Speculating on Athletes is a Bad Idea

Recently, I saw a brief write up on “success” of Upper Deck’s 2017-18 SP Authentic, in part because collectors are chasing Upper Deck’s buyback of Connor McHockeyJesus’ Young Guns rookie card. Not just because it’s his rookie card, but because they have also been autographed and numbered only to 97. Aren’t we lucky that McDavid doesn’t wear a jersey number like 2? 

While there are more reasons to buy a box of these cards, like some handsome autograph and jersey swatch hits, these ultra-rare McDavid cards are fetching upwards of $3,000 at card shows. That’s like five times more than I paid for the Volvo I used to drive. Now, it is pretty exciting to pull a rare card like that from a pack; I was mildly excited when I pulled a McDavid Young Guns RC from a Series One pack a few years ago, let it lay around on my dining room table unprotected for two weeks, and then sold it on eBay for $150 so I could buy an expensive-ass bicycle seat (pun not intended), and Sal can hate me forever for not selling it to him. What-evs!

But should you purchase the card of a young player at such an exorbitant price? He’s got his whole career ahead of him, however long or short that may be. 

History is generally cyclical. There have been other young athletes who have put up promising careers only to derail them due to personality issues, off-field antics, or REEEEEALLY poor decisions made when they play in some of the most stuffy, old fashioned, conservative sports on the planet. Let’s look at three such athletes.

Case 1: Jose Canseco

This guy had a hell of a lot going for him before he trashed it all…and took a lot of potential HOFers with him. Once his career got rolling in 1986 with the Oakland Athletics, it seemed like nothing could stop this exciting superstar for hitting the long ball and getting paid on top of being quite the looker. His 1986 Topps Traded #20T is his rookie card and peaked at around $100 in the mid-late 80’s; not cheap back then. Being the first, and for a very long time only, member of baseball’s 40/40 club (40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in a season) Canseco’s card earned its value.But what goes up must come down.

Canseco had some run-ins with Johnny Law. He was arrested in 1989 for illegal possession of a firearm, again in 1992 for for aggravated battery for slamming his car TWO TIMES into his wife’s BMW, simple battery against his second wife in 1997 and a 2001 bar fight alongside his twin brother Ozzie. (Boy those Sedin Twins were just a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream, other than that sweet side gig they had back in 2007.) Canseco was also jailed for violating probation after he failed to take anger management classes, yadda, yadda, yadda…

Dude, the greatest hockey interviewee of all-time, Ilya Bryzgalov, has a question for you. 

Oh, right. Steroids. Probably one of the first MLB players to kickstart the ‘roid era of the game, Canseco admitted to the illegal use of steroids. On top of that, he also spilled the beans on a LOT of other popular players getting the muscle poke too, cascading a whole heap of seasonal and career records into question and causing Congress to step up and do something important for once. All of this added up to the sinking value of Jose’s rookie card. This pretty much summed up his career:

Remember how this was worth $100 in the ‘80s? Today they sell for as little as $0.49 on eBay. I have five, because LOL!

Case 2: Tiger Woods

Tiger famously came roaring into the Old White Guys Club, a.k.a. the PGA, breaking color norms as well as a lot of tournament records along the way. He was an absolute inspiration to so many people around the world as the greatest golfer of the time, and if things held up, the greatest golfer of ALL time! His first card actually came from the magazine Sports Illustrated for Kids in 1996, and at Tiger’s peak was selling ungraded for $500, and graded for as much as $5,000! Buuuuut then the bottom fell out.

Golf is an incredibly stodgy sport that has had a notoriously difficulty moving on with the times. Last year, one of the oldest courses in Scottland FINALLY allowed women to play there. While Tiger won his first Green Jacket at The Masters in Augusta, Georgia, had his time come seven years prior, he would not have been allowed to play due to the color of his skin; hell, they had a completely oddball rule before 1983 that you could only have black caddies. How f*cked up is that? Needless to say, if you’re making strides in a sport that has a history of being this culturally backwards and unforgiving, you keep your nose clean. And Tiger tried pretty hard to keep it under wraps with an incredibly squeaky clean public image.

Come late November 2009, Woods crashed his Cadillac Escalade into a fire hydrant (even though he had a Buick sponsorship). He ended up in the hospital but then evaded police who wanted to question him about the event. Strange things were afoot at the Circle K Woods mansion. A couple weeks later in a very strange press conference he publicly admits to having an extramarital affair that his wife found out about, and chased him with a golf club, damaging the back of his SUV as he tried to get away. It wasn’t an affair, it was a LOT of them; he claims he spent 45 days in rehab for his “addiction.”

Long, strange, nasty, story short, it took Tiger a long time to regain his form. He finally won the Tour Championship in September 2018; his first championship in five years. But his rookie card hasn’t rebounded. It took a 90% dive, and runs about $500 these days for a BGS 10. — how does a card with perforated edges get a perfect score, anyway? — and $50 or less ungraded. 

