Hobby Musings: Judge’s roller coaster season reflected in the hobby – Prospecting has been a part of the hobby for decades now. Going back to the 1980s when a roomful of people would get excited over pulling rookie cards of Ron Kittle, there’s been an inherent thrill to pulling a big card of a hot prospect.
Over the last couple of years, that fervor has reached a whole new level as card prices have soared and collectors, as well as speculators, have a whole new range of card types to choose from. While this has been great for collectors looking for cards, it’s also created a bit of conundrum as the prices for these cards have been astronomical at times. When I first started covering the hobby in 2012, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why autographs of players such as Andrew Luck and Mike Trout cost more than legends like Joe Montana and Henry Aaron. However, I quickly learned that is was the speculation of potential future value that played a pivotal role in determining those prices. Quite simple, the hobby is now dominated by the attention given and prices paid for, of relatively unproven youngsters riding hot streaks.
One player who has perhaps exemplified that trend more than any in recent memory, has been New York Yankees rookie, Aaron Judge. A known, but not particularly highly-sought prospect, Judge’s cards could be had for fairly modest prices heading into this season. Then came the bevy of spring training home runs. After being named the Yankees’ starting right fielder interest really began to grow. His record setting start to the MLB regular season made national news and collectors across the country took notice. After his victory at the Home Run Derby, it became all too apparent that Judge was the latest in a line of hot Yankees players who were looking to carve out their place in New York lore.
As a result, the market reacted sharply. Those same cards that could be had for peanuts mere weeks beforehand suddenly became the hottest in the hobby. Base rookie cards that had been collecting dust in dime boxes were now going for an easy $10-$20. Certified autographs were considered a bargain at a C-note.
Buoyed in large part because of a stellar supporting rookie class, sealed baseball boxes of 2017 Topps baseball card products were moving at a crazy rate. This was all too apparent at the National, where sealed baseball products were barely found compared to recent years in large part because many of the retailers had already sold out of their allocated inventory. The stock that was available moved quickly as collectors looked to use it to take advantage of Topps’ wrapper redemption program. Panini didn’t even have any major league-themed baseball products on its box redemption list at the National in large part because of baseball’s success this year.
The demand for cards of Aaron Judge and this year’s rookie class has been astronomical, to say the least. I honestly thought the bubble was going to burst sooner rather than later, as tends to happen with hot rookies. Of course you get rare exceptions with players like Mike Trout who manage to keep a pretty steady hobby base because they themselves turn into top players in their sport. For every Trout though, you get several players like Yasiel Puig who take the hobby by storm only to flame out, leaving several frustrated collectors in their wake.
The funny thing with Judge was that he maintained his hot play for many months, and with each passing home run, the hobby market just kept igniting. With the Yankees a playoff contender, it seemed as if he could pull off the rare hobby feat of going through his rookie season relatively unscathed in terms of fluctuations in secondary market value.
Then, after the All-Star break, the strikeouts came. A lot of strikeouts. A strikeout streak that set a major league record and all of a sudden had those same eager buyers scared off. To be honest, his stuff was still moving at an impressive rate. However, there were plenty of naysayers and doubters all too eager to say, “I told you so.”
To get more of a gauge on how the value of Aaron Judge’s baseball cards have been impacted by his roller coaster season, I had the chance to speak with Sports Collectors Daily editor Rich Mueller, Mike’s Stadium Sportscards owner Michael Fruitman and Beckett Media editor Ryan Cracknell.
Hobby Musings: Judge’s roller coaster season reflected in the hobby
KS: What kind of hobby reaction have you seen to Aaron Judge’s recent struggles at the plate.
RM: I’m sure anyone who has invested a lot of money in Judge is a little nervous. I think anytime a young player cools off to this degree, you see some buyers back off. Others will see it as an opportunity to get something at a lower price when sellers panic.
MF: Fortunately we are not seeing a massive difference at my store. Our 2017 MLB sales are still flying off of our shelves and our collectors are enjoying being able to buy earlier in the season releases at more competitive prices.
RC: There has definitely been a plateau of sorts and some short-term gains have certainly taken a step back. But Judge has built a strong base that continues to be a market driver, even though there isn’t the same excitement as a couple months ago.
KS: Has that reaction surprised you?
RM: I think the stories about his mountain of strikeouts probably caused some of the hesitation so I’m not really surprised.
MF: Somewhat, but not really since there are so many other popular rookies to drive products. For what it’s worth, I picked up a Judge Topps Chrome auto a few nights ago and after posting it on social media, it lasted all of 45 minutes.
RC: It shouldn’t be surprising. Speculation has given way to reality. There was no way that the market was going to continue the way it was for Judge’s cards. At the rate he was going, he’d be having to hit a home run every game for his cards to keep pace. Growth in the Rookie Cards and prospect cards is a lot of “what could be.”
KS: Are there any other rookie players from recent memory you remember having a similar hobby trajectory during their first season?
RM: Of course the natural comparison is Kevin Maas, who was as hot as they come for a couple of months back in the early 90s and was also a Yankee. Obviously he never sustained his incredible start. There was massive hype around Stephen Strasburg early in his career but injuries really put a damper on what some collectors were hoping he’d become. It’s inherent in the prospecting game. It’s a dice roll that some are willing to take, but others take a safer route.
MF: I was fortunate to be part of Shaqmania, LeBronmania, Crosbymania and others. The combination of a rookie who hits home runs and plays for the Yankees is very hard to beat. The only thing that appears to be close is a rookie who hits home runs and plays for the Dodgers.
RC: It’s still early to see where things are going to settle. I don’t think we’re looking at the second coming of Maas or “Linsanity.” But we’re at a point where we might be able to see more realistic demand and prices for Judge’s stuff. Of course, being a star on the Yankees, that shift is still going to be different than most every other player out there.
KS: How do you think the rest of the season will pan out for him from a hobby standpoint?
RM: Hard to predict. He was hot enough for a long enough period of time that I don’t think the market will collapse if he continues to struggle. He could easily get right back on top at any time but the thing to keep in mind is that he’s 25 years old. It’s going to be a little tough to put up Hall of Fame numbers with such a late start but if he can be productive and lead the Yankees to a World Series or two, that may not matter so much.
MF: With the Yankees in the playoff run, there’s hope that MLB sales will continue to be strong well into the fall and I would certainly expect Judge, Bellinger and other rookies to inspire some strong holiday sales. Like many other stores I saw the early and mid season sales and went a bit deeper into late season releases. While I expect to move through most of them well, if the Rockies can’t make the World Series, I’ll settle for a Dodgers/Yankees WS and the strong interest that would ensue.
RC: In the months ahead, there’s bound to be some sort of market correction. Even without strikeout records, that was bound to happen. It was unrealistic to expect Judge to keep his pace, both on the field and in the hobby. As far as cards go, there’s also more out there now than when Judge cards peaked so we have more supply and less demand. People are selling. But there are a couple of x-factors still in play to see where the correction stops. First is the rookie home run record. Even more important is the fact that the Yankees are currently in a position to make the postseason where anything is possible.
Hobby Musings: Judge’s roller coaster season reflected in the hobby
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