What's the Deal With Rookie Cards?

Which one is the real rookie card?
  • September 21, 2022



What is a rookie card? A simple Google search will give you multiple results from multiple sources all saying the same thing: A rookie card is the first appearance of an athlete from a widely distributed manufacturer. Even Wikipedia got it right. And they say Wikipedia isn't a reliable source. Anyhow, it seems simple enough, but then when you go back through history you start to notice some inconsistencies with rookie cards. This isn't to say, that there is something wrong with the hobby we've spent most of our lives enjoying. It is merely a quirky thing about collecting that we can discuss. 

We can start with the most obvious:

Mickey Mantle

The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle is his most popular rookie card. One of them, which is graded an SGC 9.5, recently smashed the price record at 12.6 million. But doesn't he have a rookie card in the 1951 Bowman set? Yes, he does. Then why is his 1952 Topps issue considered a rookie card as well? And if his 1952 Topps card is his rookie card, then is his 1952 Bowman card also his rookie card? Why didn't Topps make a Mickey Mantle in 1951? Sorry for hitting you with a bunch of questions like Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck, but you get the point. If Topps did include Mickey Mantle in 1951, this wouldn't be a discussion.

Michael Jordan

Another topic for debate is the Michael Jordan rookie card. As you well know, Jordan's rookie card is considered to be his 1986 Fleer Basketball issue. That has been the consensus for decades, but the Jordan Star card predates his Fleer issue by 2 years. Yes, it is true that Star cards weren't distributed nationally, but considering that Star Co. was the only manufacturer of NBA Basketball cards, should it matter? After many years of not grading Star cards, PSA began accepting them earlier this year and that has made the debate about which is Michael Jordan's true rookie card even stronger. No matter which way you lean on this topic, both Jordan cards are beautiful and show a young Jordan in action. 


Mark McGwire


If you are a collector of a certain age then you will remember the popularity of Mark McGwire's rookie card. No, not his cards from 1987. Rather, I am talking about his 1985 Topps Olympic card. This too is considered his rookie card even though it depicts him as a member of the U.S.A. baseball team and not the Oakland A's who drafted him in 1984. However, McGwire also has rookie cards in 1987. Just like the Jordan cards, McGwire's rookie cards are separated by 2 years and after McGwire's impressive rookie season, his rookie cards might have been more popular than Jordan's rookie, but don't quote me on that. 


Hulk Hogan


The Hulkster makes this list of hobby inconsistencies and that is because he has rookie cards in different years. In 1982, Hulk Hogan made his cardboard debut in the Wrestling All-Stars Series A set. Three years later, Hogan was card #1 in the Topps WWF set: both are considered rookie cards, and both feature a young Hulk, but only one highlights his oily pecs. Okay, now I understand why his 1985 Topps WWF card is most popular. All kidding aside, Hogan's rookie cards bring a pretty penny in a PSA 10. So, I'm only going to ask you once, "Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you!"


Dale Murphy

In 1977 and 1978, Topps decided to have some fun with collectors by including Dale Murphy on their rookie catchers card. Now, Murphy's true rookie card is considered by collectors to be his 1977 card, but it's still fun to think about why Topps would put Murphy on two rookie catchers cards in back-to-back years. Did someone working for Topps at the time have a dry sense of humor? It most likely was just an honest mistake. 


What do you think? Which one of these examples are true rookie cards? Let us know in the comments sections.  


We are always buying rookie cards of Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, and Hulk Hogan. We buy collections as well. Interested in selling your collection? Reach out to us. Read below for information. 



Just Collect is always buying vintage sports and non-sports cards from 1879 to 1979 as well as select modern cards. If you have a collection that you are considering selling, contact us today to discuss it or get our industry-leading purchase offer. If you have a collection that you want to be appraised, please contact us and we would be happy to discuss your collection and help you understand the real cash value of your collection in the current marketplace. Check out the Just Collect Buy List.

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We offer many ways to evaluate your cards other than using our website, too.

  • Travel to us

If you can make the trip here like the son from my hometown did for this collection- we can make a deal at the office. We once met a father-son duo that drove eight hours from Virginia to meet us to sell a Michael Jordan rookie card stored in Tupperware since 1986 - great read here

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We keep a LIST of the card shows we'll be attending.  Come stop by the Just Collect table and chat.

  • Meet in-person

If you have a valuable collection and want us to come to you, we'll hop on the next plane out. We recently took a trip to California to purchase a collection that included three Jackie Robinson 1948 Leaf rookie cards that you can read about here.

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We have another location in New York you can meet us at; read all the information here.

  • SHIP your collection 

If you choose to mail your cards for an appraisal, we will evaluate your cards for FREE still. If you choose not to sell the cards, we'll ship them back with shipping fees paid by us!  We can offer our FedEx account with 2-day shipping, fully insured, all covered by us. Simply contact the office to set up this option.


We've run into a wide range of people and collections over the last 25 years. Although Just Collect is known for buying vintage sports cards and especially vintage baseball cards, we are also extremely interested in buying non-sports cards, too!  

Every collection and every collector is different and we treat EVERY collection with the respect and attention that we show for our own collections. We understand that many have put their heart and souls into building their collections. So when you're ready to sell, we understand the feelings that you're going through and will work with you to help you reach a decision that is a WIN/WIN, because if you're not happy, we're not happy.


Whether you have vintage cards or modern wax you want to sell, you can reach out to us anytime! 






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