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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.