Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Gems of Junk Wax, Pt. 16: 1989 Fleer #616 Billy Ripken ("Rick Face")

You had to know it was coming sooner or later.

If there's one card that defines the overproduction era, it's this one. All due to the F-dash-dash-dash word. I like how Beckett lists it. "1989 Fleer Billy Ripken 'Rick Face'".

It's like an unwritten law in the baseball card community: If you're a serious card collector, you pretty much have to own this card, like it or not.

Unfortunately, the trade that netted me this card was one of the few I kind of regret making. I dealt a 2001 Bowman Jose Reyes rookie for the Ripken and some other cards that I don't remember right now. While I'm happy I have the Ripken in my collection, I'm sure I could've gotten one for a lot less than a Reyes rookie. (I've since reclaimed a Reyes RC for my collection though, so it's all good.)

I learned a lot about this card from the book Mint Condition, definitely a book that any serious card collector should read.

The paranoia over this card began with a call to the Fleer corporation from the Baltimore Sun, asking for a comment on the Ripken card. No one at Fleer knew what the paper was talking about, so they double-checked the card for themselves. And to their horror, they found the profanity.

The card quickly skyrocketed in value, from a dime to two bucks to ten bucks. And it was just getting started. A few months after the set was released, the card was changing hands for $100 at card shows. Unopened 1989 Fleer cases were fetching as much as $1,700 a piece because of the card. Seventeen hundred bucks!

There are so many variations of this card that it's not even funny. It puts the current Topps variation gimmicks to shame.

There's the famous original "Rick Face", of course. But then there's the "Black Box" (which I also own), the "Double Die", the "Double Die Saw Cut", the "Whiteout", the "Black Scribble Loop", the "Black Box Square Edge", the "Black Box Rounded Edge". There's probably others, too.

Who took the time to find all those variations?

Billy Ripken finally admitted that the bat was indeed his in a 2009 interview, after previously vehemently blaming it on a teammate's prank. However, he said the fact that the bat appeared on the card was accidental, and that he was still upset that no one at Fleer caught it before the cards were produced.

I'm kind of with Ripken there. How could no one at Fleer have spotted that?

Like it or not, this is one of the most iconic baseball cards of the last half-century.

It's always good for a laugh if nothing else.


Spiegel83 said...

Fleer knew about the news that this card would create. Who would of thought that a Billy Ripken card would drive up sales of this set?

Nick said...

Yeah, it's never been confirmed, but I too think Fleer knew about this as well. The fact that no one "caught" it is suspicious.

night owl said...

Fleer had to know about it. Although Fleer made SO MANY idiotic goofs during its first decade back in cards I wouldn't put it past them to completely miss it.

I think the Ripken F-Face card and the Griffey '89 UD card are must-haves for a certain generation of collector. But I started collecting in the mid-70s, and I just don't care whether I have them or not. Maybe I'm not a serious enough collector.

hiflew said...

This card falls right into my youth collecting peak, but honestly I never really cared that much about it. Mostly because the Orioles have never really been on my radar, but I also just didn't see the big deal in a curse word on a card. Sure it was kind of fun and makes Billy Ripken known for something other than being Cal's little brother, but I was turned off by the hype.

The Diamond King said...

I just picked this card up Saturday! The post is coming tomorrow, what timing. Your right though, gotta have it.

AdamE said...

All you ever wanted to know about that card can be found here:

There is a link for a list of all the versions of the card.

Nick said...

Maybe it's just because I didn't live through the "Ripken hype".

Now that I think about it, I could understand why all the hype during that year could turn people off to the card today. It just seems that most collectors I've talked to own a copy of this card in some way, shape, or form.

The story behind this card is why I like it so much, not just simply the curse word. It perfectly defines the craziness of the overproduction era.

CaptKirk42 said...

I remember the circus show of this card before I even had any cards from this set, it would be a few years later that I would get the Ripken card myself. I've got the "Original" unedited one, the black box and the black scribble. I personally don't want or need the tiny variations of the "rounded corner vs. square corner" or the "big rounded corner vs. little rounded corner". I kind of want the "white-out" version but I feel those are too easy to counterfiet for me to ever find a real one.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with Ripken here. He saw the photographer (he's looking right into the lens so he can't say he didn't know he was being photographed and he should have known that his photograph would be seen by somebody and possibly on a baseball card) and should have known that holding the bat in the way he did would reveal what was written on it. Ripken should have checked and known what was on his own bat. His bat, his responsibility. Can't let the athlete off the hook here. He messed up, simple as that.