While second acts go for former pro football players, it’s hard to beat collecting – and flipping – Pokémon cards worth six figures.
At least it’s better than being roped in by lousy teams, which is where Blake Martinez found himself for the second year in a row. In late October, the seventh-year Stanford linebacker sold a rare Pokémon card at auction for $672,000.
Ten days later, Martinez, 28, a starter who had just signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, retired from the NFL.
Did pocketing $600,000 for a Pokémon card really make a pro football player retire early? We reached out to Martinez to ask him that directly, but honestly it seems plausible! At least given Martinez’s specific circumstances.
In early August, Martinez organized a mystery bag in which to unwrap his Pokémon trading cards, which he began collecting as a child. “Look What I Found in My Basement!!” he said on Instagram, brandishing the “Swirllustrator,” an extremely rare Japan-only holographic card starring Pikachu; professional graders say fewer than 40 are known. The same type of card sold for $900,000 in February.
At the time Martinez revealed the card – we asked when and for how much – he was still a member of the New York Giants. Martinez tore knee ligaments in three games into the 2021 season and entered training camp in the third year of a $30.7 million contract with the Giants. However, only $19 million of that was guaranteed, and since that was already paid, it meant the Giants could knock him out outright, as if he were a rookie trying to make the team. So they did.
When did Martinez actually get this card?
In an Instagram video posted Oct. 25, Martinez said he started collecting Pokémon cards when he was 6 years old, stopped the hobby sometime during his childhood, and then got back into it, as many people did. , during the COVID-19 pandemic .
He first went looking for his childhood collection, only to find that his mother – in a story so common as to be cliché – had given them away or thrown them away. He took Pokémon collecting so seriously that he started a “breaks” business (a dealer asks buyers for a box of unopened cards, then opens them and the buyers are given the contents. The opening usually takes place during a online event.)
Through this, he met a dealer in rare items. “He presented me with a bunch of different trophy cards, and the Swirllustrator was one of them,” said Martinez. He declined to say how much he paid for it. (Martinez calls it the “Swirllustrator” because of two small swirls in the artwork that distinguish the card.)
Is it really worth more than an NFL starter earns?
On October 4, the Raiders picked up Martinez to a one-year, $1.12 million deal, none of that guaranteed. Around this time, Martinez’s Pokémon illustrator returned with a 9.5, “Gem Mint,” in the language of card collectors. The Illustrator that sold for $900,000 in February received a 7.5. Martinez reasonably believed he had a card worth more than his deal with the Raiders.
Martinez, in a meeting on Pawn StarsGold & Silver Pawn on Oct. 27 speculated it could fetch $1.5 million at auction. (Austin “Chumlee” Russell, a Pokémon collector himself, only said it was “out of my league.”) By then, Martinez had listed it with Goldin, a nationwide auctioneer of high-value collectibles. The winning bid claimed Martinez’s card for $672,000 — a nice payday, but somewhat disappointing in light of the February 28 sales. On the other hand, Pokémon trading cards have been an extremely volatile market since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when celebrities get involved.
More importantly, if Martinez actually started a business to nurture his interest in Pokémon card collecting, that could be the tipping point for calling it a career – especially given his injury history, the potential for more (and worse) and the lack of guaranteed money.
Did Blake Martinez Really Retire After Selling This Card?
Yes, but not right away. The card sold on October 29; Martinez started the Raiders’ next game, a 24–0 loss at New Orleans, then came off the bench on November 6 to score 11 tackles, playing all but seven of his team’s defensive snaps.
With the incumbent starter on the injured list, Martinez appeared to get a lot more playing time. Whether this was an advantage or a disadvantage in his eyes is not known. He retired on November 10, one day after missing practice.due to personal reasons.”
While not common, it’s also not uncommon for NFL players to retire at their peak, especially high-impact positions. Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly retired at age 28 after an eight-year career that included five first-team All-Pro selections.
San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland retired in 2015 after just one year in the league and concluded that the risks to his long-term health were not worth it. Linebacker teammate Patrick Willis soon followed at age 30.