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The rookie card plague is growing

This is a continuation from my Stadium Club blaster break post in which I noted how many rookie cards appeared in it.
I know I bash rookie cards a lot and I probably should just be quiet about it because they certainly divert a lot of collectors who would otherwise be competition for the good stuff. But it's an obsession in the industry and it's getting worse.
Didn't the hobby always care about rookie cards, night owl? Well, no. I didn't anyway. I spent five blissful years collecting without a clue that there was such a thing as a rookie card. Rookie cup? I knew those. But the first card of a particular player probably didn't make me take notice until Bob Welch's 1979 Topps card.

After that, I remember the 1980 Rickey Henderson card being a little bit coveted. Then there was the 1982 Traded Cal Ripken Jr. card. I knew I had something when I ordered that complete Traded set. Then rookie cards began to pick up more momentum with the Boggs-Gwynn-Sandberg trifecta in '83, Mattingly in '84 and by 1986 collectors were beside themselves with rookie chasing. Hobby magazines published rookie lists, who's hot/who's not, you needed to do research, and the hobby of mindless collecting and the appreciation for every card was gone (well the stars were always a little more special).

That's how it's been ever since. But it's ramped up a little more on cards.

First there was the rookie card logo, installed in 2008. This logo has always been a bit dubious because we've long passed the days when a player's first card was his rookie card. It still should be, but it's not. Therefore, that rookie card logo doesn't mean diddly, except for people who want to capitalize on it.

But the logo does make it easier for manually counting rookie cards in my collection! So there's that! I counted up the number of rookie cards in each of the Topps flagship sets that I have completed since the rookie card logo appearance. Those sets are 2009, 2010, 2015, 2021 and 2022.

2009: 57 rookie cards out of 660 cards (8.6%)

2010: 55 rookie cards out of 660 cards (8.3%) .

2015: 60 rookie cards out of 700 cards (there were 53 through the first 660) (8.6%).

2021: 103 rookie cards out of 660 cards (15.6%).

2022: 98 rookie cards out of 660 cards (14.8%).

Obviously the number of rookie cards has gone up since the arrival of the rookie card logo. It's practically doubled.

So this ain't good. The hobby wants more rookie cards and Topps is giving it to them, but I think a segment of those wanting more and more rookies are sellers and where there is sellers, there is shady sections of the hobby. It's not a surprise that rookie cards receive disproportionate amount of counterfeiting action, ebay gouging and other not-being-a-good-human activity.

My other complaint with the increase in rookie cards is I fear it's not an accurate representation of the game, I am collecting cards in a given year to have a concrete idea of what that season was like -- and it's not flooded with rookies. Every time I get a rookie card of some Dodger who barely sniffed playing time that year, I wonder.

Here are the percentages of rookies in major league baseball for each of the years I just noted via baseball-reference. But it's not what I expected.

2009: 235 rookies/1266 total players (18.5%)
2010: 163 rookies/1249 total players (13.1%)
2015: 200 rookies/1349 total players (14.8%)
2021: 266 rookies/1508 total players (17.6%)
2022: 522 rookies/1495 total players (34.9%)

Well, OK, when you look at it like this, Topps is well on track with the number of rookie cards, in fact it probably under-represented them back 12 years ago. (I don't know why there were so many rookies in 2022 -- has the transacting increased that much?)

But I don't think a straight comparison like this gives an accurate picture of a major league baseball season. A lot of those rookies are sent down and called up and sent down, they aren't on the field as regularly as the other veteran players. It paints a skewed picture. Because on a baseball card, one player's card is as equal as another's.

Some folks like that some of these rookies get their one chance to shine on a card with the rookie logo attention before disappearing forever. I can respect that. But I just can't stop thinking that some reliever who has been toiling for four or five years and still hasn't had a card since Bowman is being short-changed.
As a kid, the only logos I valued were the All-Star logos and those were almost always veteran players, star players. The rookie cup logos were a little bit cool, but I didn't know who a lot of those players were. That's where I'm coming from.

Anyway, this isn't an authoritative study or anything (I'm sure my counts were off a little). Like usual, I got curious and this is what I found. If you were wondering whether there are more rookie cards than ever -- here's your answer.


