How 2021 Bowman’s Best Baseball Has Changed Rookie Cards for the Next Several Years

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Like that, 2021 Bowman’s Best Baseball just got a lot more interesting. A simple numbering shift in the base set is poised to cause some major ramification for years to come. It’s also likely to reignite the debate over what constitutes a Rookie Card.

2021 Bowman's Best Baseball Hobby Box

The situation is this: the 2021 Bowman’s Best Baseball base set has its usual mix of veterans and rookies. They have some company, though, in the form of several “prospects” like Wander Franco, Jasson Dominguez, Austin Martin, Spencer Torkelson and Julio Rodriguez. Five of the top six picks in the 2021 draft are also in the base set: Henry Davis, Jackson Jobe, Marcelo Mayer, Colton Cowser, and Jordan Lawlar.

Here’s an excerpt from the 2021 Bowman’s Best base set checklist showing veterans, rookies and prospects all together (players in red highlight prospects):

All of the prospects are Rookie Cards — at least Beckett will be recognizing them as such with the RC tag. Any base cards for these players in 2022 any beyond will not.

It falls in line with criteria established decades ago.

We understand the ramifications this has, not just for 2021 Bowman’s Best Baseball but in the years ahead as it goes against what has been done with baseball cards for years when the MLBPA and MLB changed who could appear in a base set and who couldn’t. This changed how sets were built and numbered, but not what Beckett and many collectors recognized as an RC.

Why 2021 Bowman’s Best “Prospects” are Rookie Cards

At Beckett, there is longstanding criteria on what constitutes a Rookie Card or RC. In a nutshell:

  • It’s a base card. The base set is the core of any release. Inserts and parallels are something separate and have never been considered RCs in the Beckett database.
  • The set includes veterans. If a set is only prospects and rookies, it’s considered a prospect or minor league set. That’s why recent Bowman Draft Baseball sets don’t have RCs. For several years the base set has been exclusively draft picks and prospects.
  • The set has wide distribution. If there’s any area that has become grey over the years, this might be it. Online-exclusives have changed how some products are made and what’s considered mainstream. But the principle still applies. This distribution also means cards come as some sort of package. Therefore, print-on-demand sets like Topps Now and Panini Instant haven’t been recognized with the RC tag from Beckett.

The prospects in 2021 Bowman’s Best Baseball all meet this criteria. Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Torkelson are alongside Mike Trout and Fernando Tatis with the same continuous card numbering. This is a product that’s available everywhere. It’s a mainstream set so there are no questions about distribution.

The only difference between these players and other “rookies” in the set like Jonathan India and Jarred Kelenic is a small RC logo.

The Introduction of the RC Logo

Until 2005, in baseball you would often find prospects and draft picks in base sets. Starting in 2006, the MLBPA and MLB said that players could only appear in a base set after they’d made their big league team. Draft picks and prospects could still have baseball cards in MLB and MLBPA products, but they were numbered separately.

This became clear in Bowman products. Beginning in 2006, veterans and rookies were numbered one way and prospects another, essentially making them inserts. That’s the way is has been for 15 years. One can look as recently as 2021 Bowman Chrome Baseball to see the base/prospect numbering distinction.

As a part of this change, Topps and Upper Deck, both of whom had the baseball license at the time, started using a special rookie logo to signify a first-year player’s cards. It’s sort of a handy shorthand to quickly recognize rookies from veterans.

But just because a card has a rookie logo doesn’t change Beckett’s criteria for an RC.

Today collectors will find the logo on both base cards and inserts. For a lot of players, that means thousands of cards with the icon.

One way to look at cards with the RC logo is to see them as rookie-year cards, which can be different from a Rookie Card.

A rookie-year card is all-encompassing, taking in everything from a player’s first year of cards. A traditional Rookie Card is more defined as the player’s first year of base cards.

Beckett has never used the logo as a way of tagging Rookie Cards. Inserts have never been RCs. Neither have parallels and lots of other cards that have the icon. Both have the logo across all sports. It all goes back to the criteria.

When RC Logos Become Confusing

Then there’s the grey areas like Topps Now. A lot of players in the print-on-demand set have the RC logo. But there’s an arbitrary date where that changes to “Call-Up.” The numbering never changes but in the 2021 set, how are Jarred Kelenic and Wander Franco really that much different. Kelenic made his MLB debut on May 13 and his cards have the RC logo on them.

Franco’s first game for the Rays was on June 22. His Topps Now cards don’t have the RC logo. Instead, they say “Call-Up.”

