A Justin Verlander Collector of Epic Proportions
By Todd Tobias
There are all types of collectors in our hobby. Set collectors, key card collectors, vintage collectors, modern collectors, pre-war collectors, post-war collectors ... the list goes on and on. However, the greatly increased number of card sets, parallels and inserts in recent years has given birth to a type of collector that really didn't exist some 20 years ago. If we were looking to put a label on this type of collector, it might be the "single-player rookie card super collector." That's a bit long-winded, so perhaps it could be shortened to "rookie player collector," although that is a bit generic and doesn't really convey the scope of the project. Regardless of the title that is ultimately affixed to this type of collector, the definition remains the same. This is a collector who seeks out all the rookie cards available for a single player.
In decades past there might be two or three rookie card options for a single player. If oddballs and regionals were included, then perhaps there would be a few more. In the years prior to roughly 1985, very few players might have as many as 10 different cards issued during their rookie season. Truthfully, not many would even have half of that number. How times have changed ...
Steve Paradowski is a baseball card collector in Michigan who set out with the simple goal of buying a nice card to put away as a gift for his infant daughter. After considering many different options, he settled on the idea of purchasing a high-end rookie card of Justin Verlander, a young pitcher who had been making a considerable name for himself for Paradowski's hometown Detroit Tigers. As often happens with hobbyists, that first purchase led to another, which led to a few more. Soon he decided to collect an example of each of Verlander's rookie cards. On the surface, that is a task that sounds simple enough, but a bit of research reveals that it is actually anything but simple.
Modern card companies now produce multiple sets each year. Within those sets are typically a variety of insert sets and parallels, which may drive the number of actual sets produced in a year to 25, 30 or more for each company in a single season. Such is the case with Justin Verlander, who first appeared on baseball cards in 2005. A glance at the PSA Population Report shows that PSA has graded cards from 957 different baseball card sets for that year alone. While not all of them contain Verlander cards, he is certainly found in a large percentage of them. But just how many?
"The list that I use shows that there are somewhere between 350 to 360 different Verlander rookie cards," said Paradowski, "and I don't include printing plates in that total."
Wow ... 350 different rookie cards. Depending on the type of card, they may range in price from $15 in a PSA GEM-MT 10 to what Paradowski suspects would be around $25,000 to $30,000 for a high-grade example of the most desirable one-of-one (1/1) parallel card. Clearly this rookie card chase is not easy, not cheap and not for the faint-of-heart.
Sports Market Report (SMR) had an opportunity to speak with Steve Paradowski about the origin of his collection, the challenges that he has faced in locating cards and what he sees as his chances for completion.
SMR: Tell us about your background. When did you begin collecting?
Steve Paradowski (SP): I first bought cards when I was six years old, but I didn't buy them like I do now, obviously. I would buy a pack of cards with the change from my haircut, which my dad would let me keep if I behaved. That sparked me. Packs were 15 or 20 cents back in 1972 or 1973. I can remember one time after a haircut my dad said, "Here's a quarter. Go get yourself something." I went next door to the store and noticed that they had a box of cards. This was in 1971. It was only a quarter, so I bought it.
I went home and opened them up. I threw the box away, though now I wish I had kept it. I kept one card because I liked the background. It showed a small guy standing far away and, in the background, it said Royal Crown Cola. I liked Royal Crown Cola at the time, so I kept that card. My dad used to smoke cigars, so we put my baseball cards in a cigar box.
My mom didn't want me buying baseball cards, so one day when we were getting ready to re-carpet the basement, my dad said that we would hide my baseball cards from my mom. He put the cigar box under the stairs, sealed in the space under the stairs and then carpeted over it. Ten years later the carpeting had been ruined, so we again had to re-carpet the basement. I was 16 then. My dad reached under the stairs and found that box of cards and gave them back to me. I had totally forgotten about them, but I remembered them when I saw the box.
