump on the Ohtani bandwagon like everyone else and risk dooming the poor kid’s career? After all, every single prospect I have ever collected has failed in one way or another. I have really bad luck when it comes to collecting ball players which began when I started collecting Jose Canseco in 1990, while the guy was on top of the sports world (and Madonna). Less than three years later, Jose was having balls bounce off his head for home runs and was blowing out his arm pitching ….PITCHING for God sakes! Talk about bad luck.
I guess in private, I already made my decision. I was one of the early bidders on Neshek’s mysteriously-acquired Ohtani Heritage autograph. I knew I’d never fully pull the trigger after around a few hundred dollars but damn it felt good to be in the hunt again. Sooner or later (probably much later), the card and Ohtani’s hype has to die down. If not, he may ultimately become the greatest hobby superstar of all time. For now, since I can’t afford the next Babe Ruth, I will go ahead and start picking up cards of “The Next Mickey Mantle”, Ruben Rivera.
In case you’re wondering how that went, Ruben, age 44, is still playing in a Mexican League today … as in 2018. In fact, he’s become somewhat of a legend down there hitting nearly 300 career home runs while batting over .300 in his lifetime (in Mexico). If that’s not a love for the game, I don’t know what is. He may not have lived up to MLB’s standards and perhaps his sticky fingers ruined his career prospects in the States but in Mexico, this former disgraced star is Mickey, the Babe, and Hank Aaron all rolled into one and there’s no sign that he’s ready to slow down.