TWO WEEKS AFTER On New Year’s Eve, a baseball card war broke out in the Goldin collectibles market. Bidding began at $30,000 and rose to $101,000 the next day, with 14 bids by midnight. A high-profile collector known by the alias Shyne150 shelled out $474,000 for the 2020 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs Superfractor, a literally one-of-a-kind minor league rookie card. a card with a picture of a player who has not yet appeared in Double-A.

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“It extreme “This is the interest of Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto.

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The outlook was years from Shaw. The card featured a one-on-one serial number featuring Jason Dominguez, a New York Yankees teenager then playing with a low success rate, who had played 57 minor league ball games at the time of sale.

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The card-collecting world was stunned: the amount, the name on the card, and the audacity of searching for Shine is a term for investing in unverified players’ cards before they flourish or go bankrupt. Practice has become strictlybut investments are usually more conservative.

Shine did not view Dominguez as inexperienced or his investments as risky; he saw potential waiting to be realized and profits to be reckoned with. After all, baseball provides a longer runway for potential customers than football or basketball.

“Even if you tried to buy Dominguez from me for $200,000 more than I paid for him,” Shine, now 40, says, “I wouldn’t even think about it… Dominguez hasn’t matured like a bond yet. You just have to wait.”

The expectations surrounding Dominguez were almost unprecedented (“He looks like Mike Trout,” one general manager told Sportzshala’s Jeff Passan when he signed in 2019); comparisons are equally high (a “Mickey Mantle-like” skill set, as the director of international scouting told Passan) and a nickname (“The Martian”, or Martian, invented in his native Dominican Republic) is unforgettable. The Yankees gave him a franchise-record bonus of $5.1 million, using 95% of their 2019-20 international bonus pool for the 16-year-old free agent.

Dominguez’s 2021 debut – after COVID canceled the 2020 minor league season – was a lackluster one. In those 57 games between Rookie Ball and Low-A, he hit .252 with five homers. He was no longer the Yankee’s main avenue. However, Dominguez was promoted to High-A ahead of the 2022 MLB Futures Game (his second appearance) and became the focus of hypothetical trades for superstar outfielder Soto or ace Luis Castillo.

The promise of glory – his MLB debut is scheduled for 2024 – was evident in his trading value, but Dominguez’s team won’t reap the rewards for years, if at all.

Major league teams took that risk a long time ago. But for sports card collectors investing hundreds of thousands—even with the shocking unpredictability of the hobby and the looming recession—it was something new. Dominguez, who won’t turn 20 until February, will need to be at least a multiple MLB All-Star for Shine’s bet to pay off. This is a big game.

Could this really happen?

“Timing is everything,” says Jesse Craig, director of business development for PWCC Marketplace. “Some people gamble in the short term, some in the long term…

“And some people really think their boyfriend is going to be the next big thing.”

REAL NAME SHINE it’s Matt Allen, but it’s not something you’ll see on his well-groomed social media. About four years ago, Allen invested the money he made from private equity into cards. (“That’s something I really don’t want to get into,” Allen says when asked about his past. “A lot of people want to know the story.”) “I turned my profit into my passion,” he says now. owns a collection of sports cards, by his own estimate, worth more than $100 million.

He sold a rookie autographed Luka Doncic patch (called the RPA, which includes an embedded jersey piece) for a reported $4.6 million, briefly setting the record for the most expensive basketball card of all time. Last December, on Instagram, he showed off the LeBron James RPA, which he says he paid $2.4 million for. His unique Justin Herbert rookie card, which he says he paid $550,000 for, just sold for $1.8 million at Goldin’s auction. Allen says he bought a red Bowman Chrome refractor (numbered of five) a year and a half ago from Julio Rodriguez for $50,000; it just sold at auction in early August for $276,000.

He also owns a Triple Logoman card featuring James, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, which one of the industry’s headliners says is the greatest modern card in existence.

Allen, who began collecting at age 7, is the cradle of an entrepreneurial hobby evolution that has allowed him to connect with some of the most famous people in the world. He breaks Drake boxes, can tell you where the toilet is at the Kardashian house (okay, it’s Rob’s house), and befriends Logan Paul.

Always dressed in an aviator, Allen is known for his big bets and big flashes. So when industry experts say that half a million for Dominguez is an exception and not the new normal, Allen counters.