2021 Topps Now Baseball Wander Franco

Same set, continuous numbering, different ways in how the logo is applied. It’s not a knock on the logo or how it’s used but from a collecting standpoint there are times where it’s confusing and feels arbitrary.

Not All Rookie Cards Have an RC Logo

In the big picture of collecting, the standardized RC logo on sports cards is a new thing. People have been collecting cards since the 1800s. More than a century passed before the logo was introduced.

Currently, not one member of the Baseball Hall of Fame has the rookie logo on their Rookie Cards.

Even today, you can find exceptions in baseball where players’ Rookie Cards don’t have the logo. Daniel Murphy’s 2009 cards do not. Neither does the 2015 Topps Update Enrique Hernandez. That doesn’t mean they’re not RCs. These sorts of examples are definitely the exception but it illustrates that such instances do exist.

How Important Are Rookie Cards Today?

Are Rookie Cards a driving force in the hobby? Yes. Can they make or break a product’s lasting popularity? Absolutely.

But in today’s products, there are multiple levels of access points for young stars, particularly in baseball.

Since 2006, a player’s first Bowman card, typically their first in a MLB uniform, carries tremendous weight. Arguably, they’re just as important as a player’s eventual Rookie Card. To some, they treat them like a Rookie Card.

That’s perfectly fine.

Beckett’s criteria has been consistent over the decades. The 2019 Bowman Chrome Wander Franco autograph is a very important card. But it’s not his Rookie Card.

You can go back to Topps’ earliest days in baseball to find another prominent card that isn’t an RC but is easily their most important — the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle.

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle

His actual RC came a year earlier in 1951 Bowman. The 1952 Topps card is, by definition, a second-year card. That doesn’t doesn’t take away any of its status or legend. It just simply means that it doesn’t have a label.

Rookie Cards are key. But they’re not the only thing. Today’s hobby reflects that. Prospect cards and RCs can both exist.

Eternal Confusion

Rookie Cards have always been confusing. They probably always will. That’s because different collectors see things in different ways. It’s also a product of marketing as card makers look for ways to appeal to various collecting bases.

Let’s take Derek Jeter as an example. His Rookie Cards are in 1993 products. He didn’t debut until 1995 and was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996.

1993 SP Derek Jeter Rookie Card

Several of his 1996 base cards say “Rookie” on the front including Score, Fleer Ultra and Select. You might see some eBay listings noting them as RCs, but the hobby consensus goes back to 1993 with SP, Topps, Upper Deck and others.

Prospect cards have further muddied things. In Bowman products, they look just like base cards when it comes to layout. The only difference is a small number on the back.

At Beckett, there is that longstanding criteria that acts as a foundation. As different things pop up, it always goes back to what was set forth decades ago. By having a definition, things get easier.

But we acknowledge that not everyone goes by the same definitions. That’s perfectly fine. For us, the RC tag is important in categorizing cards. It’s not intended to say one card is more important, coveted or valuable than another. That’s up to collectors to decide.

What Do the 2021 Bowman’s Best RCs Mean for the Future?

Because they meet our longstanding criteria, the prospects in the 2021 Bowman’s Best will get the RC tag and we will be referring to them as Rookie Cards.

Any base cards for these players in 2022 and beyond will not. Instead, their rookie-year cards with the RC logo will likely be cataloged with the (RC) tag. This was introduced for players who debuted in 2006 or later but already had Rookie Cards. Upon their debut, Topps and Upper Deck used their RC logos for their rookie year cards.

An example would be Justin Verlander. His RCs are a part 2005 base sets. His (RC) cards in the Beckett database are his 2006 cards that have the card makers’ logos.

2005 Topps Justin Verlander RC
2006 Topps Justin Verlander (RC)

The (RC) designation is a way of signaling to collectors that there are earlier base cards that meet traditional RC criteria.

We understand what this means. A lot of major prospects over the next several years are likely to have their only RC cards in 2021 Bowman’s Best. The anticipated deluge of Wander Franco Rookie Cards in 2022 products will no longer be there, at least according to how we define them. It’s the same with all of the other impacted players.

Collect What Makes YOU Happy

Franco’s 2022 cards won’t have the RC tag in the Beckett database but it’s likely that his cards will have Topps’ and Panini’s RC logos. A lot of collectors are going to look at 2021 Bowman’s Best as an anomaly and treat his cards as Rookie Cards. Others today swear by the modern RC logo on the card itself.

