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 (Toll Free)

Strasburg SuperFractor buyer: “Negativity has driven me out”

See two previous interviews with Robert J. Power here (the card’s sale) and here (discussing why he sold).

By Chris Olds | COMMENTARY

Stephen Strasburg probably never intended to be a polarizing figure in sports. By nearly all accounts, he’s a confident, quiet superstar in the making – and the results of his first five big-league games reinforce that.

Although the 21-year-old Washington Nationals pitcher sports just a 2-2 record, he’s got a 2.27 ERA and 48 strikeouts in his first 30 or so innings of work – good for second place in the history books for the start of an MLB career. By all accounts, this is Major League Baseball’s dream story – a highly successful college power pitcher arrives in a big-market baseball town that’s had little success on the field and becomes the talk of a nation; a “national treasure” as Sports Illustrated screamed from its cover.

But among the collecting community, where many have watched thousands of dollars in Strasburg cards sold – and even more money spent on boxes and packs of 2010 Bowman baseball cards — where Strasburg made his big-league cardboard debut — the story of the year resonates quite differently, particularly online.

Strasburg’s cards have generated resentment, hatred and vast conspiracy theories.

As well as harassment.

Perhaps its human emotion showing us the best of itself at its worst – anger, greed, envy and maybe a few others – but it’s been fascinating and immensely disappointing to see how something that truly has been the biggest positive story in the hobby, and one of the biggest in baseball since now-disgraced legends were setting slugging records, devolve into hatred, mud-slinging, mock outrage and grandstanding on many a site’s message boards, on blogs and elsewhere.

While the negative sentiment is undoubtedly not shared by all collectors, it should be mentioned for posterity that baseball cards are a hobby of the 10-year-old down the street as well as the multi-millionaire — with the great equalizer being the unknown of what’s inside a wax pack. The millionaire can’t control what the kid may get – and it just might be a one-of-a-kind card the millionaire can’t live without.

What costs “too much” for one person may be next-to-nothing for another and that possibility of a market is reflective of just one reason why there are price guides – to show the range of what cards typically command across all types, all collectors in all locations regardless of some individuals’ preferences or stances on a player.

Strasburg’s arrival is perhaps the start of a re-birth of sorts for baseball cards, an industry that has been on the decline since dream seasons became tainted realities and those rarities of the boom years of the 1980s have been shown to be more commonplace than thought with the advantages of seeking out cards on the Internet.

Despite those struggles for the hobby, it’s apparent that people are latching onto Strasburg’s cards unlike those from previous years. That’s readily apparent when a standard Chrome card of his fetches as much as $60 and when prices of wax boxes are fetching twice – or even three times — as much as they should.

Strasburg’s card is perhaps symbolic of its time, a changing of directions for the hobby itself – perhaps slowly moving away from the gambling and “hits” per box mentality, though the $600 Strasburg autographs show us that aspect of the hobby is alive as ever.

No Strasburg card from 2010 Bowman is more symbolic of that than the SuperFractor, which was purchased for $16,403 on May 29 by Michigan-based accountant Robert J. Power. Critics balked at the buying price, citing hype or sheer stupidity, as the mark toppled records for previous SuperFractor sales ($7,000 and change for a signed card, $4,000 and change for one unsigned). However, Power was captivated by the story of baseball’s “Next Big Thing” and has been fortunate enough with his profession that luxuries such as that card are a possibility.

“I haven’t purchased any baseball cards or memorabilia in many years,” Power said in a previous interview with Beckett Baseball. “I bought a couple of cards here and there a few years back to fill some of my sets, but nothing like this purchase. I think there has been a lot of negativity recently in sports, so someone like Strasburg coming along is just what sports needs. And a card like this is just what the industry needs to attract both the young collectors, and hopefully to bring back some collectors who have been absent for awhile, like myself.”

While Power admitted that a 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente Rookie Card had always been on his wish list, the Strasburg captured his imagination, calling it his dream card – as it would be for anyone who found it in a pack, even the nay-sayers.

However, that “dream card” for himself as well as an industry became a personal nightmare. He got a dose of intensified negativity – and brutal reality — not long after he identified himself as the Strasburg buyer in an interview with Beckett Media, which later led to an appearance on ESPN’s “First Take” morning show.

The attention got to the point where he turned down interviews to about the card – the news value being an outrageous sum of money paid for a piece of cardboard; the ultimate novelty story for chatter-starved outlets – and it was after the television interview when the harassment intensified.

It started with threatening and negative emails and messages sent through eBay. It escalated into hate-fueled borderline-violent voicemail messages.

