By CHRIS OLDS | BECKETT BASEBALL EDITOR
The next Next Big Thing for baseball has arrived in the mainstream a bit earlier than normal with an appearance on the cover of the June 8 issue of Sports Illustrated.
While Stephen Strasburg has the hobby ablaze after starring at San Diego State and should be drafted No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in the MLB Draft later this week, he’s not on the cover.
It’s Bryce Harper — a 16-year-old sophomore catcher for Las Vegas High School — who hit .626 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs this season. And as you can see, the expectations are lofty — he’s tabbed “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron.”
While prodigies seem to come and go — Freddy Adu and Michelle Wie come to mind (along with LeBron) — they don’t often appear on SI‘s cover, making this an instant early piece of memorabilia.
Hardcore card prospectors already know who he is — he can be found in this year’s Upper Deck USA Baseball set on three cards — one signed card, one signed memorabilia card and one standard card. Here’s a rundown from Beckett.com:
2008-09 USA Baseball #47 — $15
2008-09 USA Baseball 16U National Team In His Own Words Autographs #BH /5 — no tracked book value due to scarcity
2008-09 USA Baseball 16U National Team Jersey Patch Autographs #BH /50 — $350
The standard USA card has been popular so far (selling for as much as $15 despite being a no-frills card), but the SI cover will be popular with autograph collectors — just as James’ high school cover was.
Players’ first appearances, from Joe Namath‘s “Broadway Joe” debut (right) to Michael Jordan (along with Sam Perkins) in his Carolina blue, always command a premium over other appearances. (And the magazine has a strong collector base as it is.)
So, while a 16-year-old appearing on the cover is significant, the issue also going to hold a significant place for collectors as well.
And it’s not even out yet.
Tuesday evening update: Dealers already are asking $15 for a copy of the issue on eBay.
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Chris Olds has collected sports cards and memorabilia since 1987. Before coming to Beckett Media, he wrote about the hobby for the Orlando Sentinel on his blog, SportsStuff, and for the San Antonio Express-News and The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. Do you have a comment, question or idea? Send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.