All of those things are good. The Beckett staff believe strongly in the idea that people should be collecting what brings them joy and excitement. For some, that’s first Bowman Chrome Autographs. For others, it’s cards from a player’s first season that have the RC logo. There are others who don’t pay attention to rookies and chase autographs, memorabilia cards, mascots, promo cards, cool inserts or anything from their favorite teams. Set building is still a thing, too.

A collection should be defined by the collector, not a tag or logo.

At the same time, we felt it important to explain where we are coming from. It’s clear that the way 2021 Bowman’s Best is laid out, the prospects in the base set meet the criteria of what has been in place for decades to qualify as an RC in the Beckett database. To ignore this would undermine the entire purpose of the tag in the first place and its history.

Whether it was intentional or a mistake really doesn’t matter. The product is out and it is built and numbered the way it is.

The Rookie Card Conversation Is a Good Conversation

We understand some collectors are going to see this situation differently just as every conversation about what is and isn’t a Rookie Card has been in the past. The debate isn’t new and it’s not likely to end. Collecting is personal and that’s what makes the hobby great.

If the market decides that 2022 Wander Francos are more valuable and coveted than his 2021 Bowman’s Best card, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s the market speaking. That doesn’t change Beckett’s criteria, though. Otherwise, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle would have been made an RC in the database decades ago.

The Rookie Card debate a good conversation to have as it helps collectors define what’s important to them and helps shape their collections.

(Please note that because of the holidays, it may take a few days for the Beckett database to be updated for 2021 Bowman’s Best.)

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Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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21 comments

  1. Victor 1 January, 2022 at 00:07

    There’s a lot to take in here. Some things I agree with and some things I don’t. It proves my point that there needs to be an all-encompassing set of guidelines that defines an RC. The Players Association, the industry, the manufacturers, everyone should abide by these same set of “written” guidelines.

    At the moment Beckett has their own standard, PSA has their own standard, auction houses, everyone has their own “opinion” of what a rookie card is. The answer is accountability, and it has to come from the Leagues and the Players Association. There’s confusion because there’s a lack of leadership.

    I’m shocked you didn’t get Topps to give a statement on this. It does matter. At best it’s a mistake due to negligence or ignorance. At worst it’s the same old shenanigans created by Topps for more than 40 years. It seems like our industry leaders stick their heads in the sand and are afraid to say anything. I’m not! And it will be the inspiration for my next video.

    Regards,
    Victor, The Rookie Card Specialist

    • Ryan Cracknell 3 January, 2022 at 23:17

      @Victor – We did reach out to Topps for comment pretty much immediately after the checklist was released.

  2. D. Bihr 1 January, 2022 at 01:09

    I thought part of the criteria was the player also had appeared in a major league game for the card to be considered a “rookie” card. Hence why Bowman prospects from the Bowman and Bowman chrome sets weren’t rookies yet under the current rules.

    • Ryan Cracknell 3 January, 2022 at 23:19

      That is part of the criteria that the MLBPA and MLB have for appearing in a base set but that has never been the criteria for Beckett tagging cards with the RC tag. Basically how sets were built changed. Beckett’s RC definition did not.

  3. John S. 1 January, 2022 at 16:53

    So prospects that never played a major league game can have rookie cards in this product due to a numbering error? Ugh.

  4. Tyler 1 January, 2022 at 18:48

    What I’m curious about, and don’t see explained in the article, is why Topps a) chose to do this with this set, and b) was allowed to do this with this set. I thought this is against the MLB/MLBPA/Topps agreed-upon rules?

    • Ryan Cracknell 3 January, 2022 at 23:21

      @Tyler – This is against the agreed upon rules for production but the set was still released as it is. We did reach out to Topps last week.

  5. Cory Anderson 2 January, 2022 at 10:41

    So nothing really changed. Topps inception has rc’s logos before the topps flagship is released and collectors do not consider that to be a first rookie card. This situation is more pronounced this year because Wander’s rc was not released in 2021 update. Inception will have his first rookie logo but series one will 100 percent be his flagship rookie card. Weather Beckett deams bowmans best to be a flagship rookie or not is beside the point. Bowman is a prospect product first and foremost and topps is your rc product that does not include any prospect of any statues with exception I believe of pitchers who may still be considered a prospect until they pitch a certain amount of innings.

  6. Crash Davis 4 January, 2022 at 20:30

    Conspiracy Theory: Topps intentionally did this for their last release before being bought up by Fanatics today. Thoughts?

  7. JR 5 January, 2022 at 07:01

    XRC anyone? Beckett has not been consistent.