I opened it up and found four bundles of cards with rubber bands around them. I had taken the card I liked and put it in the middle of a stack so that it didn't get crimped or bent. I opened the pack and saw that it was a 1971 Nolan Ryan. I had no idea. Back when I was six, if he didn't pitch for the Tigers, then I wouldn't have known who he was. I still have the card today. I've kept it as my first baseball card and won't sell it. It's the kind of thing that if I were to sell my entire collection tomorrow, that card would stay with me.
SMR: What led you to become a Justin Verlander rookie card collector specifically?
SP: I got married and we had a child in 2008. I wanted to get something nice for my daughter and put it away for her. I went online and saw that someone had listed a Justin Verlander Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Refractor that was graded [PSA MINT+] 9.5 for $3,500 or best offer. The card had been online for 20 minutes. I was probably the first person to see the listing. What do I do? Do I send an offer and have him wait me out until he gets another offer to play against me? Will someone else snatch it? This could be it. I wouldn't have to worry about finding something else for my daughter, providing Verlander's career doesn't go under.
It took me about 30 minutes to decide before I just bought it. It took about a week to get here because the card was coming from Korea. How it got there, I have no idea. That card is still in my possession, and around it I have built a gigantic collection of Justin Verlander cards.
My daughter is 10 years old now and we have another child who is six, and I am putting this stuff away for them as we're going to have to pay for a couple of college tuitions and a couple of weddings. I'm now looking farther into the future when I am buying. I like to set goals for myself, so I decided that I wanted to get 100 different PSA 10 Justin Verlander rookie cards. It took me about six years to hit the 100-card mark.
Then a few years ago Justin Verlander got injured and had elbow surgery. Suddenly everyone was giving up on him and they began dumping everything. It was raining Verlander rookie cards on eBay. I thought to myself, "It's just elbow surgery. It's not like he had surgery on his throwing hand." I figured that I could either get out then and probably get my money back, or dive in deeper and build a collection that no one else would ever have.
I see a lot of people who claim to have 25 different rookie cards of a player, but Justin Verlander was rookie of the year. That meant that all the card companies produced many different Verlander rookie cards. Every card company has multiple brands, and each of those brands has parallels. I got to 100 different cards before I really started researching to see how many different Verlander rookies had been made. I found a guy who had done a ton of research and posted a comprehensive Justin Verlander baseball card list. It went from his rookie season to 2010.
I bought a copy of the list for $2. I then went through and crossed out anything that was not a rookie. I also crossed out all the printing plates, because I don't feel that those are really cards. In the end, I came up with a number just over 340.
Eventually I started getting some 1/1s. I got up to five and then I found a guy here in my home state who had six of them. He also collects old, rare currency. We began communicating right around the time of Verlander's elbow surgery, so the timing was perfect. I ended up picking up six more 1/1s from him and a PSA 10 that was serial-numbered to 10. While this was going on, two more guys sold 1/1s to me, which brought me up to 13. I've picked a few up since, and now I have 17.
I wanted to get to 200 PSA 10s. At that point I had 183, all different. Adding in the [PSA NM-MT] 8s and [PSA MINT] 9s, I was right around 300 different rookie cards. I have guys at the local card shows that look for Verlander cards for me. I go on all the auction sites, some of the online communities and several other sites as well. They help carry me through the months when there is no card show.
But this all began with me trying to get one nice card for my daughter and it has turned into a super collection.
SMR: You mentioned that your goal is not just to collect different Justin Verlander rookie cards, but to collect them in PSA 10. What led you to make that decision?
SP: 99.9% of my stuff is graded by PSA. Before I really delved into my Verlander collection, I talked to some of the longtime collectors that I see at shows. They told me that PSA has the best brand in the business and as a result you can get a premium for a PSA-graded card versus one with a similar grade certified by another company. I looked around the shows and saw that most of the graded cards in display cases were in PSA holders. Also, I discovered that I really preferred the PSA holders over the others I saw.
