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MLB Rookies to Wear ‘Debut Patches’ for 2023

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Today is Opening Day, and MLB rosters will include lots of rookies who’ve never appeared before in a big league game. Each of those players will be wearing something new: a “debut patch,” which is part of a new initiative from Fanatics and Topps, in conjunction with MLB and the Players Association.

Here’s how it will work: When a player who’s never played in the bigs is added to a team’s active roster, whether at the beginning of the season or as the result of a mid-season call-up, a small debut patch — described to me by a Fanatics representative as being roughly the size of a quarter — will be added to his jersey. The patch will remain there until the player gets into a game. At the conclusion of his first game, the debut patch will be removed by an MLB authenticator (no word on whether he’ll be using a Uni Watch seam ripper) and will later be packaged by Topps as a “1 of 1” relic with the player’s rookie card. (Topps, of course, is now owned by Fanatics.)

Let’s shift into FAQ mode:

Did you know about this in advance?

Yes, but only by a couple of days. The story was embargoed until this morning.

What if a player appeared in a few games last season but is still technically a rookie because he didn’t accumulate enough service time to lose his rookie status?

If the player has ever been announced into a game before, he will not qualify for the debut patch, regardless of rookie status.

What if a player is called up for a few days and then sent back down without having gotten into a game?

Then the player would still wear the debut patch if/when he’s called up again.

What if a player is called up while the team is playing at home, and then they go on a road trip before the player has gotten into a game? Will they put another debut patch on his road jersey?

Yes. Same thing if the team is wearing its home whites on the day the player is called up and then switches to their home alternates the next day. The player will wear the debut patch on all of his jerseys until he appears in a game.

What if a debut player is announced into a game as a pinch-hitter, and then the opposing team makes a pitching change, and then the hitting team pinch-hits for the debut player? So the player would appear in the box score but wouldn’t even have gotten a plate appearance.

I specifically asked about that situation. I was told that if the player is announced into the game and appears in the box score, that counts as his debut. So in that situation, they’d remove his patch after the game. (That also suggests a great trivia question: Has there ever been a player whose entire big league career consisted of being announced into one game and then being pinch-hit for instead of batting? Anyone know?)

“Debut player” is a clunky term. Can we just start calling them debutantes?

Not a bad idea!

How can MLB be adding new sleeve patches when teams are adding sleeve advertisements?

Good question. Although this isn’t mentioned in the press release, I was told that if a team has a sleeve ad, the debut patch will go on the opposite sleeve. Also, the debut patch is small, so it can probably coexist easily enough with whatever’s on the other sleeve, at least for a few days. Here’s how that will look:

Will the debut patches be available on retail jerseys? Like, if a player is called up, will the team shop sell his jerseys with the debut patch until he gets into a game?

No. The patches are only for on-field, not for retail.

What is the point of this?

Part of it, for sure, is to take advantage of synergies between Fanatics and Topps. And I think MLB probably likes it because it calls attention to some lesser-known, mostly younger players.

You described this as a “new initiative from Fanatics and Topps, in conjunction with MLB.” Isn’t it kind of weird to attribute an on-field uni initiative to Fanatics/Topps?

I was surprised by that too, but that’s how it’s worded in the press release. It really speaks to Fanatics’ growing footprint and influence, and to the way the on-field uni-verse is increasingly driven by off-field retailing (in this case, for trading cards).


So you can expect to see those patches being worn today. I’ve added this info to my MLB Season Preview. Enjoy Opening Day!

Update: The Brewers have chosen to put the debut patch down on the sleeve trim, which doesn’t look so good:



MLB Preview Reminder

In case you missed it on Tuesday, the 2023 Uni Watch MLB Season Preview is now available for your enjoyment (and has been updated since then with a bunch of late-breaking info). You can read the introduction here. But in order to access the team-by-team rundown, you’ll need to become a paying subscriber to my Substack (which will also give you full access to my Substack/Bulletin archives).

Since there seems to be a bit of confusion (understandably), please note that being a Uni Watch Plus subscriber does not give you access to my Substack content. UW+ gets you an ad-free experience here on the blog, access to the blog’s discussion forum, a discount on our Teespring merch, and more. But the Substack content is a separate subscription. I realize it can be confusing — thanks for your support!




