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: