Titanic Turkeys: 10 of the Biggest Sports Card Busts

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By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor

Sometimes we get it wrong. Sometime we get it horribly wrong.

A big part of the hobby is spotting future stars. In doing so, some get a “can’t miss” label or start racking up the magazine covers. But there are times when a can’t-miss prospect misses spectacularly. They go from the top of the hot list to a footnote in history.

We joke about what their Rookie Cards used to be worth, probably avoiding the fact that we have a couple tucked away ourselves. Maybe we were lucky and managed to dodge the proverbial bullet, either selling high or avoiding them all together.

But this is a hobby rooted in nostalgia. So even when players go bust and prices bottom out, there can still be some fun in looking back and playfully lamenting our bad choices and poor judgement.

So let’s look back on ten of the biggest sports cards busts — players who ruled the hobby for a time but failed miserably in the end.

Biggest Sports Cards Busts

J.D. Drew

Just because your career lasted more than a decade, it doesn’t make you immune from hobby bust status. J.D. Drew was a top 5 pick twice. The Phillies took him second overall in 1997. When they wouldn’t pay what Drew’s agent was asking, he reentered the draft in 1998 where the Cardinals took him fifth overall. Drew made his MLB debut that September and his first cards soared. If you wanted to trade online, the 1998 Leaf Rookies & Stars J.D. Drew was the currency of choice.

1998 Leaf Rookie and Stars JD Drew

Yes, Drew would go on to have a productive career. He was even an All-Star in 2008. But it was never anything close to the hype.

Rick Ankiel

Just a year after Drew, the Cardinals had the next hot hobby rookie — Rick Ankiel. One could say he was the Next Next Big Thing. Early on, Ankiel lived up to expectations, getting a call-up in 1999 and going on to come in second for NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2000.

But then the 2000 postseason happened. The world witnessed the fastest crash in sports history. Named the Game 1 starter for the National League Division Series, Ankiel didn’t make it out of the third inning, walking four and throwing five wild pitches. The same erratic patterns continued over the course of a couple more postseason appearances and it was over. Ankiel was never the same again.

1999 Ultimate Victory Rick Ankiel

Like Drew, Ankiel ended up have a fairly lengthy pro career. But that was in large part due to the fact that he reinvented himself as an outfielder. He was solid, but never came close to what all the Hot Lists suggested.

Johnny Manziel

The hype surrounding Johnny Manziel still feels raw. Taken 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns, perhaps we shouldn’t have expected as much out of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. And yet, he’s all we talked out. Flamboyant and controversial, every move Manziel made was covered. But his personal choices got the best of him.

Sure, Manziel will always have a certain level of collectible respect thanks to his Heisman. But unless there’s some sort of epic redemption story, it won’t come close to warranting the rookie hype he received.

2014 National Treasures Johnny Manziel RC

Alexandre Daigle

Alexandre Daigle had the flash. He had the promise. He had the looks and personality. In 1993-94, Daigle’s 20-goal rookie season was just a fraction of what Teemu Selanne got the previous year. However, the first overall pick still showed some promise. Unfortunately, that was pretty much as good as it got. Daigle reached the 20-goal plateau just two more times in the NHL and his cards are usually relegated to common boxes.

1992-93 Upper Deck Alexandre Daigle

Adam Morrison

Coming out of college, when people talked about Adam Morrison, they were usually gushing about his skills and promise. Today, you’re more likely to hear about his hair.

2006-07 Finest Adam Morrison

Ben McDonald/Todd Van Poppel

One day we’ll learn that pitchers represent a huge risk when it comes to the hobby. Time and time again, an arm rises through the ranks with all the promise in the world. But then an injury happens. Or they don’t get 20 strikeouts every time they take the mound.

Traditional hype factors into the bust status for both Ben McDonald and Todd Van Poppel. But there’s something else. Their first cards came along at a time when the hobby was at its peak and card collecting was mainstream. That meant an unprecedented number of people were chasing their Rookie Cards.

1990 Donruss Ben McDonald

Then, at the same time the hobby slowed, there came the realization that neither of these pitchers were going to be the best ever. Today, many of us probably remember more about the excitement of pulling a Van Poppel out of 1991 Upper Deck or a 1990 Donruss Ben McDonald more than we do their actual careers.

1991 Upper Deck Todd Van Poppel

JaMarcus Russell

When you’re a quarterback that’s taken first overall, expectations are high. When you’re a quarterback that’s taken first overall and signs a contract worth more than $60 million, they’re even higher. But just because a huge portion of JaMarcus Russell’s salary was guaranteed, it didn’t mean he was going to be an elite NFL quarterback. In fact, he was anything but.

On the hobby side, Russell’s fall from grace came at a time when super premium products were really starting to take over too. So rather than seeing a $20 or even $100 card become pretty much worthless, some of Russell’s cards dove from much higher places.

2007 JaMarcus Russell

Ryan Leaf

The great debate of 1998 — Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Today, it’s a punchline. Back then it was a serious discussion. One went on to be one of football’s greatest quarterbacks of all-time. The other has battled serious drug issues and been in and out of prison. But we will always have a memory of the short window where Ryan Leaf cards were held in a similar regard as Manning’s.

1998 Upper Deck Ryan Leaf

Brien Taylor

Pro tip — if you’re a high-profile pitching prospect, particularly one on a high-profile team like the New York Yankees, don’t get into a bar fight and mess up your shoulder. That’s the legacy of Brien Taylor, the first pick in the 1991 draft. He was going to be good. So good that Topps created an autograph card for him for their 1992 Topps Gold Baseball factory set.

1992 Topps Gold Autograph Brien Taylor

Today, he’s one of just two first overall picks in baseball to never make it to the majors, even for a brief time. Bust status cemented.

Who did you have high hopes for in your collection that failed to meet your expectations? Let us know in the comments below or keep the conversation going with us on Twitter.

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks.

16 Comments

  1. Cliff Walk
    Posted Thursday November 24th, 2016 at 07:34 PM | Permalink

    I well remember the hype for all the baseball cards. It taught me to not believe in the hype. Especially about pitchers.

  2. CJ
    Posted Thursday November 24th, 2016 at 10:21 PM | Permalink

    Why are the players on this from the “old” days? How about listing some of the many turkeys from the last several years?!

  3. Ken
    Posted Thursday November 24th, 2016 at 10:50 PM | Permalink

    Names that come mind:
    Hockey – Patrick Stefan
    Baseball – Craig Jefferies
    Basketball – Greg Oden
    Football – Dan Wilkerson

  4. Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 04:58 AM | Permalink

    I’m surprised no mention of Harold Miner…Greg Oden could also be mentioned. Both those guys had injuries that derailed their careers instead of poor choices or just not being all that good though.

  5. Ryan Cracknell
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

    Johnny Manziel is pretty recent.

  6. Ryan Cracknell
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 11:59 AM | Permalink

    Oden definitely crossed my mind. However, he got hurt so fast he never had the chance to properly soar card-wise.

  7. Mark
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 12:26 PM | Permalink

    The biggest omission from the list is the infamous Kevin Maas. A brief burst of success shot his first cards way up, only to be followed by a crash and burn. Makes me wary of Gary Sanchez. Same uniform, same early burst.

  8. Brent
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 12:43 PM | Permalink

    In 1990, Kevin Maas’ Leaf rookie card soared and was never the same again.

    Jerome Walton 1989 Upper Deck High #’s was selling for an insane price in late 1989 — as was Todd Ziele, and Dwight Smith. In fact, when 1989 Upper Deck High #’s first came out, they were blowing up the market. Bust.

    Rocket Ismail was a deal for a while, and while he was solid, never had that distinguishing career or — aside from the Team Draft variances in the Pro Set rookies — never really had a distinguishing rookie card either.

    Tim Couch was a big deal for a little while.

    Remember Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic, and Michael Olowakandi?

    Hideki Irabu was a big thing for a while, too. Particularly in 1997 when Bowman Chrome was king!

    Pretty much any blue chip MLB prospect in the autograph, serial # rookie card era that never starred in MLB is a candidate for this list as well.

    Then there are guys that were on a Hall of Fame trajectory but injuries or trades or personal demons, or loss of skills derailed them and they’re now rookie cards that can be purchased real cheap — Eric Davis, Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Kerry Wood, etc.

  9. Bob Rushkewicz
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 02:41 PM | Permalink

    Yes, Harold Miner was the first ‘young stud’ to be mentioned as the next Michael Jordan. “Baby Jordan” could dunk but not do much else. Then we had Tom Gugliotta. Unlike Miner, “Gugs” was a surprise NBA star–for one season. Then, after his rookie cards soared, he settled in to a decent but unremarkable career and his cards went common.

  10. Bill
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 06:40 PM | Permalink

    Darko Milicic, too.

  11. Robert Felt
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 09:56 PM | Permalink

    Colin Kapernick…

  12. Mark Hoyle
    Posted Friday November 25th, 2016 at 10:16 PM | Permalink

    Todd Ziele

  13. Jonathan
    Posted Saturday November 26th, 2016 at 08:56 AM | Permalink

    I don’t think Johnny Manziel’s bust was a surprise to everyone. Looking at his immaturity in college was an indicator enough for some. Anyone who expected him to “grow-up” after getting drafted and handed lots of cash certainly knows now that was never going to happen. How many kids do you think shoot for a big pro football contract with no intent of actually taking it seriously? Some NFL drops happen so fast I wonder if kids are too busy counting their tens of millions to care about the game. I’ll admit it: If someone handed me $20,000,000 in my early 20s and said, “Here’s what I want you to do,” I’d nod my head, say, “Yes, sir,” and figure out how I could live on that 20 million for the rest of my life. Other sports are different. Basketball’s the closest to football in the, “Here’s a bunch of cash, kid. Go play on TV,” yet basketball players are playing many more games. In baseball and hockey you usually have to actually prove you’re good before you get to the big stadium and, again, play many more games than football–where you usually play for 3-4 seconds at a time before getting a rest.

  14. David
    Posted Saturday November 26th, 2016 at 10:31 PM | Permalink

    Great pick with Brien Taylor…he was the next best thing since sliced bread….Boy, did he flame out!

  15. Jon Waldman
    Posted Sunday November 27th, 2016 at 09:21 PM | Permalink

    I remember a “Broder style” unlicensed card set that declared Kevin Maas and Don Mattingly were the rehashed story of Wally Pipp and Lou Gehrig. HAH!

    The busts in hockey are tremendous. Jason Bonsignore, Blaine Lacher, Jim Carey, Johan Garpenlov, Pavel Brendl, Sergei Samsonov… but the biggest turkey was 1991-92 OPC Premier which came hot on the heels of the amazingly popular 90-91 OPCP and was an absolutely horrendous dud set.

  16. John M
    Posted Monday January 2nd, 2017 at 09:57 PM | Permalink

    From 1981, how about Joe Charboneau? He was the second coming, until about 2 years later, I was receiving cards with his RC as cardboard packing material!!
    Not sure he even had a card in 1983.

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