Friday, January 19, 2018

A rookie set that made sense

Tired of being swamped by the latest rookies in your baseball card product?

OK, maybe it's just me.

You wouldn't hear a peep out of me if Topps never made another card of Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger or Andrew Benintendi. Like an overplayed song, I'm ready for cards of those guys to cycle out of my rotation.

Even if you don't collect modern sets, it's difficult to avoid the drumbeat of rookieness. The only thing that Topps has shown for its 2018 flagship product so far is rookies or recent rookies. It recently released an '18 flagship checklist ... of just rookies. Rookies overflow its Topps Now product. Topps releases special online exclusives that are either all rookies or focus mostly on rookies. Rookies are over-represented in insert sets and in almost all of Topps' spin-off sets, like Chrome, Allen and Ginter, you name it.

All of this is while Topps has its own brand dedicated to rookies and prospects called Bowman.

I've never seen overkill quite like it in all my life.

It's just the way of the modern-card world, and really it started quite awhile ago, back in the 1980s when rookie cards became desirable among a wide assortment of collectors. I see plenty of blog posts dedicated to a collector's enthusiasm for rookie cards and most of that is born out of that '80s explosion.

You can't blame Topps for shoving them down our throats. They've made good money off the continuing rookie phenomenon and 2017 certainly didn't convince anyone that this was the wrong path to take. Collectors like rookies. I'll never understand it fully, but it's an indisputable fact and the card industry is built upon it.

Because of the money to be made off of rookie buzz, a lot of cards that are connected to "rookieness" don't make a lot of sense.

For example, the last couple of years rookies started appearing on an extra card in Topps Update. Regardless of whether they were featured in the main flagship set (as Michael Conforto was), Topps squeezed in an extra card with a rookie logo under the guise that it was  "rookie debut" card, noting the player's first game. (Never mind that Conforto's debut was in 2015 and this was a product that came out in the fall of 2016).

I do like the idea behind cards like this, but randomly adding an extra card just because you want as many rookie cards of buzz-worthy players in the set as possible is meaningless to me.

There is always an exception. If you can find a photo of a noted achievement in the player's rookie debut (minus all the smoke), then you have something that, to me, is collectible.

I think the most recent trend of adding an extra card of a rookie player by noting his rookie debut began with 2013 Update. That was the year we all needed as many Yasiel Puig cards as possible. Puig didn't appear in the flagship set, so Topps made up for that by issuing three Puig cards in Update (and then those short-prints, of course). One of them noted his rookie debut.

Both Wil Myers and Anthony Rendon feature rookie debut cards in 2013 Update -- plus a regular old Update card. It was very confusing then. It barely makes sense now.

The desperation grows even more apparent in retrospect when someone like Shelby Miller suddenly appears in Update even though he was in flagship that same year. Very few people are excited to pull a Shelby Miller card in 2018.

So, all of this seems forced. It's pandering, if you will.

And those of you who bathe in a tub of rookie cards every night are probably wondering when I'm going to get to the rookie set that made sense as I mentioned in the title.

Here you go:

This is when plastering "Rookie Debut" on a card carries some logic.

In 2006, in what was called Topps Updates & Highlights at the time, Topps put out a 45-card insert set noting 45 rookie debuts in 2006. This was a fine idea (and nicely divisible by 9).

It was my first year back collecting modern cards and I tried to complete everything that Topps put out that year. But I began to lose my enthusiasm when the U&H set came out. I did complete the main set, but the inserts are SOL, I'm afraid.

I do have 23 of the 45 cards from this set. It's great to look back at it, as you can note the golden boys (Kinsler), the flameouts (Milledge) and the never weres.

Maybe it's not the most well-designed, vibrant set, but creating a theme like this for an insert set is what makes an insert set collectible. Instead of randomly throwing in an extra card of a rookie just because they're "hot" into an Update set, why not create something with a little bit of an impact, something with meaning?

I also can read the debut date. It stands out right at the top. Because the date is the reason the card is being made, not the buzz, not the rookie card logo.

It's interesting that none of these insert cards feature a rookie card logo even though that logo debuted in 2006. If this was a set released in 2018 you can bet that the rookie card logo would be on all of these cards.

The logo has become that much of a cash cow for Topps and for others who sell cards.

Which is why you will see all kinds of ridiculous excuses to get that logo into sets for the foreseeable future.


  1. This makes me miss those MLB Debut sets from the junk wax era. And you're right, tying each card in the set to the specific date when the guy made his debut makes the rookieness of everything meaningful. It may not be a Rookie™ card (a whole different debate which will never end) but celebrating someone's first cup of coffee will always be cool.

  2. As a fan of Game Dated cards I can endorse Rookie Debut cards. I believe The Photos on the recent Rookie Debuts are from the game when the debut occurred.

  3. I agree with you on all of the pointless rookie cards in update. I noticed on some of the dates for debuts in the prior year that they were late in the year. This is probably due to the early release of the set. If any trades or debuts happened in August, they won't reflected until the next year. Using understand why the checklists are finalized so early.

    For evidence of the last statement look at the Tigers in Series 1 last year. There was one player who was traded to the Braves, and promptly released. Another player was demoted to AAA and released during the off-season .

  4. I am ok with the Debut date being from the year before the year of the set. Back in ‘52 when Topps started putting stats on the back, it was for the previous year, and I wish sets these days would honor that, especially with the rookies and the players changing teams. That, in my opinion, is what the Update set is for. Topps needs to give a player their ‘rookie’ card in the Update set of the year they debut, put a rookie debut card in the next years set, and be done with calling them a rookie.

  5. I think each set should only have 1 "RC" card of whatever rookie. If they're counting on bringing in the bucks, they still will because the card would be worth more than the hump teen dozen they make for a guy now.

  6. I've never seen these! But I'd be all on board for something like this.

  7. Aaron Judge has 25 cards carrying the RC designation this past year. This does not include parallels...He could go on to be the All-Time home run king and a first ballot Hall of Famer, and his rookie cards will carry minimum value because there is just so much out there.

  8. I, too, like those Rookie Debut inserts from '06, and I wouldn't even mind Topps issuing a separate Debut set all together like the ones they had for a few years in the early '90s if it meant getting those repetitive base cards out of Update.

  9. Hopefully last year was a chance to improve for the card companies not foreshadowing of what's to come!

  10. I miss the days when rookie cards meant something, but now I'm almost desensitized to that logo. I try to be as positive as I can about this hobby... especially in regards to Topps (my favorite card company). But this year, they took that rookie card logo to the next level. Between Topps Now, their made to order online sets, and their regular hobby and retail products, there must be 50+ Aaron Judge cards featuring that logo. Overkill is an understatement.

  11. I've been complaining about the saturation of the Rookie Hype Machine in every set for years (just not as eloqently). Nowadays, they don't just stuff every set with them, they make special online exclusives and on-demand products too! Give me the three headed rookie cards again, so I can put 'em in the back of each team where they belong.