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When is a player said to be a rookie in North American major league sports? My understanding is that a rookie is a player that is playing his first professional season. But for how long is that player considered to be a rookie?

I have heard many times a player being discussed as a rookie even though he was in his second year. So is a player called a rookie only in the season he starts (I don't believe that's the case), or until he has played as many games as there in a full season, or for some other length of time?

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The rookie status varies between different sports.

In the MLB:

Determining rookie status:

A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).

So in Baseball it is possible to be considered a rookie in your 2nd season or even later, if injuries or other things prevent you from being on the active roster long enough.


The NFL uses the term just as you said, but has no definition in the rules. Here is a small statement about it.

What is Rookie?

This is a term used in most every sport at every level of competition, NFL football included, to refer to a first year player. In the National Football League, a first year player may be acquired through the NFL Draft or as a free-agent if they went undrafted. (...) A rookie is not necessarily young, though this is usually the case. If a player has never played NFL football before, they are considered a rookie, despite their age. (...)


The NBA does the same:

In the National Basketball Association, a rookie is any player who has never played a game in the NBA until that year.


The MLS is different again and a rookie is someone with no prior professional experience (Wiki).

MLS, as opposed to other American sports leagues like Major League Baseball, only designates a player as a rookie if the player has had no prior professional experience. So, for example, although Taylor Twellman finished second in MVP voting in 2002, he was ineligible for the Rookie of the Year Award because he had played on the reserve team of 1860 Munich.

(I don't know why he was ineligible, because 1860 Munich II played in the Regionalliga at this time, which is not a professional league (3rd division at this time) and he never played for the Bundesliga team of 1860 Munich)


In the NHL the rules are pretty strict, because they take any major professional league into account and not just Ice Hockey.

To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played any more than 25 regular season games previously in any single season, nor have played in more than six regular season games in each of two separate preceding seasons in any major professional league.

  • Great answer. One controversy with the NHL is that they don't consider the KHL a major professional league. Artemi Panarin famously won the Rookie of the Year award in 2016, despite playing professional hockey in the KHL for ~6 years before coming to the NHL. – Pawr Apr 13 '18 at 19:01

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