Friday, June 7, 2013

When you wish upon a rookie card

I feel like I've given a wrong first impression with some of my posts thus far.

In the past, I've openly discouraged the whole "prospecting" way of collecting. To me, investing in the next hotshot rookie isn't what this hobby should be about.

On top of that, much of the reason I started my "Into the Sunset" theme was because of all the hype I'd heard from the hallowed rookie cards during my forum days. In fact, the very first sentence in my little "sunset" page write-up is as follows...

"Rookie cards are overrated."

And, in this day in age, that's pretty much true. I just saw a rare-card themed commercial on MLB Network that marketed, you guessed it, Bowman and its rookie-centric theme.

Don't get me wrong, though.

I love rookie cards.

No matter where the hobby takes me, rookies will always make up some of the more important parts of my collection.

Few feelings are more pure than acquiring a coveted rookie card of a personal favorite. I can't tell you how awesome it is to have a 1960 Topps Jim Kaat rookie in my collection.

I feel honored every time I look at it.

I've gone to great lengths to find certain rookies over the years.

In some cases, they don't come cheap. Anyone who's ever collected some of the bigger names in the game will tell you that.

Like many other fans, I instantly became a Josh Hamilton fan during his big comeback season with the Reds in 2007. His status as one of my more "supreme" player collections was cemented after his showing in the '08 Home Run Derby.

As a result, I set out to get as many cards of his as possible. Including, for better or worse, his rookie issues.

Luckily, I was able to find Hamilton's 1999 Bowman rookie before the big Home Run Derby bonanza took the baseball world by storm. Still, though, I voluntarily plopped down a good six bucks for it.

Anyone who knows my dime box style of collecting should recognize how meaningful that is. I'll occasionally shell out five or ten bucks for a vintage piece here and there.

But, when it comes to the more "modern" side of the hobby, such a price is nearly unheard of in my collection.

With Josh Hamilton, though, I didn't even have to think twice.

It was six bucks well spent.

So, why exactly do rookie cards continue to provide such a thrill for collectors?

To tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure.

Nevertheless, there's something innately special about being able to say you have a player's very first major piece of cardboard. I'm constantly seeing posts around the blogosphere about people scoring a big rookie find.

I've sure had my experience in that fold.

Dave Kingman, for instance, has always been a favorite of mine. Plucking a copy of his '72 Topps rookie from a flea market quarter box is still one of my all-time discount bin finds. And forever will be.

In the case of vintage, seeing that one year of major league stats coupled with a few minor league seasons has always been wildly special to me.

For the most part, you know you have a true rookie card on your hands when you see that lone year of big league service time, as we have with this Kingman.

Trouble is...

...I'm not exactly sure what rookie cards even are anymore.

With so many "Prospects" and "Draft Picks" subsets from Bowman, you'd be hard-pressed to understand the state of the rookie card in today's world. I applaud anyone who can actually keep track of these things nowadays.

From what I understand, Bowman Prospect cards aren't technically rookies. They often say "1st Bowman Card" or "First-Year Card" on the fronts, yet they're not rookie cards. And, even if they have the "rookie logo", you still might not have an actual rookie on your hands.

So, despite this being Justin Masterson's very first card, his '06 Bowman Chrome "Draft Picks" issue isn't a "true" rookie.

Oy. My head hurts already.

Given all that, you can see why I've been indifferent towards most rookie cards in recent years. I haven't bought a pack of Bowman in a long, long time for this very reason.

Ever since the whole "rookie card logo" came into the hobby, rookies have largely been sources of sheer confusion or frustration for me.

And not much fun, at that.

If I were suddenly put in charge of the baseball card universe, this would most definitely be one of the first things I'd change.

I'd bring back the sense of rookie normalcy we saw in this hobby up until the big Bowman boom.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but I want today's world to take a page from '89 Donruss and other sets of the like.

Give the collector something they can actually understand. Few of us have the time or interest in the whole "prospecting" realm to actually keep up with all of these strange rookie card rules.

Bring back a simple, easy-to-understand concept. Take Donruss's "Rated Rookie" logo, for instance.

When you saw that logo, you knew you had a rookie on your hands. (For the most part, anyways.)

Even my pre-teen collecting self certainly got a kick out of them. Given the fairly well-loved condition of this Gary Sheffield rookie, you can see that for yourself.

It's sad to say this, but the rookie card is being watered down these days. It's been that way for the last ten years or so, at the least.

Rookies don't do anything for me anymore. I want to get excited for them. I really do.

But I just can't.

In my opinion, card companies have lost sight of one of the universal truths in this hobby.

A rookie card is a special thing.


Jeff said...

Well said

petethan said...

Thanks for this post. The whole investment prospecting thing long turned me off to the whole rookie card thing in general. And, really, that's not right. Take the "value" aspect out of it and rookie cards of players you admire are really special things. Thanks for giving me a reason to appreciate that.

hiflew said...

Yeah Bowman has ruined the appeal of the rookie card. As you may know I collect the Topps Rookie All Star team, very few of them are rookie cards. In fact I think some of the mid 90s cup guys (Chipper, Jeter, Kendall) had 3-4 Topps cards before their rookie cup card.

But surprisingly it's not just a modern problem. Lou Piniella was on the 1970 RAST, but his rookie card was on a multi-player rookie card in 1964 Topps and he was also on multi-player "rookie" cards in 1968 and 1969.

AdamE said...

Oh but I thought that MLB said that Topps has fixed the RC confusion...

Ash said...

I've recently started putting together a Justin Masterson PC and couldn't help but ask; do you know what the "true" Masterson rookie card is, if that Bowman you featured isn't?

Great article, very interesting read.

Nick said...

I'm pretty sure Masterson's "true" rookies are his 2008 issues.

Good to know I'm not the only Masterson collector out there! :)

Ash said...

Thanks Nick, just acquired a signed 2013 Heritage yesterday for my collection. It's coming along nicely!