Can of the Day

This one’s a little dinged up, but I still love the design, especially the asymmetrical brand name lettering and the little red-winged blackbird at upper-right. So nice!


Comments (49)

    I actually think this is a cool thing. I don’t really care about the 1/1 rookie card. Obviously some will be more popular and expensive than others, and I think it would be cooler if the player got to keep the patch as a memento instead, but overall it’s harmless and brings attention to guys during one of the crowning achievements of their lives. Seems fun, even if Fanatics/Topps are the driving force.

    I agree. Even though it’s being done for the wrong reasons, I still like the idea.

    I’m not sure about whether there were any rookie pinch hitters who were removed before their only career AB got started, but I do remember hearing about Larry Yount (older brother of HOFer Robin). He was brought into a game as a pitcher and announced, but suffered an injury during his warm ups. Was removed without throwing a pitch, and never made it back to the show. He does show up in a single box score, albeit without a zero on his ledger for batters faced (BF).



    I learned about Larry Yount from a song by alt/indie rock supergroup The Baseball Project. Steve Wynn on vocals for this one. Paul, if you’ve never given them a listen, I think you might enjoy.


    I’m surprised that the elder Yount didn’t debut for the Phillies – they have a history of signing the ‘wrong’ brother: Ken Brett, Vince DiMaggio, Jeremy Giambi, Mike Maddux, Frank Torre, Tim Worrell, etc…
    ; )

    Definitely showing my age (or rather youth) here, but how do you pronounce Yount? I’ve never heard it spoken.

    re: put in a game and then pinch hit for? I’m guessing a September call-up pitcher (especially when the DH was not in use) – but I have no specifics.

    Moonlight Graham (of Field of Dreams) was on deck waiting for an at-bat, but that’s not what the question was. :-)

    The 1/1 thing sounds vaguely NFT-ish and I’m not sure how I feel about that

    Quite the opposite. My biggest complaint about NFTs is that they’re digital, not something tangible. These patches are something real, something you can hold, something physical that you can look at. For all the many, many things that I haven’t liked since Manfred took over, I think this is an innocuous, fun idea. And the kid-card collector in me would have loved this.

    I was thinking the same, but the more I think about it, the more I’m sure no kid will get their hands on one of these. Being 1 of 1, they’re gonna be crazy expensive IMO…

    The patch isn’t the most egregious or ridiculous thing. But I think one day we’ll look back at these years when the “on-field uni-verse is increasingly driven by off-field retailing” as the demise of uniform tradition.

    MLB really needs an on-field seamstress to sew on an “iron man” patch to the jersey of any starting pitcher who throws more than six innings. Or better yet, pitchers could begin the game with a patch, and if they get pulled short of the seven inning mark, the seamstress removes the patch, possibly with a Uni-watch seam ripper, which could then be authenticated and packaged with Uni-watch merchandise. Fixing baseball, fixing the world, one patch at a time.

    I think this would be better if they rendered the patch in team colors. I’d rather they not do it at all, but if they’re going to do something, I’d prefer it to be all the way.

    We’re not far off from teams using flexible LED panels in sleeves instead of physical patches. Imagine rotating ads, or in-game indicia of home runs, strike outs, etc. for fantasy sports, or (ugh) cues about live prop bets. They’d just get installed before games and removed prior to washing.

    I’m sure there are other use cases one could come up with, but if I can imagine it (and I’m not that bright), someone is already working on it.

    Yes it’s another patch, but it’s not and ad and it’s only for a few days at most; plus it celebrates a huge day in a young ballplayer’s life. I’m cool with it.

    But shouldn’t the personal joy and satisfaction of wearing a Major League uniform for the first time be a concrete enough achievement for a ballplayer?

    As a card collector, this is stupid. It’s just another cash grab to take that prospect and milk what they can from the guys who buy cards only to flip them. More than likely, these will never go into any retail/hobby products but be sold online thru the Topps Now brand. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Topps/Fanatics either sell them on Ebay or have some auction site they are about to debut (which will hopefully get its own patch).

