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.