Case 3: Rick DiPietro

I guess I have to pick a hockey example since this is a hockey website and Charlotte Checkers Legend Rick DiPietro is as good as any. This goalie was the first overall selection of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, picked by the New York Islanders, who made so many incredibly good decisions in that decade. His collegiate career (one year at Boston University) was lights out, nearly taking the NCAA record for most saves in a game: 77 stops on 80 shots. The Islanders felt like they couldn’t loose with this pick, and while he did show a lot of promise, his career started out with a groin injury in training camp, and he would not start an NHL game until late January 2001, gaining three wins to 15 losses in his rookie campaign.

While not putting up phenomenal numbers, but at least having a couple healthy seasons, the Islands eventually signed Rick to a LOOOOOOONG-term contract of 15 years for $67.5 million, just before the start of the 2006-07 season, when he finally looked to become the superstar they’d been hoping for. Around this time, his 2000-01 Upper Deck Young Guns rookie card had a high Beckett value of $20. (Not as high as Canseco’s or Woods’ RCs in their heydey, but by 2006, most card prices were driven down by online sales on sites like eBay and the Beckett Marketplace.)

After signing that mega-deal, both his health and the value of his rookie card plummeted. In 2007, DiPietro had a torn labial in the left hip, along with concussions and knee issues. In 2008, he had hip surgery and knee surgery. In 2009, knees, knees, knees. In 2010, he was all good. Just kidding! His knees still sucked. In 2011, abductor injury. And then, Brent Johnson went and BROKE HIS FACE with ONE PUNCH in a rare goalie fight. 

OK, it’s clear the DiPietro is made of glass. While everyone else was trying to get a piece of Matt Cook at the time for running him (and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to kick the tobacco juice out of Matt Cook in 2011?), only one of the refs saw was about to transpire and desperately raced to stop it, only to find Johnson to be as slippery as a greased watermelon in a swimming pool.

Rick DiPietro was never the same after that. Even when he could find himself on the ice, he couldn’t get out of his own head. The Island finally bought his contract out in 2013 (who will still pay him $1.5 million for another 11 years beyond the beginning of this season!). The Hurricanes, dealing with their own goalie injuries since they had to dress their 4th stringer (what, was the equipment manager too busy?) offered Rick a tryout with their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. He lasted a month with no wins and stats the make Scott Darling look positively Vezina-esqe. Today, your opinion of the movie Encino Man and $1.14 can get you a DiPietro Young Guns card. 

I could go on with other examples, and there are plenty of talented players who just didn’t pan out due to injury or other events in their lives. Is Connor McDavid going to follow in the footsteps of any of the men I mentioned today? Probably not. Or at least I hope not. Whatever feelings you have for the Oilers, he’s an exciting player and one that should attract future fans to this sport; as fans of hockey we should wish him well. But he’s barely old enough to drink when he plays south of the 49th and has his whole career and life ahead of him to make the right or wrong choices — and hopefully not injure himself too much.

But buying high on a player’s card seems like speculating on a volatile future; it’s one thing to get lucky pulling it from a pack where you paid $100-$120; that’s just a gamble that paid off, and if it doesn’t you probably got some OK cards that could recoup some of what you spent. But dropping $3,000 on a piece of cardboard and ink that’s value rides solely on the coming and goings of a young man with Justin Bieber-level money (oh jeez, what did that kid do when he was 21 and rich AF?) kinda makes investing in Bitcoin look safe. Or you could just buy a Conner McDavid gold coin for half the cost; if something happens to the player, at least you still have the value of gold to fall back on. 

Jim Howard is a Carolina Hurricanes fan and reformed baseball card collector who is trying to keep the hockey collection from becoming overwhelming. And while he wishes he could give Crosby the business with his mitt, he is in fact NOT the goalie for the Red Wings. 


Author: Jim Howard

Hockey enthusiast who pays the bills as a traveling geologist. More of a lover than a fighter, he's a fairly cheap date; just ask his wife. He'd prefer to be outside in the rain that stuck in the office on a beautiful day.

2 thoughts on “Speculating on Athletes is a Bad Idea”

  1. I can never get enough of that Brent Johnson one-punch video. It makes my day every time I watch it because I remember watching it live. No doubt Cooke was a garbage can on skates (passing the torch to Tom Wilson) and the previous game they played, he took a couple liberties with DiPietro. You can see on the video that Rick put the stick up right before the collision to hit Cookie high. But the melee that ensued afterward was great. Since we are speaking of prospecting or athlete speculation, it sucks that in the next game with the Isles, the retaliation from Trevor Gillies on Eric Tangradi took one of my favorite prospects out of the game and basically changed the course of his career. I had been (and still do) PC Tangradi. I wanted him to get a permanent role on the team so bad but it just wasn’t in the cards. He’s bounced around as various team property since (currently in Binghamton with the Devils).

    1. That’s kinda the way it is with hockey players. Jordan Staal came to camp one summer a few years back and was jacked all to shit from pumping iron ready for the season, then a Buffalo player snapped his leg and he was out until January. Shit happens.

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