The Bowman brand has long been about the rookie card. But ever since the MLB Players Association changed the rules for rookie cards, the brand has been in limbo. As a result sales have struggled and the idea of what's a rookie and what's not has been blurred to a point where I know I'm confused.
The long-standing rule was that the first card of a player in a mainstream licensed set was the rookie. So when Ken Griffey Jr. cards came out in the 1989 sets, all his 1989 base cards were rookies. Or something like that. But insert cards couldn't be rookie cards. It sounds a little odd but within a couple weeks of joining the hobby, most anyone could figure it out. The insert "rule" didn't matter much 20 years ago because there weren't many inserts aside from Donruss puzzle pieces and some various rack and jumbo pack exclusives.
The MLB Players Association tried to make discerning a rookie card easier by introducing a rule with its licenses that basically said a player couldn't have a base card until they played a Major League game. I might be off a little, but that's the basic idea. Rookie cards would then be signified by a simple logo. While the idea is sound, in principle, Topps works a little differently because they've been around so long and they sign players to individual contracts.
So what's happened is Topps has continued to insert prospect cards in their Bowman sets as inserts by technicality and numbering but in Major League uniforms on cards that look a lot like the regular base cards. So are the Bowman Prospect cards rookies or not? Therein lies the confusion and one of the major reasons the brand doesn't carry a lot of weight anymore.
But that's not stopping Topps from showcasing the young bucks more prominently than anything else in 2009 Bowman Chrome Baseball. Based on the sell sheet the base set comes across as more of an annoyance than anything else. On the four-page promo flyer, the base set isn't mentioned until page three. Go to the checklist on the back page and you won't find the base set until all the inserts are listed. Gee, I wonder what the focus is here?
It's not that I blame Topps. Bowman has long been about the rookie card. That's what sells the product, even if it isn't as mighty as it once was. But when they stick it to the MLBPA's rules in such a blatant way, it undermines the reasoning in the first place and ultimately hurts the hobby as a whole. The marketplace is already confusing enough. This drives collectors away or causes many to leave prematurely. Upper Deck isn't immune either. They've got pimply high school kids wearing their National duds in pretty much all of their current products (which will likely rise to all now that Strasburg fever has hit).
So if it's prospects and sort-of rookies that you want, here's what's in store for 2009 Bowman Chrome (here's a hint: it looks a lot like 2008 Bowman Chrome from what I can gather).
220 cards (190 veterans, 30 rule-abiding rookies)
Base cards are inserted at a rate of two per pack. So five boxes will be the minimum it's going to take to get the set you might be lucky to sell for $25. But wait a sec', Topps doesn't want anyone to care about this part.
Numbered BCP91 through BCP112, none of the prospects featured on the autographs appeared in 2009 Bowman. These mark the first cards they've appeared on in the Major League uniforms. Each autograph card will be hard-signed, so no sticker autographs here. Autographs will fall at a rate of one per box.
Here's the list of autograph signers:
BCP91. Rinku Singh, Pittsburgh Pirates
BCP92. Dinesh Kumar Patel, Pittsburgh Pirates
BCP93, Randall Delgado, Atlanta Braves
BCP94. Pat Venditte, New York Yankees
BCP95. Zack Putnam, Cleveland Indians
BCP96. Robbie Grossman, Pittsburgh Pirates
BCP97. Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves
BCP98. Gift Negope, Pittsburgh Pirates
BCP99. Dylan Lindsay, Kansas City Royals
BCP100. Chris Marrero, Washington Nationals
BCP101. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
BCP102. Chris Johnson, Houston Astros
BCP103. Jefry Marte, New York Mets
BCP104. Ernie Banks, Florida Marlins
BCP105. Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics
BCP106. Juancarlos Sulbaran, Cincinnati Reds
BCP107. Ryan Perry, Detroit Tigers
BCP108. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
BCP109. Brad Emaus, Toronto Blue Jays
BCP110. Dayan Viciedo, Chicago White Sox
BCP111. Tim Federowicz, Boston Red Sox
BCP112. Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals
70 cards (#BCP128 - BCP197)
Like the autographed prospects, none of the regular prospect cards appeared in 2009 Bowman Baseball. Prospect cards will be inserted at a rate of two per pack combined with World Baseball Classic cards.
World Baseball Classic:
40 cards (#BCW21 - BCW60)
You didn't think Topps was done with the World Baseball Classic did you? Of course they're not. There's still some players to be mined that will continue to play international ball for a few more years. Chances are one or two of these players might make the jump to the Majors. Consider these for country collectors primarily. I know I'll be tracking down the Canadians at some point.
There's no repeats in the WBC cards from 2009 Bowman (so that means Topps appears to be showing some restraint on the Yu Darvish train). As noted above, WBC and regular prospect cards will fall at a rate of two per pack.
Like all Bowman Chrome sets, you'll have the chance to chase a rainbow with the multiple tiers of refractors. All cards in the set (base, prospect, autographed prospect and World Baseball Classic) will come with the following levels of refractors:
X-Fractor: Numbered to 250.
Blue: Numbered to 150.
Gold: Numbered to 50.
Orange: Numbered to 25.
Red: Numbered to 5.
Super-Fractor: 1/1 (Hobby Exclusive)
I do have to say, I like the design of the cards. The lines are very clean, offering a nice balance between border and image. The on-card autographs are also a huge plus.
But still, there's this major annoyance that extends to both Topps and the MLBPA - the damn rookie card rules. Make it matter. While I'm not a big fan of the idea of an exclusive license for 2010, if it ends up at Topps I hope that part of the terms include Topps laying off the prospects for the duration of the contract and a "catch-up period" so that there's eventually no dispute over what a player's true rookie card is.