SMR: You have a Verlander Rookie Set on the PSA Set Registry that currently stands at nearly 74% complete.
SP: Well, I am actually a lot further along than that, but I have only listed the PSA 10s in my Registry. As of right now, I have 183 PSA 10s. If I add my lower-grade cards, I will be closer to 300.
SMR: What is the premier Justin Verlander rookie card in the hobby?
SP: There is one, and I am still looking for it. That would be the 2005 Bowman Sterling Swatch Auto Red Refractor. It is serial-numbered 1/1. I own the base card and the refractor version, both in 10s. I also have the black version numbered to 25, graded PSA 9, but 11 years into this I am still looking for the red one. I've never even seen it. Not in an article, not posted in someone's collection on a message board, nothing. According to hobby price guides, it is out there, but I haven't seen it.
SMR: Aside from 1/1s that pose an obvious challenge, what cards are on your "Want List" that you just haven't been able to find yet? What are the top three most-desired cards on your list?
SP: You're going to be surprised because the top three on my list are not even big cards. The 2005 Bowman is a black-bordered card. Every time I submit one, I can't get anything higher than a PSA 9. That and the Allen & Ginter Black Bordered Mini are killing me! That one is from a six-card series. I have the first five in PSA 10, but the Mini keeps coming back as a 9. I've now got three PSA 9s!
The last one that drives me nuts is the 2006 Topps Chrome X-Fractor. I have gotten that one in a PSA 9 three or four times. Haven't yet nailed down a 10; and I haven't even seen that one in a 10. I have my searches on eBay, and that is one of them. They're not particularly expensive cards, but I have yet to see one.
SMR: Modern cards are unique in that there are so many 1/1s. To be a player collector, the hopes of completion must be slim.
SP: I have the Upper Deck Artifact series, including the platinum 1/1 graded in a 10. But my gold one came back a PSA 9. All of my others are 10s. I think they made 25 of that card, and finding another one is going to be very difficult. I got a couple that are serial-numbered to five, and I have them in PSA 9. That's pretty much it because it is doubtful that I will find another copy. Those cards will likely come up for sale when he goes into the Hall of Fame.
SMR: What do you think is a realistic percentage of your goal that you will be able to accomplish?
SP: I will get to 200 PSA 10s. I know that I can do that, though it may take me two or three more years. I'll go on a dry spell for weeks or even months, but then a few will come up. There was one that was listed on eBay and I thought I already had it. It got relisted three or four times. Then I took a closer look and compared it to mine. The one that was listed was a first edition version, and I didn't have it. It was a PSA 10 and I got it for $45. Sometimes you just get lucky. Other times, however, I will get into a bidding war and get sniped at the last minute.
SMR: What kind of competition are you finding in your search?
SP: Now that Verlander is on a winning team, I am finding a lot more competition than before. There are people putting in some insanely high bids on cards. I've been putting what I consider to be very high bids on some cards recently and then going to bed, only to wake up the next morning to find out that I lost the auction. But it's OK.
SMR: What kind of advice would you give to collectors who are interested in becoming a single-player super collector such as yourself?
SP: If you really like a player and want to collect a lot of his cards, don't be discouraged if he has a bad season. Don't give up on him if he must have surgery and miss part of a season. Look at that as a golden opportunity to save a lot of money and get a large chunk of his cards at a very reasonable price.
I got a 1/1 from a guy that had given up on Verlander. He sold the card to me for $320. It was the Artifacts Platinum 1/1. I submitted that card to PSA along with another one, and they both came back graded 10. Later that week, someone offered me $1,000 for the card, but I didn't sell it because I couldn't replace it.
For more information on Justin Verlander's trading cards, please visit PSA CardFacts.
Please feel free to contact Todd Tobias at [email protected] if you have any questions or comments. A special thank you to Steve Paradowski for providing images and cards for this article. Please note the PSA Population Report statistics and Set Registry rankings quoted are as of September 2019. Title image courtesy of Icon Sportswire.
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