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Why Shohei Ohtani Could Become the Biggest Name in Baseball Cards

Thanks to his incredible skill and two-way ability, the Angels star presents a special opportunity for trading card investors.

Shohei Ohtani put the sports world on notice Sunday night, doing two things in quick succession that baseball fans have simply never seen before.

Nicknamed “Sho Time” because of the sheer entertainment value his two-way skills provide, the Los Angeles Angels stud lit up the radar gun with the fastest pitch of the year at 101 MPH — and followed that up shortly after by launching the hardest-hit home run of the young season, an absolute bomb that flew 451 feet at 115 MPH off the bat.


Now in his fourth MLB season, the 26-year-old pitcher and designated hitter has already established himself as a star-level player since making his way over from Japan. Trading card investors are naturally taking notice — but not without a few caveats.

After winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2018, baseball fans are still waiting for an end-to-end breakout season that places Sho Time among the league’s MVP elite. He followed up that ’18 campaign with a solid 2019 at the plate, but was not able to pitch while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. A .270 hitter in the MLB to date, he has yet to make his first All-Star Game.

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The expectation was that Ohtani would be ready to go both on the mound and at the plate for the 2020 season, but he did not look like himself in either phase of the game. He hit a rough .190 in 44 games and walked eight batters in just 1.2 innings over the pandemic-shortened season, surrendering seven runs.

Concern around the Angels’ young sidekick to Mike Trout was suddenly at an all-time high, pushing his trading card values to career lows.

For a time, there was a general concern that Ohtani may “just” hit, in which case he would still have All-Star potential, but wouldn’t be that one-of-a-kind game-changer he was hyped up to be. But Ohtani’s season debut on the mound Sunday reminded everybody that the only thing stopping the man from being one of the biggest and most influential names in baseball is his health.

As depicted by Card Ladder, the day-by-day sales of his baseball cards over the course of 2021 bears this out:

Gross sales of Shohei Ohtani’s trading cards between 1/20/21 and 4/6/21 (via Card Ladder)

The bar for expectations remains incredibly high. But to Ohtani’s credit, six-time All-Star and Cy Young winner CC Sabathia would likely contend that there shouldn’t be a bar at all.

“He’s the best baseball player I’ve ever seen in my life,” Sabathia said on his “R2C2” podcast. “Are you kidding me? He can hit the ball 900 feet and throw 99 (MPH) off the mound. Who else can do that? Who is doing that, bro? There’s nobody else doing that at the big league level.”

While Ohtani may not become even the best player on his own team until the legendary Mike Trout is out of the picture, the fact that the baseball world really hasn’t seen anything like him arguably since Babe Ruth should make his rookie cards among the most coveted in the hobby — so long he’s pitching and hitting at the level he showcased over the weekend.

As word came down before the season that Ohtani was routinely hitting triple digits on the radar gun in his bullpen sessions, his market began to pick up steam; since the show he put on in that first start, his market has ignited.

His Bowman Chrome Rookie Base PSA 10 has risen in value by more than 500% since the new year, and his Bowman Chrome Auto PSA 10 is up by more than 400% to $2,400.

Major League Baseball has made it clear that it does not want to repeat the mistake of under-marketing its most dynamic stars. We’re seeing this with regards to players like Ohtani and Fernando Tatis Jr., and as the Japanese phenom continues to push the boundaries of what we deem possible in the game of baseball, his market can only rise.

It must also be noted that there are few teams in the game demonstrating a more aggressive win-now attitude than the Los Angeles Angels. If deep postseason runs can become the norm for this team — Mike Trout has infamously made just one postseason since his 2011 MLB debut — trading card investors might just look back and call this the Ohtani Era.

Sho Time, already brimming with generational talent, is a very special kind of draw. And in the years to come, front-row seats aren’t going to get any cheaper.