“I think the ESPN interview really capped it off,” said Power in Dallas Tuesday to complete the second sale of the card. “I think that put it out there to a few more people and people got ahold of my home number, my email and some of the messages were quite shocking.

“That’s very unfortunate when we’ve got soldiers dying in Afghanistan and people are throwing profanity at me for a baseball card? It was a letdown, we’ll just say that.”

Where does such sentiment from others come from? Are card collectors that negative these days – or that starved for amusement – that it comes to this?

The negativity didn’t stop there.

Power opted to have his card graded by Beckett Grading Services, a division of Beckett Media’s business operations separate from its publishing and sports data-gathering operations. BGS examines the card under magnification and places the card with a numeric grade between 1 and 10 inside a tamper-proof case.

While Power initially contacted Beckett to inquire about grading the card on June 14, he didn’t have the card in his possession when he was interviewed by ESPN on June 18 – the card was en route to BGS, which examined the card on June 22 and gave it a 9.5 grade. (The card’s obvious flaw being its centering.)

This, too, inspired more turmoil online as grading “experts” balked at the grade, saying it was too generous and a grade ultimately attributed to being a publicity stunt because it’s a high-profile card – complaints BGS often hears as it is the reputation as being the most strict of any grading service.

It also didn’t help the undercurrent of bitterness that plagued Power.

Meanwhile, on June 21, the card had been re-listed on eBay with a reserve in the ballpark of $20,000 – a move that sparked even more conspiracy theories and negative reactions, most directed at BGS. (Meanwhile, common sense says most collectors looking to capitalize on mainstream media hype in relation to a sale would wait until after a card is graded to put it on the auction block.)

The attempted re-sale of the card surprised me, given the fact that Power seemed quite sold on Strasburg in our previous discussions. However, Power wasn’t going to wait given the ugly messages and threats he had received.

Was it the money, the negativity or the stigma that led him to sell what he had said was his dream card?

“It was a combination of both,” he said. “Collectors should help each other. I dunno if it’s jealousy but it was just a lot of hatred. That shocked me.”

Power’s return to the hobby came close to an end nearly a month after it began with an auction on eBay that closed for $25,000 on June 28. However, even that sale went bad and ultimately the card was sold on Tuesday for $21,403 to Razor Entertainment’s Brian Gray, who will place the card into a forthcoming buyback product.

“I still do have high expectations for Stephen Strasburg,” Power said. I think that card is a beautiful card … my intent was not to originally sell it. I wanted to keep it for a number of years.”

Power readily admits that he had returned to the hobby, that the Strasburg card and the pitcher’s potential took him back to past years — ones he fondly remembers growing up collecting cards.

“Some of the negativity in the industry now has kind of driven me out, thus changing my opinion to sell the card.”

Initially, though, Power was fine with the purchase.

“I viewed [the purchase] as a good thing initially,” he said. “I don’t think everyone else did. A lot of negativity kind of affected my decision. I wish I could have owned it longer but it didn’t pan out that way.”

And obviously the irony here is that Power is allowed to do whatever he wants with his money – just like anyone else can. Rather than buy a lavish car or something else, he opted for a key card of a baseball player that captured his imagination.

“That’s how I viewed it,” he said. “People purchase new cars everyday and once they drive it off the lot they lose $10,000.

“I got compared to Bernie Madoff and Ponzi schemes with being an accountant,” he said of messages sent to him and things written about him. “It’s ridiculous. One email, fine. Two, three, four and you just start really thinking ‘This is sad.’”

Getting rid of the Strasburg card is bittersweet for him, though he made $5,000 for his month of misery – a month that should really have never happened given the fact that all he did was … buy … a … baseball  … card.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “Anyone can send an email or leave a voicemail. I do believe people overall are still positive. The industry is stronger now [with Strasburg]. I wish I still owned the card but I don’t.”

For the most part, Power said his whirlwind affair with the hobby as a result of the Strasburg card has come to an end – with one exception being a card from decades ago that he has always wanted, the Clemente Rookie Card.

“I’ve got all of his cards except that Rookie Card, so now I can take some of these funds, purchase my dream card and maybe leave the industry for another 20 years. When the next Stephen Strasburg comes by, I’ll come back.”

