Sep 2, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! We're experimenting with two-part stories, which will allow us to explore one topic on back-to-back days. This week, we're diving into trading cards.

⚾️ Last night in baseball: Alex Dickerson hit a 414-foot double in the ninth inning of the Giants' 23-5 thrashing of the Rockies, just barely missing his fourth HR of the game.

  • Dickerson's hit would have cleared the fence in every MLB ballpark except Coors Field. It would have also given the Giants a run in all nine innings, which has only been done 21 times.
  • In the end, Dickerson (3 HR, two 2B, walk) tied Willie Mays' franchise record with 16 total bases and became the 12th player since 1908 with five extra-base hits.
  • Wait, there's more: Dickerson, Brandon Crawford and Donovan Solano each had six RBIs, the first time in MLB history that three players, let alone teammates, did that.

Today's word count: 1,884 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 📈 The trading card boom (Part I of II)

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sports trading cards are enjoying something of a renaissance, fetching greater value than ever before and engendering excitement on a level not seen since their last golden age in the 1990s, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The big picture: These record figures are symptoms of a larger trend, with cards becoming a highly valuable asset class over the past few years.

  • The PWCC 500 Index, which is essentially the S&P 500 for trading cards, has reported a 12-year ROI of 175% compared to just 102% for the S&P.
  • Put another way, if you'd invested in both stocks and trading cards a dozen years ago, your card portfolio would be worth nearly twice as much.
Screenshot: PWCC Market Indices

What they're saying: Sports memorabilia appraiser Michael Osacky believes "sports cards are the next generation's art."

  • "Buy what you like," he told me. "If the market goes down, at least you still have something you cherish — that you bought for a reason."
  • In other words, by investing in something that you can appreciate while it appreciates, you've hedged against a market downturn.
"The sports memorabilia market sits at the intersection of sentimental interest and financial incentive."
— Laura Doyle, VP and collections expert at Chubb

Between the lines: The driving forces behind the recent boom are varied.

  • Liquidity: During times of economic unease, people tend to gravitate towards more tangible, liquid assets like cards or gold (which, not so coincidentally, has also reached record highs since the pandemic began).
  • Stay-at-home orders: When the lockdown began and boredom set in, sports fans perused their old collections and hopped on sites like eBay to quench their nostalgia.
  • Relative simplicity: The engine powering the stock market is complicated, but the value of cards is easy for anyone to grasp. Star players having great seasons yield valuable cards; exciting rookies make for good investments; the scarcer the card, the more it's worth.

Looking ahead: Case breaking, which involves groups of collectors co-investing in high-priced packs of cards and live-streaming their "unboxing," is becoming increasingly popular, with apps being built to optimize the experience.

  • Digital collectibles are also on the rise. Paris-based Sorare allows soccer fans to collect and trade digital cards, while also using them to play fantasy games.
  • Each player card is certified by a club or league and generated on the Ethereum blockchain, so there's provable scarcity. Each card is unique.

The bottom line: The last golden age of trading cards ended because companies oversaturated the market, which ultimately devalued the product.

  • They've since learned their lesson, focusing on fewer, higher-value cards, and the 10-year-olds they used to cater to are now 40-year-olds with money in their pockets and nostalgia in their hearts.

📆 Coming tomorrow: The battle for card collecting's soul (Part II of II)

2. ⚾️ MLB playoff picture: AL clear, NL cloudy
Data: Baseball Reference; Table: Axios Visuals

The trade deadline has passed, and teams have officially entered the stretch run of this pandemic-shortened season, with the playoffs less than four weeks away, Jeff writes.

  • Playoff format: Eight teams from each league will qualify for the expanded 2020 postseason (up from the usual five).
  • Who gets in: The three division winners, the three second-place teams in each division, and the next two remaining teams with the best record.
AL

Playoff odds: FanGraphs is pretty confident in what the AL's eight-team postseason field will look like, and it's hard to blame them.

  • Virtual locks: Rays (100%), Athletics (99.9%), Astros (98.8%), Yankees (98.7%), White Sox (98.6%), Indians (98.6%) and Twins (95.2%)
  • On the bubble: Blue Jays (66.5%) and Tigers (29.6%)
  • Doesn't look great: Orioles (4.7%) and Royals (3.8%)
  • Better luck next year: Rangers (1.9%), Mariners (1.5%), Angels (1.2%) and Red Sox (1.2%)

Hitting leaders:

  • Batting average: 1. Tim Anderson, CWS (.345); 2. Kyle Lewis, SEA (.328); 3. Nelson Cruz, MIN (.328); 4. Franmil Reyes, CLE (.323); 5. Hanser Alberto, BAL (.321)
  • Home runs: t-1. Cruz, MIN and Luke Voit, NYY (13); t-3. Mike Trout, LAA; Teoscar Hernández, TOR; José Abreu, CWS (12)

Pitching leaders:

  • ERA: 1. Shane Bieber, CLE (1.20); 2. Lance Lynn, TEX (1.93); 3. Framber Valdez, HOU (2.35); 4. Dallas Keuchel, CWS (2.42); 5. Dylan Bundy, LAA (2.47)
  • Strikeouts: 1. Bieber (84); 2. Lucas Giolito, CWS (66); 3. Gerrit Cole, NYY (60); 4. Tyler Glasnow, TB (57); 5. Lance Lynn (56)
NL

Playoff odds: The senior circuit is far more chaotic, with only a handful of teams truly separating themselves from the pack at this juncture.

