Monday, February 25, 2019

Why isn't this a rookie card?

This is a 1983 Calbee Randy Bass card that I have in my collection.  Its my favorite card of his.  There are a lot of Calbee cards from the 70s and early 80s which have that Pepsi sign, which I think was in Korakuen Stadium, in the background and it provides a kind of striking backdrop to a guy swinging a bat.

This is also his first Japanese card (or at least one of them, he has a few in the 83 set), but its not considered his rookie card.

Sports Card Magazine for some reason explicitly excludes foreign players en masse from having their first card designated as a rookie card.  Only Japanese players are allowed to have rookie cards in Japanese sets.

This rubs me the wrong way.  Of course Bass already had cards from his MLB days but that is besides the point - Japanese players who go to MLB usually have previously issued cards from their NPB days but that doesn't mean that their first MLB cards aren't recognized as rookie cards in the US.  Also, this rule applies even to guys who have never appeared on a MLB card, as is the case with some foreign players who came straight from the minors or other leagues.

I can't tell if this is being driven by some anti-foreign sentiment - an extension of the view that foreign players are just temporary helpers and not really members of whatever team they play for, so they shouldn't have rookie cards either because its not "their" league after all.  Or is it more part of an inferiority complex - a lot of these guys did play for MLB teams so their first card as an NPB player is them taking a step down the career ladder rather than up like most rookies are. So maybe not designating their first card a rookie card is meant to be more an act of deference rather than exclusion.

Either way, I think its a stupid rule and this card perfectly illustrates why.  Randy Bass had a very short MLB career, but was one of the best players in NPB during the 1980s, racking up numerous important records (and famously being shut down in his quest for the big one).  He is literally the central figure in one of the biggest legends in Japanese baseball history (the curse of the Colonel). His career is defined way more by his time in NPB than MLB, yet this rule means he doesn't have an NPB rookie card.  I'm not necessarily saying the question of whether a guy has an NPB rookie card is super important, but to me the only sensible definition of an NPB rookie card is that it be the first regular card of an NPB player, regardless of where they come from.


  1. I am of the opinion that the rookie card standard should be the first card issued of that player, regardless of which country issued it. The whole Ohtani U.S. rookie card craze last year was annoying, at least to me, since Ohtani already had tons of Japanese cards issued.

    1. That's another reasonable argument. So long as whatever definition is used is based on objective criteria I'm game. I suppose one question that comes up is what about minor league cards of a player? I think the US card hobby views Japanese baseball as a minor league and thus treats cards here like they were minor league cards, which aren't considered "rookie" cards.

  2. I actually agree with both you and SMM. On one hand, in the back of my mind... I'll always consider a player's true rookie card to be their first pack issued (or mass distributed) card of that player. That's why I treat Ichiro's 1993 BBM as his true rookie card.

    But Sean... you make an excellent point. If Ichiro's 2001 MLB cards are considered rookies by the majority of collectors, then the 1983 Calbee Randy Bass should too.

    1. I'm good with that, I think of Ichiro's 93 BBM as his true rookie too. So long as whatever definition we use to define a rookie is objective and consistent. Perhaps their first card in a top league (MLB, NPB, etc) could be a definition that would work. Just defining it based on nationality like SCM does though makes zero sense to me.