How many cards have a website dedicated specifically to them?
The infamous 1989 Fleer #616 Bill Ripken “F*** Face” card is as much legendary as it is notorious. The card shows Ripken, in the only year he wore his father’s #7, holding his bat on right shoulder with the nefarious inscription on the knob of the bat. The unedited version of the card made its way into packs as the swear word was apparently missed by Fleer’s quality control. Once it was discovered Fleer then released several different versions of the card with the vulgarity edited out. One of the more common versions has a black box over the bat knob; others have it simply scribbled out. The rarest version of the card has the knob of the bat whited out completely.
At the recent National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland, Dave & Adam’s purchased ten Ripken cards with a slit cut in each of the cards. In the uncut sheets of the 1989 Fleer baseball set, the Ripken card was located at the very bottom of the sheet. This aided Fleer when they set out to destroy some of the remaining inventory. Fleer took the sheets and used a lathe to cut a slit in the card and it was supposed to be destroyed. Some of the cut cards, however, made it out of the warehouse as some made their way into packs and others were smuggled out by factory workers who sold them to collectors. The inscription is visible on the bat knob but each card has a slit cut in various locations and sizes.
Ripken told his side of the story in an interview with CNBC in 2008:
“I got a dozen bats in front of my locker during the 1988 season. I pulled the bats out, model R161, and noticed–because of the grain patterns–that they were too heavy. But I decided I’d use one of them, at the very least, for my batting practice bat.”
“Now I had to write something on the bat. At Memorial Stadium, the bat room was not too close to the clubhouse, so I wanted to write something that I could find immediately if I looked up and it was 4:44 and I had to get out there on the field a minute later and not be late. There were five big grocery carts full of bats in there and if I wrote my number 3, it could be too confusing. So I wrote ‘F–k’ Face on it.”
“After the season was over, in early January, I got a call from our PR guy Rick Vaughn. He said, ‘Billy, we have a problem.’ And he told me what was written on the bat and I couldn’t believe it. I went to a store and saw the card and it all came back to me. We were in Fenway Park and I had just taken my first round of BP. I threw my bat to the third base side and strolled around the bases. When I was coming back, right before I got up to hit again, I remember a guy tapping me on the shoulder asking if he could take my picture. Never once did I think about it. I posed for the shot and he took it.
Steve Babineau is a Boston sports photographer who shot the now infamous photo of Ripken at Fenway Park in 1988. He recalled taking the photo in an interview in 2010:
“I shot the Billy Ripken card – it was definitely not intentional. I was at Fenway, and everyone is out there doing BP. Billy is the only one wearing a game uniform with the number in the front. Everyone else is wearing their orange BP top. For everyone else I would need to make sure there was an identifying marker like a glove, or I would take their picture as they walked away to get their uniform number. I didn’t have to magnify Ripken’s card because the number was clearly visible. In the past Fleer used to send us full color sheets, which we would use to check for reverse negatives and other problems with the picture. That year, to save money, they just sent us blueprints that were in three shades of blue. Your eyes don’t focus on something like that. After the card came out, my boss called me and told me to look at the knob of the bat. “Please tell me it says ‘slick face,’” he said to me. I had to look at it with the magnifying glass and tell him that that was not what it said.
The next year the first team I went to see at Spring Training was the Orioles, playing the Expos in West Palm Beach. I went up to Billy and he says “Thanks for making a nickel card into a thirty dollar card!” He told me he started using that bat as a BP bat on a road trip in Detroit or Cleveland before coming to Fenway. He said it was his brother that wrote that on his bat. I heard that he actually started signing that card for kids but had to stop.”
The website BillRipken.com is devoted to the legend of the card and tracks all the different variations of it. The site has evidence of 10-12 different variations including printing errors. The site’s webmaster, Jon Pederson, is one of many collectors that attempt to acquire every variation of the FF card.