1989 Fleer Billy Ripken F@ck Face or Rick Face Baseball Card Error #616- A Look Back
1989 was a great year for collecting sports cards. Upper Deck released it’s inaugural edition of baseball cards and kept collectors chasing the ever desired Ken Griffey Jr. #1 rookie card. Score released their premier football cards, packed with a ton of great rookie cards including Barry Sanders and Troy Aikman.
Also being chased by collectors that same year was the 1989 Fleer baseball card #616 featuring Billy Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles, also known as the “F@CK FACE” card. This card remains one of the best known error cards of all time and deserves a look back.
It wasn’t long after the product release in January 1989 that collectors began to notice the words ‘F@ck Face’ clearly printed on the knob of the bat that Ripken has resting on his right shoulder. The bold black letters left no doubt as to what was written on the bat. Once the media began to spread the word, the craze to acquire the card quickly grew and collectors knew it was only a matter of time before Fleer put a halt on releasing any more to the market. Collectors began snatching up all the boxes and packs in sight, in hopes of adding an example to their collections and/or tucking away a few for future investment.
Well, the long term investment didn’t turn out so well. It was originally estimated that the number of (FF) cards released to the public was around 3,000, which with scarcity and such high publicity would almost certainly guarantee the cards would increase in value. As it turned out, the final estimated number of cards released was closer to 100,000 cards. The card that once sold for upwards of $500 suddenly began to decline in value as collectors began to find they were not so hard to come by.
In an interesting twist, Fleer acted hastefully and covered the profanity while retaining the same photo of Ripken. Rather than simply having an original version and a corrected version, Fleer managed to come out with a dozen or more variations of the corrected version. Flash forward to present- The one-time king of errors is now bringing in $8-$15 while some of the corrected variations are bringing in triple digits. As it turns out, certain corrected variations are quite scarce, bringing a higher premium.
Corrected versions of this card include covering the profanity with multiple variations of Black Scribbles, Air Brushing, Black Boxes and White Out. Additionally, in their haste to destroy remaining Billy Ripken (FF) cards on uncut sheets from inventory, Fleer had their employees run a power saw through the Ripken cards in the sheet stacks. This was easily done, as the card was located on the bottom edge of the 132 card sheet, just above the color bar. To minimize production loss, the sheets were to then be cut into individual cards and packaged without the ‘Destroyed’ Ripken cards, which were all to have been removed once the sheets were cut. As it turned out, many of these cut Ripken cards made it into packs, adding yet more variations of this card to the mix. The final version of the card which was included in all factory sets was the Black Box version.
How did this card ever make it out of the factory and into the hands of collectors? Well, the story goes: Shortly after the buzz began, Ripken shrugged it off as being a prank that his team mates played on him. It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that Ripken finally spoke openly about the famed bat and how it all went down. He said that in an effort to distinguish his Batting Practice bat from his more than a dozen other Louisville Slugger Model R-161 bats, he wrote (FF) on the knob. One day in 1988 during Batting Practice at Fenway Park, longtime Fleer photographer Steve Babineau asked Ripken to stop and pose for a picture with his bat. Without any thought as to what the exposed bat knob said, Ripken obliged and the famed photo was taken. Ripken continued, stating that it is hard to believe that something so blatant could make it past Fleer’s proof readers and Quality Control Department. He believes that Fleer not only saw the words, but actually enhanced the letters to make them more clear. He went on to say that Fleer likely realized the stir and publicity this would bring to their company and went forward with production.
24 years later, all versions of this card still generate activity on EBay, with the White Out versions bringing the highest dollar. Collectors are urged to purchase professionally graded examples of the scarce White Out variation, as this is also the easiest to replicate by chumps looking to make a quick buck from unsuspecting collectors.
It seems Fleer knew exactly what they were doing when they allowed this card to slip through the cracks and hit the market. Then again, of ANYTHING Billy Ripken could have written on the knob of his bat to make it distinguishable, why would he have chosen F@ck Face? Makes you wonder…..
The website www.BillRipken.com run by Donovan Ryan features this card and shows images of the original card, as well as many of the corrected variations. It should be noted that the whereabouts of the (FF) bat is unknown today.
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