    This is creating confusion where none existed. Nothing unusual happened this year except for a numbering mistake. Topps is super sloppy there days and that surprises no one. The hobby will obviously treat it as a other mixup and view 2022, etc. as rookie cards. I feel like I’ve been a bit of a cheerleader for Beckett on social media, so I am sad because this really feels like the death knell for Beckett’s authority in the hobby… or at least the jumping of the shark.

    • Ryan Cracknell 5 January, 2022 at 09:53

      @JR – Where has Beckett not been consistent? The criteria has always been there. Being sloppy is not an excuse. It also appears that this isn’t the only place. While we won’t know for certain once the final cards arrive, 2021 Bowman Heritage appears to be taking the same approach. As the article mentions, there has never been consensus on what a Rookie Card is amongst everyone. The debate has always been there and always will. The important thing is for the individual to decide what they like and chase that.

  8. Ken 6 January, 2022 at 01:58

    As mentioned in the article, Jeter’s RC was in ’93 but he didn’t make his MLB debut until ’95 & won ROY in ’96. Chipper’s RC’S were in ’91 but he made his MLB debut in ’93 and his ’95 season was his “official ” rookie season. Look at how many guys have NFL or NBA rookie cards but never make a roster. Why should baseball be held to a different standard? The MLBPA & the MLB league offices stay out of the sports card market.

  9. JR 6 January, 2022 at 20:27

    Thanks for responding to my comment.

    You say the criteria has always been there, but I don’t believe you have always implemented the policy. It seems Beckett has also utilized a fourth “common sense” factor in the past. I mentioned one example in my previous comment. Cards in the 80s are listed in Beckett as rookie cards even when they have a card in prior update or traded sets that clearly meet your criteria. You also say sloppiness doesn’t matter, but that is not whet Beckett has done in the past. 2007 is listed as a RC for Alex Gordon even though Topps inadvertently issued a 2006 card of the same player. Common sense is a good thing though.

    Saying collect what you like is fine and good, but when collectors overwhelming desire 2022 Wander RCs, it won’t be because they just like the card. It will be because they think you are wrong and 2022 is his rookie card year.

    • Ryan Cracknell 6 January, 2022 at 21:00

      Traded sets until 1988 have the XRC tag due to the way they were distributed. I wasn’t around at the time but that is how it has been explained to me and how I understood things as a collector growing up at that time.

      Alex Gordon’s card was recalled. No copies were supposed to be released but some slipped through. Weird situation.

      If collectors see things differently with Franco or any others, that’s perfectly okay.

  10. John S. 8 January, 2022 at 17:35

    Regarding that last comment, how were the traded sets from 1989 onwards distributed differently than prior years?

    • Ryan Cracknell 10 January, 2022 at 10:39

      @John – I have asked in the past myself to better understand. How it was explained to me was that distribution was tighter and more limited prior to 1989 but then things opened up making them RC eligible. There may be more nuance to it then that but that’s the gist of what I was told.

  11. Derek Price 18 January, 2022 at 22:50

    Does this affect the Prospects in 2021 Bowman Draft, effectively making them rookie card per the designation or is this not the case? I fill like Topps needs to come out with a true definition with the amount of sets/variations/rookie cards out.

    • Ryan Cracknell 19 January, 2022 at 15:29

      @Derek – 2021 Bowman Draft has no veterans so the cards here would not be considered RCs in the Beckett database. Topps has their own way of designating rookies, but it’s not always consistent both in how they apply things and with the criteria that has existed in the hobby for decades.

  12. John Dudley 13 March, 2022 at 20:54

    This relies a lot on numbering. What about the 1994 Bowman’s Best rookies? They are numbered separately like most modern prospect subsets but are considered rookies. The major difference is they predate the switch in the rules. If the 1994 prospect subsets are rookies why aren’t other separately numbered prospect cards that appear for all purposes to be base cards considered to be also ?

    • Ryan Cracknell 14 March, 2022 at 13:42

      It’s about being part of the base set and numbering is one of the main indicators in most circumstances. In 1994 Bowman’s Best, the blue and the red are both part of the same overall base set even though the numbering is different. Cards are packaged together at random and the same rates. Parallels are bundled together at the same odds.

  13. Jason M. 14 March, 2022 at 00:36

    I would argue that the 2021 Topps Now Wander Franco (RC-5A) is definitely a rookie card and the very first licensed card that has “rookie” on it for Wander. It also has the iconic Topps rookie trophy that overcomes the lack of the “RC” logo. Even the card’s numbering accounts for Rookie Card.

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