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In the Aaron Judge Collectibles Market, Cards Are Still King

While the collectible conversation orbits around his record-breaking home run ball, let’s talk about why Aaron Judge rookie cards are still the main event.

Aaron Judge is Major League Baseball’s new American League Home Run King after breaking Roger Maris’ single-season home run record with 62 in the closing days of the regular season. In doing so, he led the New York Yankees — one of the favorites to win the 2022 World Series — to another AL East title.

Thanks to this historical season, a huge influx of interest has come about when it comes to the market for Judge collectibles.

Yes, his 62nd home run ball is a piece of history, and as such, it’s been the center of the #AllRise collectible conversation. However, compared to Judge’s trading card market, it pales in comparison in terms of attainability, sentimental, and monetary value despite one auction house already offering $2 million to the lucky fan who snared the ball that pushed the Yankee slugger past Maris.

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The Aaron Judge Effect on the Collectibles Market

Until Rob Manfred makes them illegal in the name of competitive balance, nothing will be more exciting in baseball than a home run. These days, it’s rare to see a player chasing the single-season record, evident by Maris’ mark standing for over six decades. The last player to hit 60 or more homers was Sammy Sosa all the way back in 2001; only 12 players since then have even hit 50.

More than most, this season has helped keep interest in trading cards high. This is especially true with a looming recession causing potential collectors to be more frugal with their purchases. Even with that said, numerous figures in the trading card industry have taken notice of the rise of Aaron Judge.

Topps, the manufacturer of MLB-licensed trading cards, has seen record numbers thanks to Judge.

“Judge’s No. 62 card is a perfect example of that. That card had a total print run of 91,685, breaking our previous record for the all-time most successful Topps Now release,” said David Leiner, President of Trading Cards at Fanatics Collectibles. For reference, Topps Now celebrates the greatest moments in sports and entertainment history as they happen for a limited time.

As noted by Chris McGill of CardLadder, an application that tracks transactions of trading cards across several platforms and venues:

“Aaron Judge’s Card Ladder index is up 192% over the last year. We can contextualize Judge’s index’s performance by comparing it to the price growth that the baseball index has seen over the same span, which is +9%. Judge’s index’s net appreciation relative to the baseball index is +183%.  In other words, Judge’s index’s growth is an extreme outlier relative to the baseball market.”

Arena Club, co-founded by Yankee legend Derek Jeter, has taken notice of the excitement surrounding Judge and his cards. Arena Club Vice President of Business Development Warren Laufer said that Judge’s 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks & Prospects Superfractor sold for $324,000 in May of this year.

It last sold for $161,130 just two years earlier.

“If it were for sale today, it would likely sell for between $500,000 and $700,000.” Laufer said. “The real winner in the collectibles space has been Topps because it has sold over $320,000 of special-edition “Topps Now” cards in the last week in celebration of these milestones. These special edition cards have sold on the secondary market for even more.”

Cards are still king when it comes to collectibles

Aaron Judge’s record-breaking baseball has yet to go to auction, but as previously mentioned, an auction house has already offered $2 million. (The lucky owner of the baseball has respectfully declined… for now.) For comparison, Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball, which in 1998 established a new MLB single-season record, sold for $3 million ($5.5 million adjusted for inflation). It’s safe to assume Judge’s baseball would sell for at least that much given both inflation and Judge’s lack of association with performance-enhancing substances. Perhaps it goes for a little less since it only broke the AL record, but there’s no hard evidence to believe that’s the most likely scenario.

And while Judge may not have a rookie card that sells for over $1 million, he has plenty of cards collectively that can easily eclipse that.

“When it comes to Judge, he has two cards that stand out above the rest, his Bowman Chrome autograph card from 2013 when he was drafted, and his 2017 card, which is technically his first [MLB] rookie card,” Leiner said. “In 2017, he was featured throughout the Topps portfolio, but the Chrome edition cards are by far the most sought after.”

The 2013 Bowman Chrome autograph card in a PSA 10 sells for between $11,000 and $25,000, depending on if it has an autograph grade of a 10 in addition to the grade of the card itself. The population count is 19 in a PSA 10 and 10 in a PSA 10 + Auto 10. If one does that math, that is already half a million dollars in value, and that doesn’t even include the numbered parallel versions of that card.

The Gold Refractor, numbered out of 50, sold as a BGS 9.5/Auto 10 for $40,000. There are 31 duplicates of that same card with the same grade, and five more with higher grades, including three BGS Black Labels. The estimated collective value of those 36 total cards can easily eclipse the value of the singular, albeit historical, home run ball. BGS 10 Black Label cards, considered a perfect grade, typically demand a pretty high premium.

The collectible hobby is in the best spot it’s ever been and cards are easily the most sought-after. All of this is to say — cards remain king.

“Cards are made to be collected,” McGill said. “Physically, their size and design are well-suited for being handled, admired in person, and stored without occupying much space.  Intellectually, the card market rests on a logical structure and enjoys a rich history.

“Over the last several decades, the development of serial numbering, grading, and online marketplaces has ushered in an evolution of cards that has helped make them, in my opinion, the closest humans have gotten to creating a perfect collectibles market.  Not to mention there is an exceptionally vibrant and engaged community surrounding cards both online and offline that few if any, other collectibles markets can match.”

This isn’t to say not to collect autographed memorabilia such as baseballs, jerseys, or game-worn/used attire. After all, the No. 1 rule of the hobby is to collect what you like.

The appeal of the 62nd home run ball speaks for itself because it’s one-of-a-kind and doesn’t have any variations considering the exclusivity of breaking the American League single-season record. But still, it only takes two variations of Aaron Judge’s rookie cards to exceed the expected value of that ball.

Because of that, it’s evident cards reign supreme over the collectible market.

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