Tampa Bay Rays Wander Franco baseball card emerges as hot commodity

The batting order was set and the two biggest names in Tampa Bay sports were in the power positions.

At Sarasota-based dealer Colin Wertz’s table at the recent Tampa Bay Sports Card Show, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco was batting third and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was in the cleanup spot after Wertz placed their cards directly next to each other and squarely in the middle of his display case.

Wait a second! Franco, who has only recently collected his 500th major league at-bat and trails Pete Rose by more than 4,000 hits, is in the same conversation as Brady, who has been called the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) so often that it’s beyond cliché?

“Let’s put it this way’’ Wertz says. “By the end of the show, I’ll sell more Franco cards than Brady cards.’’

Wertz wasn’t the only one with that opinion.

“Around here, (Franco and Brady are) on a par with one another, at least in terms of popularity,’’ Tallahassee-based dealer Scott Fels says.

That doesn’t mean that Wertz, Fels and other dealers expected Franco’s highest-priced cards to fetch nearly as much as cards from early in Brady’s career. After all, the highest price ever realized for a Brady card is $1.32 million. But the mere fact the two are in the same conversation has brought a trading card phenomenon that Tampa Bay never before has seen. Brady is the undisputed king when it comes to football cards. Franco is the hottest thing in the baseball card market right now

Let’s cut straight to the point on Franco’s more than 170 different cards from a multitude of companies. Some of his base cards can be had for less than $10. But the prices on some of Franco’s rarer cards will make your head spin.

In May, the highest-ever-priced Franco card sold for $193,200 in an auction. To fully understand what kind of card that is, you need to use the type of language that Brady or any modern-era NFL quarterback might use in the huddle to call out a complicated play. The days of just saying the year, the name of the player and Topps, for years the only manufacturer, are long gone.

In place of that, the proper language is a 2019 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs Red Refractor #WF Wander Franco PSA 10. The PSA 10 part is important in a hobby that generally places a much higher value on professionally-graded cards than it does on raw ones. PSA stands for Pacific Sports Authenticators, widely viewed as the top grading company in the business. The 10 is PSA’s maximum score, which means the company determined the card is in mint condition.

Like the stock market, the world of sports cards is highly speculative and it is better for collectors and dealers to get in on the ground floor.

“I made a couple of bucks off Wander Franco before he even made it to the major leagues,’’ says Marc Franklin, a University of Tampa graduate who now lives in North Wildwood, N.J. “I got in early and I got out early. I sold some of his cards for around $1,000 each. Now, they’re going for around $2,500. But, am I kicking myself? No, not at all.’’

Franklin owns Prestige Pullz Sports Cards, a business he founded while in college. He says the market for Franco cards goes well beyond Tampa Bay. Franklin says cards of Franco and Seattle Mariners prospect Julio Rodriguez are the most popular in the hobby nationwide right now.

So, why are Franco’s cards in such demand? Well, it’s simply because many believe he is a once-in-a-generation player. And we’re not talking just about fans. Take these weighty words from the Boston Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts, a three-time All-Star.

“Ozzie Smith with the glove. Barry Bonds with the bat. I don’t know,’’ Bogaerts says to mlb.com. “He’s unbelievable. He’s ridiculous.’’

Many collectors and dealers share a similar view of Franco. But, like with any investment, it’s best to also look at the downside and that’s where some words of wisdom and experience are needed.

One of the most respected and well-known dealers in Florida and throughout the country is Sarasota’s Dick DeCourcy. He’s 82 and has been in the hobby for more than 40 years.

He hopes Franco lives up to the hype because Tampa Bay could use another superstar on the Brady level. He sees great promise in the shortstop, but he also sees a caution sign because Franco already has dealt with injuries.

DeCourcy, who deals almost entirely in vintage cards (those made prior to 1986) also has seen phenoms like Pete Incaviglia and Joe Charbeneau crash and burn through the years.

So, how many Franco cards does DeCourcy own?

“Zero,’’ he says. “Maybe someday. Maybe I’ll end up being wrong, but it’s way too early right now. Look, if you’re in this as an investment, go with the safe investments, Go with Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays or Pete Rose. The bottom of the market is never going to fall out on guys like that because they’ve put up a body of work for many years.’’

Read more articles by Patrick Yasinskas.

Patrick “Pat” Yasinskas is an award-winning Tampa-based freelance writer. He has covered the National Football League since 1992 and worked for The Tampa Tribune, The Charlotte Observer and ESPN. He also has served as a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the NFC South chairman of the Pro Football Writers Association. He also has been an avid baseball card collector since the 1970s.