Old Cards said…
Rookie cards are definitely overdone today, but at least they are not those horrible multi-player rookie cards.
bbcardz said…
Rookie cards just never did it for me either, just like grading or flipping/investing.
buckstorecards said…
Covid restrictions for crossing the border for games in Toronto might have hastened some major league debuts, but certainly not enough to put them at that level.
gregory said…
Seems like this topic could work well as an article for a certain trading card magazine that a certain owl writes for.
Nick said…
I wouldn't mind the uptick in rookies if Topps expanded their checklists, but it feels like minor prospects who got a cup of coffee are exiling more established veterans who don't get enough cards (aka middle relievers) out of sets these days. Or maybe Topps could do a Debut-ish set like they did in the early '90s and just push all the rookies into that.
When I went to GA I started keeping the rc cards. I boxed them, now I have thousands of them in 800 ct boxes. I went through two of them the other day, and I decided that only a handful if that were worthy to be keepers. I look forward to getting through all of those boxes and then dumping them into my trade boxes (dupes boxes).
Billy Kingsley said…
Every player who plays in the league should get a card, whether they are in their tenth season or first.
Nick Vossbrink said…
I suspect that what's going on is that the increased taxi squads are both playing more young guys AND letting those guys stay "rookies" for multiple seasons. Every team going 50-60 (or more) players deep really messes up the ability of any set to reflect WTF is actually going on in the league anymore.

I honestly kind of feel for Topps a bit. We, correctly, complain about the checklists but going from ~800 cards (~900 including Traded) for ~1000 players in the 1980s to 660 (~950 including Update) cards for ~1500 players now makes it impossible to include everyone. What I wish Topps *would* do was spread things around across the multiple issues. Make Bowman the MLB Debut set so the MLB cards actually match the prospecting goal of the inserts and get a lo of the RCs out of Flagship. Then treat Flagship and Heritage as complementary sets where the ~700 Heritage cards coupled with the ~900 Flagship+Update cards can actually hit most of the other players while allowing for some actual subsets on the CL.
Fuji said…
A. I enjoy collecting rookie cards, but part of that has to do with what kids collected when I started opening packs back in the early 80's.

B. That being said... I think it's silly how many rookie cards are in the flagship set (15% is insane). If it were me, they'd focus on veterans in Series 1 and 2... and then make Update focus on updated players and rookies... like the old Topps Traded sets.
IowaConnection said…
I personally would love to see everyone who played in the majors have a RC (or just my Iowa Connection guys.) I have a list of players who made the majors but never got a card. However I do realize there is only so much space and we need to have 6 different Wanders. 😬
Bring back Topps Total! I want cards of the backup catchers and fourth outfielders!
Bo said…
I think there has been a change in mindset in recent years. I feel like in the past, once a player was called up once, they had "major league experience" and were more likely to get recalled in the future then another player who hadn't been. Now it seems like teams are trotting out more and players for their first appearance, and if they don't succeed immediately they are never seen again. I think that percentage is only going to increase over the years.

I do question how much even we bloggers really care about middle relievers and backup catchers. I know they are in sets like Topps Update. When I see people posting their cards from those sets on their blogs, are they celebrating those guys? Maybe, I don't remember. I have a feeling that if they don't recognize the name, they mentally get mixed in with the nameless, faceless rookies. How many middle relievers do we know that are not on your team or a close rival? Maybe one or two that make the All Star team?
Cmcheatle said…
I think a lot of it is how modern pitching staffs are handled. Just a constant flow back and forth from the majors to the minors as teams need an opener, or the 9th guy in the bullpen pitched an inning yesterday, so he's unavailable for 2 days so just cycle a new guy in.