Personally, I’m hoping that finally landing his Clemente will change his mind.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

ROBERT J. POWER’S TIME WITH STRASBURG

May 29 — Purchases card for $16,403

June 8 — Strasburg’s first start (Power hadn’t yet received card)

June 15 — Power becomes publicly known as the buyer and is interviewed by Beckett Media

June 16 — Story on the card hits ESPN’s Page 2

June 18 — Power appears on ESPN’s “First Take” (after sending the card to BGS)

June 21 — The card is re-listed on eBay

June 22 — The card is graded by BGS

June 28 — eBay auction ends at $25,000, but top bidder backs out

July 6 — The card is sold for $21,403 to Razor Entertainment for placement in a buy-back product; Power sits down with Beckett Media to discuss it all

12 Comments

Mark Duell

The “9” the card received for centering is still a joke no matter how you dice it. That’s a BGS problem, and taking a veiled shot at those who criticized the centering grade does not help BGS’s reputation. However, it’s insane Mr. Power received any backlash. Unfortunately, too many 15 year olds without parental supervision, 25 year olds without a life, or 55 year olds with visions of Mickey Mantle dancing in their heads will say just about anything to get their online jollies.

Posted July 6, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Permalink
Will B

Just the fact that he received any backlash at all is pathetic. It’s his money. He’s allowed to do whatever he wants with it. I hope that he stays in the hobby.

Posted July 6, 2010 at 8:30 pm | Permalink
C-Money

I will admit I was one of the ones that said the centering was off. I used the same handle and you can see my post. Guilty as charged.

You know what is odd… the next morning I woke up and felt badly for what I posted, even though it wasn’t that bad. If Beckett had a ‘delete’ button for posts I definitely would have deleted it promptly. You can believe me or not; it’s not important to the rest of what I have to say.

Mr. Power, I apologize if this caused any hard feelings. I am glad that you got more than you paid for it. I am also thrilled to hear that Razor bought it and now everyone will have another chance to get it. I bet you those cases of Razor product will fly off the shelves. I know I will buy one.

I am shocked to hear that people were harassing you. That is obviously immoral and you might want to look into legally prosecuting them. Whatever anyone did, just realize that there are a lot of crazy people in the world sitting and watching TV in their basement. Don’t take it personally.

In the end, Mr. Power made $5000 in a month in exchange for some high visibility and some brutal backlash. Isn’t that the same story as any celebrity in L.A.?

You can rest easy, Mr. Power. The negativity was not directed at you; it was directed at the high-stakes market of Baseball Card Collecting. This is all part of some growing pains moving from the last era of baseball collecting to the new era.

I just got back into the card collecting arena and I am still amazed at how much wealth was lost due to the steroid scandal. In essence, the last era of collecting was decimated. I think the backlash against the card grading was pent up anger at the undoing of all the rookie cards that lost their value in the last 5 years. I recently saw 2 Barry Bonds 9 PSA graded RCs for sale here on Beckett (or maybe it was MLB.com) for a grand total of $19.99!

My point is that there is a lot of pent up anger in the card collecting arena, especially when it comes to baseball. The only thing that will change this is time and people moving on.

…Annnnnd this card is Step 1 of moving on. This card needed to happen because of what it signifies: Apple Pie, America, Hotdogs (minus the jailed ex-winners) — all that fun and wholesomeness all in one. It represents America’s common sense.

Here’s something to consider. If you took that card to a Nationals baseball game with you, do you think anyone would say anything in a threatening manner? I highly doubt it. The point is that you have to accept the worthy praise that is relevant and dismiss the stuff that is irrelevant.

This card is good and the hype is good because Baseball Card Collecting is a great hobby. It might be a little too old-school though. I mean that baseball cards were invented when there was no internet. They were effectively the MySpace card for each player.
…great… now MySpace is going to take that idea and start making cards of their top members. /facepalm…
Anyway, we’re in the middle of a change in technology and people associate what they see on a screen as more real than the object itself.
Think about that for a bit.

Even at a card swap in a convention center, you’d never hear the negativity that you do online.

P.S.
Hey Beckett Dudes, if you like my writing style, well… throw me a bone and I’ll send you some more copy on current issues. I’m outta work and I work cheap. I only charge One Factory-Sealed Razor Box per hour! :)

Posted July 6, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
President Obama

This guy just won’t go away. hopefully this will be the last we ever here from the tool. but i have a feeling he’ll be popping up again. they always do, don’t they lindsay lohan

Posted July 7, 2010 at 5:45 am | Permalink
Kevin

Negativity in the hobby has become a problem, and not so much the hobby as the blog world surrounding the hobby.
The sportscardsuncesnored.com type blogs have really taken the hobby in a bad direction. People are free to buy what they want for the price they want. Someone paying more than you would for a card doesn’t make them stupid. You may not think its worth that much, but if they do what does that matter to you? Sitting behind a key board and typing how this set is dumb, and how this buyer is dumb for paying this amount, and this card was graded this when it should be that is just childish and silly. I really think a lot of it has to do with jealousy. The childish entitlement some collectors show on their blogs is really astounding. You are free to like what you like, but so is everyone else.
On the grading angle. I don’t like graded cards, I think the whole graded deal is silly. I don’t scream about it, I just don’t buy graded cards. Simple as that.
I hope how people realize how dumb this entire episode has been and really think about it before they go back to their blogs and message boards and start screaming about the next thing.

