Billy Ripken is one of the most famous names in the hobby, and he’s the subject of one of the famous baseball cards issued in the 1980s.

Of course, depending on your perspective, infamous might be a be the more appropriate descriptor.

Either way, the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken, in all of its profane and inane variations, has brought a lot of attention to the hobby over the years, and it’s been the source of untold cash flow among dealers, collectors, speculators, and gawkers.

But, before Ripken unleashed his bat-knob practical joke on an unsuspecting public, he was a young prospect who made some more traditional waves among collectors.

Some of the hype around Billy, of course, owed to the major league success of his older brother, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr.

If Cal could put together a streak (ha!) of early seasons that had him already headed toward the Hall of Fame, then you had to think a guy with the same bloodlines had a good chance of making his own way in the bigs.

Especially when those bloodlines sprung from lifetime baseball man Cal Ripken, Sr.

Billy had his baseball charms beyond just his family ties, of course, establishing himself as a solid middle infielder through six minor league seasons in the Orioles system.

By July of 1987, Ripken had moved all the way up to Triple-A Rochester and had actually improved his still anemic offensive game along the way — .286/.344./.349 in 74 games at the highest rung of the minor league ladder was at least close to adequate for a 22-year-old second baseman.

For the struggling O’s, it was more than adequate — they called up young Ripken and installed him at the keystone to turn double plays alongside his older brother.

Billy stuck, hitting .308/.363/.372 in the second half as the Orioles limped along to 67-95. It was enough for collectors and the card companies to think that young Rip was part of the future in Charm City.

Donruss struck first, including Billy in their 1987 The Rookie set:

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Now …

With names like Mark McGwire, Bo Jackson, Kevin Seitzer, and others who had really lit up the baseball firmament during the summer of ‘87 jamming that set’s lineup, the Ripken card didn’t garner all that much attention right off the bat.

But when that other bat came into play a couple years later, and with more than a full season as a major league starter under his belt, Billy and his rookie card grabbed onto the hobby spotlight in 1989.

And, while Ripken’s 1987 The Rookies card never lit up the hobby like a ‘52 Mantle — or an ‘89 Billy Rip — it was a popular buy for many years.

Today, with Ripken’s fairly mediocre baseball career far in the rearview, but with his celebrity on full display at the MLB Network, his cards still simmer along among collectors.

If you’re shopping in the high-end of the Ripken market, get ready to open your wallet wide to get into the 1989 Fleer game.

But if you want Billy Ripken’s first MLB card?

You should be able to pick it up for about a buck … and it won’t even curse at you!


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