Baseball Rookie Card Collecting Is Confusing
By Richard Mock aka Paintball
I have noticed since I started trying to keep my three sons’ baseball and football rookie card collection current that most sellers list a baseball player’s first year card as a player’s rookie card when listing the card for sale on eBay. It also seems to me that these cards bring a higher price than the player’s card with the Rookie Card logo. I have also noticed that these cards have the player in a major league team’s uniform even though he is still in the minors. This is very confusing to baseball rookie card collectors. The confusion in my opinion started back in the late 1980s when Topps started putting out a Topps Traded subset at the end of the season and putting cards of the USA team in their sets. Beckett started calling these first cards of players as XRC meaning Extra rookie cards. The collectors who were used to calling the first card issue of a player as their rookie cards immediately accepted these XRC cards as the player’s “True Rookie Card” thus giving the card a lot higher value then any future cards of this player. The card companies started putting recently drafted players still in the minors in their sets and putting out minor league sets. These cards didn’t achieve the rookie card label from Beckett, but did receive the XRC label, except if the card was given a regular number in the regular set it was given a rookie card label.
A card was considered to be a XRC if it was released in an extended or limited set, most often once a player was drafted and prior to a player’s first major league appearance. Examples of some of the most popular XRCs include 1986 Topps Traded #11T Barry Bonds, Just Minors Sets, Tristar, Upper Deck’s Prospect Premieres sets, and USA Baseball’s USA National Sets. While the RC versus XRC distinctions offered clarification in theory, in reality neither card companies nor collectors could reach a consensus on exactly what cards were RCs or XRCs. Without any basis in logic or reason that I could see, the minor league sets were not given high value by collectors even though they were clearly a player’s first card, but cards like Mark McGwire’s 1985 Topps USA baseball was uniformly accepted as his “True rookie card.”
The Major League Baseball Player’s Association for some reason stepped into this debate in 2006 and insisted that the only cards that could be deemed rookie cards are cards issued during the first year the player has been placed on a major league team’s 40 man roster. The new rookie cards would say “Rookie Card” on the front. The card companies continued to issue cards of recently drafted prospects under the titles “Prospect” or “First card.” As far as I can tell, the only people following the rules are the card companies. Card collectors still call these first cards Rookie Cards when listing them for sale on eBay, but they also call the cards with the rookie card logo a rookie card. As of right now most rookie card collectors will pay more for the first year and prospect cards over the rookie card when they are different years, excluding cards from minor league sets.
The problem though is guessing what will be accepted 20-30 yrs from now when these new players start getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. Will the card everyone wants and is willing to play big bucks for be the Minor league card, the prospect card, or the one with the rookie card logo? In this month’s Beckett, I noticed a small announcement that they were going to start listing the minor league sets with the other sets instead of listing them in the back of the book. One of the reasons listed for their move is so these cards will gain greater acceptance by the hobby. This causes a rookie card collector who is investing heavily in prospect cards and rookie cards but ignoring minor league sets major concerns.
Will all my 2001 high priced Albert Pujols rookie cards go way down in value while the low priced minor league card goes way up in value? I always thought that Pujols was a safe investment because his first card in a major set was the same year he made the majors and therefore the 1st year card and his rookie card were the same. Until I saw this statement in Beckett, I didn’t worry about his minor league card. I don’t know what will be done in the future, but now when a new player has a breakout season and I want to check and see if I have his rookie card; I go to eBay and search for the player’s name and the word “rookie card.” Almost always I get listings for the years of his first year card, the years with the rookie card logo, and the year of his first minor league card. Since I don’t collect minor league cards I check for cards of both the year of his prospect or first year cards and the year of his rookie cards and move both to top loaders and into my cabinet where I keep my rookie card collection. I might have cards that are 3, 4, or even 5 years apart of the same player stored in my collection and call them both rookie cards. This sounds stupid, but I don’t know what else to do. I stated in my last article that my kids became rookie card collectors because they felt that a player could have 1000s of cards over a 25 year career, but only one year of rookie cards. Already this is wrong and most players have three years of cards called rookie cards on eBay and other forums.
I might be very wrong, but if eBay starts insisting that a card have the rookie card logo on the card before it can be called a rookie card, then in a fairly short period of time these cards would replace the prospect cards as the card with the greater value. Few people do a search on eBay for a “first year card.” They do however search for a “rookie card.” If I am right, it might be a very good investment to invest in the card with the rookie card logo since right now they are usually a lot cheaper than the 1st yr. cards.
I usually still choose the first year card over the rookie card when I have to choose between different years and can’t get both, but I am the first to admit that I might be making a big mistake. Maybe I should just forget baseball and concentrate solely on football.
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