  • Virtual locks: Dodgers (100%), Padres (98.9%), Braves (97.3%) and Cubs (97.1%)
  • On the bubble: Phillies (72.2%), Cardinals (67.3%), Brewers (56.3%), Mets (46.8%), Reds (40.4%), Giants (39.9%), Rockies (33.4%) and Marlins (32.8%)
  • Doesn't look great: Nationals (10.4%) and Diamondbacks (7%)
  • Better luck next year: Pirates (0.2%)

Hitting leaders:

  • Batting average: 1. Trea Turner, WAS (.368); 2. Juan Soto, WAS (.355); 3. Paul Goldschmidt, STL (.349); 4. Charlie Blackmon, COL (.346); 5. Donovan Solano, SF (.345)
  • Home runs: 1. Fernando Tatís, Jr., SD (13); t-2. Manny Machado, SD; Marcell Ozuna, ATL; Mookie Betts, LAD; Juan Soto; WAS (11)

Pitching leaders:

  • ERA: 1. Yu Darvish, CHC (1.47); 2. Max Fried, ATL (1.60); 3. Jacob deGrom, NYM (1.76); 4. Zac Gallen, ARI (2.09); 5. Pablo Lopez, MIA (2.10)
  • Strikeouts: 1. deGrom (58); 2. Aaron Nola, PHI (57); 3. Sonny Gray, CIN (56); 4. Max Scherzer, WAS (55); 5. Trevor Bauer, CIN (54)
3. 🏀 NBA playoffs: Nugs advance, Celtics up 2-0
Donovan Mitchell hugs Jamal Murray. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Nuggets 80, Jazz 78 Nikola Jokić had 30 points and 14 rebounds for Denver, which became just the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series.

  • 🎥 Thrilling finish: Gary Harris poked the ball away from Donovan Mitchell with 8.4 seconds left, only for Torrey Craig to miss a layup at the other end ... allowing Mike Conley one last shot to win the series ... which went halfway down before rimming out.
Jayson Tatum (L) and Marcus Smart. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Celtics 102, Raptors 99 Jayson Tatum scored 34 points (14-14 FT), and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker scored a combined 27 points (9-10 FG) in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Raptors by themselves to give Boston a 2-0 series lead.

  • Familiar spot: Just a season ago, the Raptors were down 2-0 against the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. They responded with four straight victories.

📆 Tonight (ESPN): Heat (up 1-0) vs. Bucks, 6:30pm ET; Thunder (tied 3-3) vs. Rockets, 9pm

4. 🏒 NHL playoffs: Canucks and Flyers stay alive
Thatcher Demko. Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Canucks 2, Golden Knights 1 Vancouver beat Vegas to force a Game 6 and guarantee Canada's last remaining team at least one more game (VGK leads 3-2).

  • America saves Canada: San Diego native Thatcher Demko made 42 saves in his first NHL playoff starts, and Minnesota's Brock Boeser scored and assisted on the go-ahead goal.
Photo: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

Flyers 4, Islanders 3 (OT) Scott Laughton scored on a redirect in overtime after Philadelphia blew a late two-goal lead, helping the Flyers stave off elimination (NYI leads 3-2).

  • Inside the bubble: Timing Uber Eats correctly. Elevator rides with the Penguins. And non-stop planning. Read about how the Flyers coaching staff is making it work in Toronto, via The Athletic's Scott Burnside (subscription).

📆 Tonight (NBCSN): Avalanche (down 3-2) vs. Stars, 8pm ET

5. 🥇 LA28 reveals new logo

In 1924, Paris became the first Olympic host city to create a logo. Since then, host city logos have encompassed a wide range of styles, from conventional to abstract.

Photo: Frazier Harrison/Getty Images

For the 2028 Olympics, Los Angeles is doing something different: multiple logos by multiple designers, with input from athletes, artists and celebrities.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

LA28 murals were revealed throughout the city on Tuesday. The above logo was designed by USWNT star Alex Morgan.

6. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
  • 🎾 102nd win: Serena Williams beat fellow American Kristie Ahn, 7-5, 6-3, to secure her 102nd U.S. Open victory, breaking a tie with Chris Evert for most by a woman in the Open era. ... Her sister, Venus, lost.
  • 📝 650 words: "Jabroni," the word made famous by Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson and the Iron Sheik, was among 650 words added to Dictionary.com on Tuesday. Other new entrants include "amirite" and "janky."
  • 🏀 84 days: The NCAA's Men's and Women's Basketball Oversight Committee will propose a Nov. 25 start date to the D-I Council, per CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein. That's 84 days from now (and one day before Thanksgiving).
  • ⚾️ 92 years old: Why is legendary Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully jumping into social media at age 92? "I miss the fans," he told L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke. Here's his Twitter account.
  • 🏈 255 diamonds: The Chiefs received their Super Bowl rings on Tuesday. They feature 10.5 carats of gemstones, including 255 diamonds.
Courtesy: Kansas City Chiefs
7. Sept. 2, 1924/1971: 🎾 Two U.S. Open legends
Photo: George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images

Sept. 2, 1924 — 96 years ago today, Bill Tilden won his fifth straight U.S. National Championship (precursor to the U.S. Open). He'd win his sixth straight in 1925 and another one in 1929, giving him a record seven.

  • Most U.S. Open titles (pre-Open Era): Tilden, Richard Sears (1881-1887) and William Larned (1901-1902, 1907-1911) won seven each.
  • Most U.S. Open titles (Open era): Jimmy Connors (1974, 1976, 1978, 1982–1983), Pete Sampras (1990, 1993, 1995–1996, 2002), and Roger Federer (2004–2008) won five each.

Go deeper: The flawed life of a gay tennis icon (Outsports)

Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

Sept. 2, 1971 — 49 years ago today, 16-year-old Chris Evert made her Grand Slam debut at the U.S. Open. She made it to the quarterfinals before losing to top seed Billie Jean King (full match).

The big picture: Evert won six U.S. Opens (1975–1978, 1980, 1982), more than any woman in the Open Era not named Serena Williams, who has also won six.

"In 1975, the New York Times ran an article entitled 'If Bruce Springsteen Didn't Exist, Rock Critics Would Have Had to Make Him Up.' ... As a musical savior, the Boss was almost too good to be true."
"Four years earlier at Forest Hills, something similar could have been penned by a sportswriter: 'If Chris Evert Didn't Exist, Tennis Would Have Had to Make Her Up.' ... In rain-soaked New York, Chrissie was a flash of late-summer lightning."
— Steve Tignor, Tennis.com
8. The Ocho: 💵 Pandemic poker
American Faraz Jaka flew to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to play in online poker tournaments. Screenshot: @farazjaka (Instagram).

The World Series of Poker, originally scheduled for May in Las Vegas. When the pandemic hit, the WSOP simply moved everything online, Jeff writes.

  • Yes, but: "The complicated legality of internet gambling in the United States and around the world, along with inevitable tech issues, meant the transition has not been entirely smooth," writes NYT's Kashmir Hill.

What happened: The start date was pushed to July 1, with gambling laws requiring players to participate from either New Jersey or Nevada, because "those are states where Caesars holds licenses to operate online gambling."

  • But when the host site switched, international gambling laws pushed all would-be participants out of the country, with most heading for Mexico (Canada's borders were still closed to Americans amid surging virus cases).
  • Craziest part: All of this travel was just to sit in front of a computer screen, thanks to the decade-old U.S. law that views poker as a game of chance rather than skill.

What's next: Six of the 85 WSOP events remain, with the tournament concluding on Sunday.

9. 🏈 NFL trivia
Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Alvin Kamara, who is currently negotiating an extension with the Saints, is one of three non-first round picks since 2004 to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.

  • Question: Who are the other two?
  • Hint: 2013 (RB) and 2016 (QB).

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Katina's basketball team. Photo: Katina A.

Katina Arnold (Bristol, Conn.)

"Growing up, I mostly remember riding my bike, hitting a tennis ball against our garage and watching hours of 'Leave it to Beaver' or 'Brady Bunch' reruns.
"But fourth grade added a new activity to the mix and changed everything. That was the year my friends and I joined the St. Margaret Mary girls' basketball team.
"Coach Jim Matthias loved the game — and that came through to a bunch of girls who, at the beginning, were just there to have fun after school.
"He coached our team for five years and we were a force to be reckoned with. He coached our softball team, too, and his brother and wife were involved — it was a family affair.
"I ask myself now, why did he do it? Why did he commit to practices and games multiple days a week, with no kid of his own on the team?
"It couldn't have been for the money, so it must have been for the love of the game — a love he instilled in others like myself, who went on to make a career out of it. Thanks, Coach."

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or a story about sports having a positive impact on your life? To share, simply reply to this email.

Bonus: 🎥 Tuesday's top plays
Giants OF Mike Yastrzemski makes a diving catch. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
  1. ⚾️ Mike Yastrzemski!
  2. 🏒 Shea Theodore!
  3. ⚾️ Clint Frazier!
  4. ⚾️ Byron Buxton!
  5. 🏀 Jazmine Jones!

Watch all 5 plays.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Best thing you'll read today" Baker

Trivia answer: Eddie Lacy and Dak Prescott