“What seems expensive today may seem cheap tomorrow,” he says. “… I don’t even pay attention to [the card’s day-to-day worth]. I’ve been doing this for so long it doesn’t even matter. If you said, “Hey, I’ll give you X for the card right now,” that’s not even an option.

“Now I’m not trying to make money.”

Instead of waiting to see if Dominguez is the second coming of Mickey Mantle – or Roy White… or Kevin Maas, for that matter – Allen overpaid now instead of risking not getting him when (or if) Dominguez will start launching moon shots at Monument Park.

“[Other collectors] wouldn’t pay $120,000 today for a card that sold for $100,000 yesterday; they will feel stupid,” says Allen. But, according to Goldin, there is a growing group of collectors who, armed with above-average sports knowledge, are taking calculated risks—for better or for worse.

“Usually people do intelligence, but the Dominguez case is intelligence — and I know it’s a bad word — on steroids,” says Goldin. “He’s a Yankee, Yankees fans and collectors are demanding that a young drafted player be their next superstar. If so, the map will be in the millions.”

Bob Means, who oversees eBay’s sports card category, says: “At these early stages, I don’t know [prospectors are] think about the cons. I think it’s part of the hunt.”

Allen says that while other amateurs were deciding whether paying future prices was a good strategy, he actually did. “Over the past 3.5 years, I have pushed the private market a lot,” he says. “Me and Ken [Goldin].”

Craig notes that before the pandemic, the chances of success were not so small. “Exploration prices are much higher than they were three years ago because everyone already understands what could potentially be the finish line.”

Recent multimillion-dollar sales, strong collector demand, and the super-rarity of the one-on-one card make Allen bet big on Dominguez. Regardless, he admits the sale was received with wide eyes. (One shocked hobbyist called Allen after the sale was completed and said, “A bit of a stretch, Matt?”)

Of course, Allen says he paid $100,000 for the Wander Franco Superfractor in 2019, two years before the former main prospect debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays. But Dominguez was far more adventurous; was less than the sample size to work with. Allen could try to capitalize on that untapped potential at any time, but if Dominguez is as good as advertised, the ROI could skyrocket.

“Then later, [flippers, or prospectors who cash in at the earliest opportunity] kicking themselves because it’s worth $1,000,000,” says Allen, who claims to have recently turned down a $1.8 million offer for the aforementioned Franco. . I’ve spent about $9 million on cards in the last three weeks and I haven’t even released any of it.”

Craig gives an example: A friend has a unique Superfractor autographed by Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez, a 2022 MLB All-Star and likely AL Rookie of the Year. After his heroism in the Home Run Derby, he was offered $1,000,000 for it. He refused.

“In general, intelligence is a game of chance,” says Craig. “Some people can really look at a player, see that he’s a five-tool guy, in the right organization and situation, and make a reasonable bet that he’s going to be a superstar.”

When Mike Trout’s 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor game sold for $3.94 million in August 2020, he was already a three-time AL MVP. Goldin rattled off the names of the supposed next big events of yesteryear, all of which were hyped ahead of their first MLB Opening Day. On one side were Bryce Harper and Ichiro, and on the other side were Steven Strasburg and Gregg Jeffries.

Then he stopped.

“Oh, actually,” he said. “This is the most obvious…”

The light went out in my head.

“Ken Griffey Jr ’89”

COMPARISON OF DOMINGUES WITH Ken Griffey Jr. is both striking and appropriate. As part of the hobby, Griffey’s iconic newcomer Upper Deck card – the first card in her 1989 debut release – is the best-known example of the quest, both in terms of production and collectibles.

This is the reason modern intelligence is what it is. It also nearly killed the hobby.

In the late 1980s, sports cards were a billion dollar business. A hobby shop called The Upper Deck partnered with businessmen infiltrating the industry with lofty aspirations: to start making superior baseball cards.

Topps’ half-century monopoly on baseball cards ended in 1980, allowing new companies to compete in space. But card technology was in its infancy, and Upper Deck knew collectors needed high-end products: better cardstock, foil wrapping instead of wax, anti-cheat hologram technology, all meant to encourage consumers to devour a product that cost twice as much. expensive…