A Short History Lesson on Ohtani Madness
If you collect baseball cards and you don’t know who Shohei Ohtani is, I would say that you have been living under a rock. Not since 2010 Bowman and Stephen Strausburg’s rookie cards have we seen a player just overwhelm the sports card hobby.
Officially, Ohtani mania started in May of 2017 with Bowman Chrome Mega boxes (a Target exclusive). The inclusion of Shohei took the hobby by surprise, and as a result, collectors started buying everything they could find. However, shortly after the first wave of mega boxes appeared in Target stores, they quickly disappeared, never to return. Rumor has it that Ohtani was just as surprised to find he was on Bowman cards, especially since he never consented for Topps to use his likeness on any cards. At that point, lawyers did their thing, Topps was forced to pull the product, and Blowoutcards.com bought all the remaining stock when the legal storm was over.
Near the end of 2017, Ohtani signed with the Angels and soon after, Topps Now introduced his first “offseason” card depicting Shohei in an Angels uniform. This card (OS-80) set a print-on-demand record by selling over 17,000 copies in a 24-hour window, but more importantly it showed the sports card collecting world that there was a demand for Ohtani.
In March of 2018, spring training games began and Ohtani made his MLB debut. There was a ton of hype surrounding him, and surprisingly (at least in my opinion) he underwhelmed, and in some cases he was a disappointment. Around the same time Ohtani was “sucking it up” in the Cactus league, the barrage of 2018 baseball cards starting hitting the market. Ohtani wasn’t included in the early release of 2018 Topps Series One, but he did have a ridiculously short printed rookie variation in 2018 Topps Heritage that also came in autographed versions. In addition to the Heritage cards, Topps Opening Day and Donruss also contained Ohtani cards, which were very cool and affordable.
As the 2018 season opened, Ohtani’s cards were very reasonably priced. There was still hope that he would be good, but it is fair to say that lots of collectors were reading the writing on the wall, and it said “flop.” During this time, the only cards that were borderline outrageous were his autographs from Heritage, but this was to be expected because of the Asian market. What wasn’t expected was that after pooping the bed in spring training, Shohei Ohtani started the regular season by kicking butt for the Angels. In his first few games, he hit three home runs and almost pitched a “no hitter.” This took Ohtani mania to OHTANI MADNESS! Everything that depicted the Japanese super-star exponentially increased in desirability and in value. Topps started releasing Ohtani cards in droves (especially with the print-on-demand platforms), and collectors started hunting his cardboard down in every way possible. In my neck of the woods, it was almost impossible to find anything 2018 baseball. The local card shop was selling out of hobby boxes, retail chains were blowing out of anything baseball, and online auction sales were closing at unbelievable numbers. Ohtani was officially the talk of the town, and everyone wanted in on the action.
2018 Gypsy Queen #89
2018 Bowman Paper #49
2017 Bowman Chrome Mega Box Mojo Refractor #BCP31
2018 Topps Heritage SP Variation #17
2018 Donruss Diamond Kings SP High Number #145
As the early 2018 MLB season progressed, Ohtani’s unbelievable start simmered down, but the chase for his cards hit overdrive. Right when everyone believed Ohtani card sales had reached their pinnacle, 2018 Bowman released and created collecting hysteria. On April 26th a copy of Ohtani’s 2018 Bowman Chrome Atomic Refractor auto, numbered to 100 copies, sold on ebay (BIN type auction) for $45,000. On that same day, a 2018 Bowman Chrome Red Refractor Auto, numbered to five copies, sold on ebay for $55,000 (standard auction format with 56 bids). These two sales amazed everyone, and Ohtani madness became official. Conspiracy theorists immediately went to social media with repugnant advertisement plots or sordid hoaxes. Doomsday collectors started preaching baseball card exodus, and prospectors began preparing for a bear market. Regardless, after everyone posted their grievances online, they all raced out to buy as much of 2018 Bowman as they could. At Target, shelves were left vacant, with only price tags left as a ghostly reminder of what you missed. Walmart employees were desperately asked to go “check the back” in the event that the cards hadn’t yet reached the shelves. And hobby shops started teaching mini-lessons on supply and demand by raising the prices on what was still left in stock.
In the wake of the Bowman release, I am sure some collectors are wondering what is next. I don’t know what the future holds for Ohtani cards, and frankly I don’t care. I am currently caught up in what is happening now, and I love what I see. Ohtani Mania is the driver behind incredible card sales that is fun for so many collectors at all levels. For me, 2018 has been fantastic. The Ohtani chase has brought out the kid in me and reminds me of a different time in my collecting.
Update 5/8/18: Blowoutcards.com has issued a bounty on the Ohtani Bowman Superfractor auto 1/1. If you are the lucky collector that finds this gem, Blowoutcards.com will pay you a modest $75,000 if it grades 9.5/10AU.