An Introduction to Baseball Card Ratings

Affiliate Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to eBay, Amazon, and other platforms within the content, sidebar ads, and in other areas. As I am part of the eBay Partner Network and other affiliate programs, if you follow these links and make a purchase, I will receive a commission. Likewise, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

If you’re new to the hobby, the idea of baseball card ratings is something you probably hear a lot about, but even so, are probably left more and more confused the more you hear about it.

First of all, part of the confusion might stem from the fact that these “ratings” being discussed refer to the activity of grading cards. So, when you submit a card to a company like PSA or BGS, you’re paying for their grading service, not rating service.

Perhaps it’s due to a game of telephone, or that some just prefer to use the term “rating” instead of “grade” or “grading” but the majority of the hobby will refer to this activity as grading.

The other questions might revolve around the cost of grading a card, how to get a card graded, and much more.

All of that said, no matter what you call it now or plan to call it in the future, let’s discuss what is actually meant by a baseball card rating.

What Are Baseball Card Ratings?

Baseball card ratings are the grades cards receive from professional services like PSA, BGS, CSG, SGC, and others. Each service has its own rating system, but for the most part, these ratings top out at “gem mint” or perfect/flawless, and can move all the way down to good, fair, poor, and more.

For example, a card graded to be perfect or at the top of the rating scale by PSA will be given a PSA 10 rating, or, a gem mint rating. Down from there, a card rated a PSA 9 is said to be “mint” while a PSA 7 is “near mint.”

2020 Topps Chrome - [Base] #60.1 - Base - Luis Robert (Batting) [PSA 10 GEM MT] - Courtesy of COMC.com 2020 Topps Opening Day - [Base] #201 - Short Print - Luis Robert [PSA 8 NM‑MT] - Courtesy of COMC.com

What Determines Card Ratings?

Again, what goes into a particular rating or grade is going to vary by service. Beyond that, the grades will also be subjective, meaning one particular rater or grader will give a card a perfect score, while another person might give that same card a near-perfect score.

All of that aside, there are a few common card characteristics that raters are looking at when determining a card’s overall score or grade:

Corners: Most cards will have four corners given their rectangular shape (some cards are “die-cut” or even rounded, and thus have more or less than four corners, or are even rounded). So, the sharper the corners, the better the rating, and, the softer the corners, the worse the rating.

Centering: Centering refers to how evenly proportioned a card’s photo and design fit within its rectangular boundaries. If you’re a hobby newcomer, you might not have ever given centering any special consideration, or, you just assumed because cards were cut by machines, they’d all be perfect. However, most cards do not have perfect centering, meaning the photo or design of the card might skew too much in one direction, either top or bottom, or left or right.

1985 Topps - [Base] #760 - Nolan Ryan [BGS 8 NM‑MT] - Courtesy of COMC.com

Surface: Another rating factor is the surface of the card. Are there scratches or dimples on the card that made their way to a card from mishandling or improper storage? Perhaps there are printed defects or lines that came straight from the manufacturer? Any visible imperfection to the surface of the card will decrease its overall rating.

Edges: Last, and similar to the corners mentioned above, a card’s edges play a part in determining its overall rating. If you examine your cards closely, you’ll notice some have clean and smooth edges while others have rough and frayed edges. As you might have guessed, the smoother the edges, the better.