As other former professional footballers’ acts go, collecting – and flipping – six-figure sums worth of Pokemon cards is hard to beat.
It’s certainly better than being tossed around by lousy teams, which is where Blake Martinez found himself for the second year in a row. In late October, the seventh-year linebacker from Stanford 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 plunking down $600 grand for a Pokemon card really work for a pro football player in early retirement? We’ve reached out to Martinez to ask him directly, but honestly, it seems plausible! Considering Martinez’s specific circumstances, anyway.
Back in early August, Martinez hosted a mystery bag unboxing his Pokémon trading cards, which he started collecting as a kid. “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 to exist. The same type of card sold for $900,000 in February.
At the time Martinez revealed the card — we’ve asked when he actually bought it, and for how much — he was still a member of the New York Giants. Martinez tore knee ligaments 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 was guaranteed, and with that already paid, that meant the Giants could cut him 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 on Oct. 25, Martinez said he started collecting Pokémon cards when he was 6 years old, strayed from the hobby sometime in his childhood, and then returned to it, as many people did , during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First he went to find his childhood collection, only to discover that his mother – in a story so common it’s almost a cliché – had given them away or thrown them away. He became serious enough about collecting Pokémon that he started a “pause” business (a dealer asks buyers for a box of unopened cards, then opens them, and the buyers are assigned the contents. The opening is usually done in an online event.)
Through this he met a dealer in rare items. “He gave me a bunch of different trophy cards, and the Swirlustrator was one of them,” Martinez said. He did not say how much he paid for it. (Martinez calls it the “Swirllustrator” because of two small swirls in the artwork that separate the card.)
Is it really worth more than an NFL starter does?
On Oct. 4, the Raiders signed Martinez to a one-year, $1.12 million deal, none of it guaranteed. Around this time, Martinez’s Pokémon Illustrator returned with a grade of 9.5, “Gem Mint” in card collector parlance. The illustrator that sold for $900,000 in February was rated 7.5. Martinez quite reasonably believed he had a card worth more than his deal with the Raiders.
Martinez, in a meeting at Peasant stars‘ Gold & Silver Pawn on October 27 speculated that it could fetch $1.5 million at auction. (Austin “Chumlee” Russell, a Pokémon collector himself, said only that it was “Out of my league.”) By then, Martinez had listed it with Goldin, a nationwide auctioneer of valuable collectibles. The winning bid charged Martinez’s card for $672,000 — a nice salary, but somewhat disappointing in light of the sale on February 28. Then again, Pokémon trading cards have been an extremely volatile market since the beginning 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, it could have been the tipping point to call 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 immediately. 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 rack up 11 tackles, playing all but seven of the team’s snaps on defense.
With the incumbent starter on the injured list, Martinez looked set to get a lot more playing time. Whether this was a pro or con in his eyes is unknown. On November 10, he retired, one day after missing training.due to personal reasons.”
While it’s not common, it’s also not rare for NFL players to retire in their prime — especially in 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, concluding that the risk to his long-term health was not worth it. Linebacker teammate Patrick Willis soon followed at age 30.