Posted July 7, 2010 at 8:15 am | Permalink
chrisolds

You will find the same types spouting yet another conspiracy and pointing the finger at Beckett once again today.

It amazes me how people’s agendas blind them — and others — to reality.

Posted July 7, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink
reoddai

Ok article. Only one thing I wanted to respond too was this offhand comment

“This, too, inspired more turmoil online as grading “experts” balked at the grade, saying it was too generous and a grade ultimately attributed to being a publicity stunt because it’s a high-profile card – complaints BGS often hears as it is the reputation as being the most strict of any grading service.”

There are many opinions in sentence that I disagree with, but I will focus on the one thing that can be objectively determined. I can’t and won’t speak to the other grades, but anyone and I mean ANYONE can verify a centering grade on a card. You just have to measure the distance from the border to the card edge and determine the ratio. If both sides measure the same, its a 50/50, If one side is 10 mm and the other is 12, that’s worse than a 45/55 and better than a 46/54(10/10+12 = 45.45 and 12/22=54.54). Its really just that simple.

There are tons of scans and high resolution photos of this card that its just as simple to use a computer program to measure the size of the card’s edges. If there’s a card you want to confirm for a centering grade, just measure it. Since this article deals with the Strasburg, I encourave everyone to go measure it and see what they come up with for a centering grade. I’ll even provide the link to the BGS grading scale which they post online:
http://www.beckett.com/estore/helpsys/viewarticle.aspx?ArticleId=47

Cheers,
reoddai

Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink
chrisolds

As we have said more than a few times, please feel free to contact Beckett Grading Services if you feel the need to discuss that card.

AskBGS@beckett.com

Posted July 7, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink
Derek Zeran

Ha, I knew the sarcastic comment would come sooner or later, even though I expected it sooner…later is fine. lol.

Yes, we “experts” can easily judge that that’s not 9 centering. It just isn’t, and calling us “experts” sarcastically doesn’t change that fact.

Posted July 8, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink
chrisolds

To clarify this line from this commentary — a piece in which I can offer MY opinion — I offer this thought:

It was readily apparent in many a comment that a good number of people do not know the overall standards for grading and how it works — hence the “experts” line. Centering is one part of the four subs that make the whole.

Obviously some of you out there are more sophisticated collectors who often grade heavily and know the subtleties of grading. They should recognize when people were commenting incorrectly as well when arguing about the grade.

Furthermore, none of us (myself included) are graders for Beckett Grading Services.

Mark Anderson, the director of Beckett Grading Services, has discussed the centering specifically with collectors.

Here was his reply to one …

—–

The card is graded according to the exact same standards we have used for over 11 years:

50/50 x 55/45 = 9.5 centering
50/50 x 57.5/42.5 = 9.0 centering
50/50 x 60/40 = 8.5 centering

The Strasburg measured 50/50 top to bottom and 53/47 left to right, exactly in line with our grading standards, and still the most stringent centering standards of any third party grading service.

—–

As I have said countless times, I have nothing more to say on the subject as I don’t work for BGS. (I’m not a card grader.)

However, if you would like to contact BGS, try askBGS@beckett.com or email Anderson at manderson@beckett.com.

Posted July 8, 2010 at 10:22 am | Permalink
C-Money

Great article Mr. Olds.

Cheers,

Cranky Money

Posted July 8, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Permalink
Dan

I too am guilty as charged with a little negativity towards this whole thing. But when something of this magnitude comes around you would have to expect a little. Now threats and emails directly to him are absurd, this is a “free” country isnt it? But my gripe towards something like this is that the selling price of this card has obviously jacked up the price of boxes. While this is fairly common, Bowman is a set builders product with bonuses. Collectors look foward to this product every year, an affordable set to build with boxes usually around $70. I am saddened because now you cant even find blasters! Or even loose packs! The thing that gets me is that if you dont get a Strasburg or maybe a Harper, a $200.00 box is no where worth it. He talks about this keeping away from the hobby, but its also going to hurt Bowman collectors to. You might see them straying away to. I know, as a casual collector, it pushes at me a little to get out. It takes away from the fun when its so expensive it doesnt become fun anymore. I’m sure i will be able to buy a hand collated set, but who wants to do that?

Posted July 9, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink

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