    Really don’t like this. Getting to be too much with all the patches. Get ready for all the errors with this one. Patches missing or on wrong jerseys.

    Excessive amount of tag wagging the dog here. But, it is relatively innocuous. And while I have to imagine the trading card market is fueled mostly by adult collectable enthusiasts, even if this moves the needle a little bit to get kids back into cards and baseball, I guess that is a good thing.
    Even though this is tiny and would only last for one actual in game appearance, between this specialized patch, existing patches, and ad patches, the sleeve clutter has the potential to start accumulating should they do other special things like this. That says nothing for memorial patches, anniversary patches, event patches, etc. I have a bad feeling MLB jerseys are going to start looking like a Patrick Mahomes SB jersey sooner than later.

    Is that a … STITCHED patch? Not plastic garbage? If so, shouldn’t that be the headline???

    Looking at the Cup of Coffee register on Baseball Reference, there are about 450 players who got into the box score, but never got a PA. Most are pitchers for obvious reasons (pitch an inning, get pinch hit for the following inning), while the majority of position players are late inning defensive replacements.

    The last player to currently fit the category was Jack Kruger, a catcher who was a 9th inning defensive replacement for the Angels with the Rays leading 8-3 in Anaheim on 6 May 2021. In the bottom of the 9th, Taylor Ward grounded out to end the game with Kruger on deck. After the game, he was waived. Texas picked him up for a minor league contract. He played in 66 games at Round Rock over the next 2 years, batting .226, and released this winter. He’s only 28 and who knows if he makes it back.

    Before Kruger, the last 0 PA position player was Joe Hietpas, who caught the top of the 9th for the Mets on 3 Oct 2004. The reason this is interesting is he was the catcher when an Endy Chavez groundout to second sealed an 8-1 Mets win and officially ended the history of the Montreal Expos.

    If I’m reading everything correctly, then it should still be on certain player’s jersey’s if that person didn’t get into a game yet.

    It’s probably unlikely, but certainly possible.

    I like it.

    If they’re going to “authenticate” the patch that was actually worn in their debut appearance, are they going to ensure that the patches worn on other jerseys are removed and destroyed?

    I think it would be terrific if they packaged it with the rookie card and just gave it to the player. They want to sign it, frame it, give it to their grandmother, give it to their little league coach, put it on eBay, whatever. Present it to the player after the game.

    I hate how the Twins new alt (pictured at top) uses a navy/white stripe when the base jersey is cream. Why not just use a single navy stripe? Or at least a navy/cream?

    1) If I were a rookie, I’d want to keep my debut patch!

    2) According to an article at The Athletic, the patches are stick-ons, meaning no seam ripper required!

    Any Astros players wearing the Debut patch tonight? If so, will it be trimmed in gold?

    The debut patch seems kind of contrived if it’s just for one game. It’s such a minor gesture, many may never notice. I could see some sort of rookie patch during a rookie season, but this seems like a way to generate an artificial collectible, many of which will be for nobody players that never have much of an MLB career.

    Patch overkill, only to prove that more ads on a jersey are really possible. In a way this one is an ad too, for Fanatics which is taking over sports slowly but steady based on cornering the market for retailing merch. I would not be surprised if Fanatics will take over Bally or any other casino and/or media outlet soon. Then their grip on pro sports will be almost complete. League commissioners wil come directly from their board of directors, with approval from team owners. When Fanatics is able to negotiate with Nike about having the Fanatics logo on all uniforms in the big 4 pro sports it will not be a surprise to me.

    Just think about it: Fanatics and ESPN teaming up, negotiating with Nike, replacing league officials appointed by team owners with approved Fanatics/ESPN employees. I expect Fanatics to show up as a show sponsor on ESPN programs any time soon. Not only in the US but worldwide. And it all started with Fanatics taking over as NHL supplier next season and this innocent little patch on MLB uniforms.

    I like the comment about the patch not looking good on the Brewers uni. Well….that is not the fault of the patch. That Brewers uniform looks best with the eyes closed!

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