What do the Numbers on the Back of Baseball Cards Mean?

Ryan Barone
(@ballcardgenius, Card Expert) is a lifelong member of the hobby. He has been quoted in PSA Magazine, and his content has regularly been mentioned in “Quick Rips” (the Topps RIPPED Newsletter) and across other hobby publications. hello@ballcardgenius.com; Last Time Ago LLC dba Ballcard Genius.

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Up until now, you might have taken the back of a baseball card for granted, but believe it or not, there is a lot of key information on the flipside. From being able to identify the card set, year printed, type of card parallel, whether or not it’s a short print and more, numbers on the back of cards can tell you things you might not be able to distinguish without them.

Card Numbers Explained

In total, the main numbers on the back of a card include the card number in relation to the entire set, the year of the card set, and the player’s stats.

Additional numbers might include the serial number, number of total cards in the set, and more.

Card Number of the Set

The main number on the back of a baseball card usually refers to that card’s number in a particular set. In the example below, the card number 325 (top right) is saying that this Max Scherzer is card number 325 in the 2021 Topps Series One set.

This number is particularly useful for collectors who are referring to a checklist to complete their sets. For instance, if they know they are missing card number 325, the set checklist will tell them that the missing card is #325 in the set.

The number is also useful when trying to identify a particular card. For instance, sometimes even the most seasoned collector has difficulty figuring out which particular set their card might be from. So, to research, they can go to say Beckett or eBay, and enter the number and player name in hopes that there is some information out there in a database or a past sale to help them identify this specific card.

Card Set Year

Another big number on the back of the card is the year the card was printed, or said differently, the year of that particular card set.

For example, if you look to the bottom of a card, you’ll usually see a small year printed next to the card brand name (Topps, Panini, etc.). Going back to the same example, you can see at the bottom “2021 THE TOPPS COMPANY…” Thus, this is a 2021 Topps baseball card.

All of that said, you might notice that some cards have letters instead of numbers in this regard. For instance, the card number below shows RC-B, which in this case, the “RC” is identifying the “All-Star Rookie Team” set, and the “B” is standing for “bonus.” Just like numbers, these same letter combos might be found in other sets. Or, said differently, there might be other cards with “number” “RC-B” just like there are multiples of card, say, #332, just in different sets.

Letter abbreviations like these are common in sports cards, with the first few letters of a hyphenated number representing the card set, and the second two letters representing the player name. So for example, “FSA-DA” is the card number for 2014 Topps “Five Star Autographs” (“FSA”) for player Dri Archer (“DA”). In this regard, there is a seemingly endless number of combinations based on set names.

Serial Number

One other number you might find on the back of the card is a serial number, which tells you how many of this particular card has been printed. Going back to the Max Sherzer example, the “20/50” is a serial number, with the number on the right (“50”) telling you how many of this particular card has been printed, and the left number (“20”) telling you which of the total 50 is this particular card.

Are numbered cards worth more?

In terms of significance, serial numbered cards tend to carry a premium. Meaning, in most cases, the base version (which doesn’t have a serial number, and is probably printed in great quantities) of this same Max Scherzer card would be less valuable than this version given that there are only 50 in existence.

And, the lower the serial number, the more relative value. Again, in most cases, the “Orange” version of this card is /299, which means this “Mother’s Day” variation is probably more valuable.

Last, the left number might carry additional significance if, in this example:

  • It is #1, or the first printed card of the run
  • It is #50, or the last printed cad of the run
  • It is #31, or the player’s jersey number

Card Code

Maybe one of the lesser-known numbers on the back of the card is the “code” near the bottom in small print. While usually insignificant, this code can help you identify harder-to-spot variations, as is the case with many photo variations.

This is because in most cases of the card doesn’t have any different coloring, refraction, or design that stands out, but the photo itself is completely different than the base version. And, if you’ve never seen the base version and didn’t know there could be a variation, you might easily pass over a valuable card.

For example, here you have two different 2021 Stadium Club Luis Garcia rookie cards below.

Now with them next to each other, it’s obvious they are completely different cards. But if you’re flipping through a pack, you might not immediately stop and check for a variation. In fact, can you even tell from the photos above which one is a variation?

I realize you might not be able to see the coded number on the back, but the card on the left has code “CMP045244” while the card on the right has code “CMP045289” and these differences have meaning. Specifically, base card codes in this specific 2021 Stadium Club set will end in “244” while photo variations will end in “289.”

I recently added this code table to another post about short print baseball cards, and think you’d get value out of it here, too.

2022 Topps Series 1543560561562
2022 Topps Series 2847865866867
2022 Topps Chrome9671723NA
2022 Topps Opening Day225246NANA
2021 Topps Series 1213230231232
2021 Topps Series 2423441442443
2021 Topps Chrome310350356NA
2021 Topps Opening Day312334NANA
2021 Topps Update395416417418

Player Stats

Perhaps the most obvious set of numbers, but still good to point out—the big block of numbers in the center of the card represents the player’s statistics. So, while the card set number, set year, and serial number all have to do with the card itself, the player’s stats don’t have much to do with the card – and won’t help you identify the card in most cases – and are more of a representation of the player.

Now, I say “in most cases” because there are some Topps parallel cards where the stats actually do carry significance, as is the case with their “Advanced Stats” parallels.

Here you can see two Vladimir Guerrero Jr. cards from 2021 Topps. You’ll notice that the main difference between the card backs is the display of stats, with the regular base version on the left showing the traditional stats you’d expect to see on the back of a card, along with the “Advanced Stats” parallel that shows, well, the advanced stats.

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