How Hype Can Punish Your Wallet

James MorisetteCorrespondent IIIAugust 29, 2012

How Hype Can Punish Your Wallet

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    On August 16, Bleacher Report’s Andrew Brining wrote a thought-provoking feature called The Idiocy of Hype.

    In this feature, Brining did an excellent job expressing how Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout had not gotten the same attention as Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper. This, despite the fact Trout has outperformed Harper this season.

    Brining’s piece pointed to a major issue that exists with the MLB Hype Machine—a well-fed creature fully equipped with clever writers, marketers and advertisers.

    This machine cares less about players being hyped, more about ensuring unsuspecting investors believe so much in players, they find the nearest outlet to spend hard-earned money on overpriced rookie cards, autographs and memorabilia.

    It sounds cynical, I know. But this cycle continues because some get caught up in this guileful concept. Then, when these players fail to meet the hype, investors are left with incredible buyer's remorse.

    But by the time the dust settles, the hype machine has already moved on to the next huge thing.

    With full understanding this machine has hyped athletes across a wide spectrum of sports before, this feature will provide several examples of MLB hype since 2010 that have drained thousands of wallets. The same will also provide insight into what prospect may be next on the MLB hype machine's radar.

    Hopefully by the end of this feature, people of all ages can use these examples to hold on to your cash. This at least until prices come back to earth.

Jason Heyward

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    Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward is slowly emerging as a star player in the major leagues. But Heyward has taken a few years to begin to reach his full potential. 

    However in spring 2010, the hype machine revved up full throttle, sending the prices of Heyward related items rocketing to levels unseen in years.

    Where the Heyward hype began is anybody's guess. Perhaps it began on March 28, 2010, when Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote an article that discussed how stealthy scouting helped the Braves land Heyward in 2007.

    From Passan:

    Heyward, 20, will start in right field for the Braves on opening day as perhaps the most hyped position player in a decade, a 6-foot-5, 245-pound leviathan whose spring-training showcase forced Atlanta to summon him. Heyward’s propensity to destroy car windows and mirrors with 450-foot batting-practice home runs helped cultivate his legend – and force rental-car companies to consider offering HLI (Heyward Liability Insurance). The insistence of Braves veterans that Heyward break camp with the big club cemented his place among the most intriguing players of 2010.

    Passan’s eccentric words to describe hometown hero Heyward was but one article in a sea of many written during this time to describe Heyward.

    With national attention on Heyward—even before he took his first major league at-bat marketers, advertisers and baseball card companies drooled this potential cash cow.

    Soon, Heyward’s rookie card values went arrows up in baseball card price guides—far beyond the reach of what kids could afford (just saying). Jerseys sold like hotcakes, memorabilia did too. And autographs? Better take out a loan.

    But then Heyward’s numbers—though still very good for a 20-year-old thrust into the national spotlight—dipped a bit in the face of injury. And his collectibles significantly dropped.

    Despite the fact Heyward batted .337 in May that year before going on the 15-day DL, the hype machine had already gotten wind the next great hype was near fruition.

Stephen Strasburg

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    That next great hype was Stephen Strasburg, who was to make his big league debut on June 8, 2010.

    The Associated Press said it best in its May 31, 2010 press release: "Stephen Strasburg is ready - and so is the Washington Nationals' ticket office."

    With Heyward tailing off, baseball’s money makers began licking chops over the revenue Strasburg had potential to generate.

    Living here in the Baltimore/Washington DC area, I remember it being all Strasburg all the time—even before this phenom had even fired his first major league pitch.

    I also remember the incredible demand for Strasburg’s 2010 baseball cards (to include his autographed cards). These things went for big money. Hobby shops and retail stops could not stock these cards fast enough.

    It was insane. But not more insane than how much people were willing to spend big for Strasburg items. This was especially true after Strasburg lit the MLB world on fire with a terrific debut performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 8, 2010.

    For example, on June 19, 2010 Chris Olds of Beckett Media reported Strasburg’s 2010 Bowman Red 1/1 autographed rookie card surpassed $100,000 in auction.  

    And then—much to the alarm of many investors who spent plenty of cash—Strasburg injured his arm.

    With nightmares of Kerry Wood dancing around in fan’s heads, investors could not sell Strasburg’s high-priced baseball cards and autographed memorabilia fast enough. Even regular Strasburg rookie cards dropped, as many minimized buying for fear Strasburg would not return to form.

    Fortunately, for many investors Strasburg did return to form. Otherwise, they would have had to explain to their significant others’ just what the heck they were thinking.

Bryce Harper

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    Fortunately for the national hype machine there was Bryce Harper.

    Listen to the press, one might think Harper was the second coming of Chuck Norris.

    Again, like Heyward and Strasburg investors flocked to this hype.

    Harper’s rookie cards climbed to at times unreal prices. And investors fought to outbid one another with a vengeance, for the rights to Harper’s rarest items.

    Even a few of Harper’s basic rookie cards soared to as high as $80 in price guides.

    Meantime, Mike Trout lingered in the background, all but ignored by investors.  But how this changed in the wake of Trout’s unworldly performance this season.

    For example, log on to any online auction website and search “Mike Trout 2009,” and readers will see what I mean.

    But in the wake of the Angels' recent struggles, even Trout's items have begun to tail off.

So, Who's Next?

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    Heyward, Strasburg and Harper in mind, I entered a baseball card shop in Maryland this spring.

    After reading an ESPN feature on the next great hype, I asked the shop owner:

    “You ever hear of Bubba Starling?”

    To this the owner replied, “Who?”

    Of course the owner sure knows who Starling is now.

    Per ESPN, Starling is an almost heroic figure who chose to play baseball for his home Kansas City Royals over playing college quarterback for the University of Nebraska.

    And investors are watching.

    Drafted fifth overall in the 2011 MLB draft, Starling is playing for the Burlington Royals in the Rookie Appalachian League.

    Through 44 games, Starling is batting .275 with 10 home runs and 33 RBI. He also has eight doubles, two triples and an OBP/SLG/OPS of .377/.495/.872.

    Respectable numbers, the hype machine is gaining steam, starting with Bob Sutton of the Times-News in Burlington, North Carolina.

    In Star Power, Bubba Brings it, Sutton writes:

    [Starling] arrived [in Burlington] in mid-June as the most prized player to wear a Burlington uniform in at least two decades. And if you excuse Manny Ramirez’s presence in the Cleveland Indians organization — given this era of Internet craze regarding such prospects — there might never have been such a ballyhooed player to wear the home uniform at Burlington Athletic Stadium.

    Later in the article Sutton goes on to write something very interesting, which begs a question I will ask afterwards.

    It’s not unusual for Starling, who’s 6-foot-5 and a casts an imposing figure, to be stopped repeatedly by autograph seekers as he heads to the field.

    And while most of his teammates have retreated to the clubhouse after games, he remains behind to take care of the requests.

    That said, to the million dollar question.

    Why so many autograph seekers in North Carolina?

    I think we all know the answer to this question.


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