By Larry Canale
If you haven’t heard of Shohei Ohtani yet, you haven’t been tuned in to the biggest buzz at spring training this year. The 23-year-old Japanese import is that all-time rarity in Major League Baseball history: a pitcher/hitter. In Japan, he was a slugger as an outfielder on the days he wasn’t baffling hitters with his 100-mph fastball and nasty splitters and sliders.
Now a member of the Los Angeles Angels, Ohtani is attracting the attention of speculative baseball collectors. Right now, there’s precious little Ohtani memorabilia showing up on eBay—only 2,400 items. Once manufacturers and autograph suppliers start building up stock, he could be a hot ticket—assuming, of course, that he at least comes close to his performance in the Japan Pacific League.
You want Ohtani numbers? In his five years with the Nippon-Ham Fighters (2013 to 2017), he batted .286 with 48 homers in 1,048 at-bats. He’s a hurler, first, though, so his pitching stats are more eye-popping: a 42-15 record with a 2.52 ERA, a 1.076 WHIP and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings.
So far, the hottest Ohtani items on eBay are his 2017 Bowman Chrome Mega Box Prospects card and his 2018 Topps Heritage signed card. Top prices paid:
• $13,000 for a 1-of-1 2017 Bowman Chrome Mega Box Prospects Black Refractor graded BGS 9.5.
• $4,806 (on 62 bids) for a 2018 Topps Heritage signed Ohtani card, limited to an edition of 69. Two other specimens of this card—designed after Topps’ set—sold for $3,900 and $3,677. (At press time, four sellers were listing signed Topps Heritage Ohtani cards at prices of $1,350, $2,550, $3,050 and $3,900.)
• $2,950 for a 2017 Chrome Orange Refractor (numbered 17 of 25) graded BGS 9.5. Two other Orange Refractors—one a BGS 9.5, the other a PSA 10—sold for prices of $2,950 and $2,500.
• $1,115 for a 2017 Chrome Green Refractor (from an edition of 99) graded BGS 10.
What about the low end? Well, here are some $300-and-under sales from the past two months:
• $300 for a lot of two 2017 Bowman Mega Mojo Refractor cards of Ohtani, both graded BGS 9.5
• $250 for a lot of eight 2017 Topps Ohtani rookies (BGS 9.5)
• $158 and $150 for two separate ungraded (but clearly top-condition) 2018 Topps Ohtani Spring Debut cards
• $141 for two Mint-condition bobblehead dolls from a Nippon-Ham Fighters set, with one showing Ohtani as a pitcher, the other as a hitter. (About these bobbleheads: Several other Ohtani pitcher/hitter pairs—still Mint in box—sold for prices between $120 and $130.)
• $100 for a lot of three Ohtani BBM 2013 rookie cards from Japan.
You’ll also see Ohtani Purple Refractor cards from 2017 Chrome. We spotted one graded PSA 10 and priced at $900.
SPIRIT OF ’55
A bidder spent $15,550 to do some one-stop shopping for a complete 1955 Topps baseball set. Every card in the set had a PSA grade of between 6 and 7, with a couple of 8s included.
Topps’ colorful design in 1955 featured a close-up head shot augmented by a smaller posed-action photograph. The ringers in the set? Rookie cards of Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax and Harmon Killebrew, plus the second-year card of Hank Aaron.
Considering that a Clemente card in 6 to 7 condition can sell for $5,000 to $8,000 by itself, and that the Koufax and Killebrew collectively can come close to that range, the buyer got a nice deal, even if he missed out on the fun of collating the set.
Other stars in Topps’ 1955 set include Ted Williams, Willie Mays and Al Kaline (that’s not a bad outfield) along with Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra and Warren Spahn. And what about Mickey Mantle? Remember that he appeared in Bowman’s 1955 set, but not the Topps set.
LET’S PLAY TWO
Did we mention Ernie Banks? While we’re on the subject, let’s spotlight an underappreciated card of the longtime Cubs favorite: his 1956 Topps issue. Last month, a cream-of-the-crop specimen of his ’56 issue (his third-year card) sold for $8,000. It was graded Mint-9 by PSA; the authentication company has never graded one at a higher level. In fact, PSA’s population report shows only four other 1956 Banks cards with 9 grades.
The card’s reverse reflects a breakout season for young Ernie. He busted out with 44 homers, 117 RBI and a .295 average, setting him on a path for the Hall of Fame.
He died at such a young age (37), so there aren’t all that many Roberto Clemente autographs out there. When they show up, and when they’re authenticated, and when they’re in at least decent condition, they find a ready audience. One such example turned up on eBay in March, selling for $10,000.
The outfielder’s distinctive, ornate autograph was just a tad faded, but it had been authenticated by PSA/DNA, which gave the baseball itself a grade of 5 and the sig a grade of 6.