Doesn't even have to be the top prospect in the minors, just bring up the guy who is at the right place in his rest cycle and can pitch if needed today.
GCA said…
I left the hobby in '85 right as the rookies craze really got rolling, so they're still my least favorite part of any team.
What's worse is I don't watch enough games now to recognize the regular players much less the rookies, so I care even less now.
I attribute the rise in rookie card population to the companies trying to fill the desire for cards that will shoot up in value. Unfortunately, that rarely happens and those that don't get relegated to boxes in the back of closets that prevent others from finishing their sets later.
Paul Theisen said…
My first memories of RC madness goes back to 1981 when I was a SR in HS and Fernando Valenzuela started red hot out of the box and he had multiple RCs, but the Topps RC was the hottest. I went to a large show in Detroit area in July when the strike was going on but cards were still hot. His trio RC was something like $3 when a pack cost 30-35 cents. It got worse in 82 when I was filling in remaining handful of cards I needed to complete my Topps set and had to pay a dollar for Chili Davis trio RC. By 1985, RC mania was officially insane, with the Gooden cards and then really mad when Canseco and 1986 Donruss card was selling for $6 in May. Personally, I liked the early Topps 1961/62 where they had a dedicated card for each rookie and labeled "rookie star" - Topps kind of ruined it with the final eight cards of the 1962 set showing 4 rookies each. More than RCs, I think the decision to add inserts in the late 1980s (UD Reggie cards, etc.) did even more irreparable damage than the RC craze. Then having premium sets (1990 Leaf, 91 Stadium Club, etc) is what drove me away from buying new cards. Stopped trying to buy every set in 1992 and never looked back.
Doc Samson said…
I remember when 1985 Topps was the first set to have cards of The US Olympic Team. This was a reaction to 1984 Donruss’ Rated Rookies. Everyone knows that was Mark McGuire’s true rookie card which catapulted the value of the set.

Collectors seem to forget that Will Clark was also on the Olympic Team. For some inexplicable reason, Clark didn’t get a card produced that year. Can you imagine if he did? Yikes!
Paul Theisen said…
Doc, I remember reading an article in beckett probably early 1990s about those 1985 Olympian cards. That team also had will Clark as you mentioned and barry Larkin too. The issue was ncaa rules about featuring and paying players who still had eligibility. Players like Mcguire finished their eligibility in 1984 so topps could sign and pay them for their likeness. Clark played in college in 1985 cws. Larkin finished his college career either 85 or 86. They would have been considered ineligible had they signed a deal. Funny the Cory Snyder card was a hit for a while too. Paul
Jon said…
I didn't care about rookies as a kid, and probably care even less about them now.
Jafronius said…
Thanks for the research! I too would rather see journeymen get a card than a RC of a guy who got into a July game, never to be heard of for the rest of the season.
Doc Samson said…
@PaulTheisen Thanks, Paul. I knew there had to be a reason why Clark and Larkin weren’t in the 1985 Topps set. As much praise as the 1985 set gets, it’s a very flawed set. Too many headshots, really bad printing with colors way off and ugly, unreadable backs. That said, I do like the boldness of the design and the all star cards. And yes, hard to believe that Cory Snyder was once a hot card. Thanks again.
Alex said…
My mind immediately goes to Caleb Thielbar - a solid reliever who had pitched off and on for the Twins for roughly a decade before Topps deigned to allow him to make his debut in Heritage High Number this past year. As someone who likes having a card for everyone, as a record of year to year rosters, it’s maddening…
Benjamin said…
I agree with everyone here including Mr. Owl. I started collecting in the early 90s and rookie cards didn't mean anything to me; it was always about the stars (I always remember trading away my Topps 91 Mark McGwire). At some point the rookies became the craze, and now it's difficult to finish a set without shelling out money for the rookie.

2010 Topps: You can buy an entire set for what, $50, and the Buster Posey rookie is $10 all by itself. Or Freddie Freeman is $15 in 2011. I am going back to finish these Topps sets now and it's just such a pain. Someone a long time ago decided that rookie cards were the most specialest wonderfulest cards of all time ever, we all followed suit, and now 1 of every 6 cards is a rookie. Sigh.
BaseSetCalling said…
Thanks for counting up some numbers, have been wondering for a long time and just barely started counting them myself. The RC logo count is usually going to be off each year as a handful of screwups will be part of every checklist - First Topps Baseball card but without the logo. For example, J.T. Realmuto in 2015 Topps, probably the most well-known player in such phenomena.

When I think about this I occasionally try to casually discover the average length of an MLB career these days, but I haven’t yet found current data on that. Will try to keep looking when I can.

I am starting to enjoy a pure-RC logo collection just as a way to keep just a manageable fraction of the Topps Baseball sets I don’t assemble completely. I can’t build (house) every set, but I like having some cards from every year.