The 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken error card is like a virus: it began life in a dark corner of anonymity before gaining a toehold and burning through the hobby faster than we could even catch our collective breath.

For many collectors, it defines an entire generation of the hobby.

Indeed, today the card stands as probably the best (worst?) single embodiment of the entire so-called Junk Wax Era we could ever hope to find, gracing us with overproduction, poor quality control, a funky card design, questionable decisions, and massive hype (maybe even of the manufactured variety) all in one little swath of cardboard.

Did I mention overproduction? Or massive hype?

At the same time the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr., rookie card was trying to elevate the hobby and make us feel guilty for not washing down our Mylar packs with caviar, the Billy Ripken error card was the 1980s equivalent of clickbait — “Buy me! Buy me! Buy me! I’m super rare! The forbidden fruit!”.

If you were there, just a glimpse of that long-ago Fleer fiasco gives you all sorts of hobby flashbacks, good or bad.

But just in case you weren’t in the hobby in 1989 and therefore feel sheltered from the trauma, or if you’ve tried to block it from your mind, let’s go ahead and fix that up for you with a little background before we move on to drier facts like card variations and values.

Be forewarned, though: while I’ll keep the actual text below pretty much clean and safe for kids and pastors, there are a couple of images of dirty words. Or, dirty word, I should say. Actually, THE word. The big one. The one that threatened Ralphie with Lifebuoy blindness.

NOT THAT!

Oh yes … that.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon and eBay listings for the cards being discussed.)

1989 Fleer Billy Ripken Error Card – The Setup

The Baltimore Orioles entered the 1989 season as baseball’s laughingstock, coming off a ridiculous 54-107 showing in 1988 that left them buried so far in last place in the American League East that they were also granted an honorary last-place finish in baseball’s other three divisions.

Pretty much every aspect of the 1988 O’s stunk like a bucket of forgotten crabs left to marinate in the Baltimore dugout during a long July roadtrip.

Even the already-legend Cal Ripken Jr., stumbled to a .264 batting average with 23 home runs and 81 RBI. Eddie Murray paced the team with 28 home runs and 84 ribbies, for what it’s worth.

If there was anything at all to look forward to in Baltimore, it was that the Orioles at least had some young talent edging toward the major leagues. The pitching staff that summer featured 24-year-old Jeff Ballard in the rotations, with Bob Milacki, Curt Schilling, Pete Harnisch, and Gregg Olson all clocking some MLB innings at under 25 years of age.

Meanwhile, guys like Brady Anderson, Craig Worthington, and Steve Finley gave the Baltimore faithful at least a glimmer of hope among position players.

But the one young guy who really made his presence felt during that summer spent in baseball’s outhouse was none other than Billy Ripken, who just so happened to be Cal’s younger brother.

After appearing in 58 games as a rookie in 1987, the 23-old “Bill” entered the 1988 season as the Orioles’ starting second baseman.

And, so it was that Baltimore set out to find their fortune, led by manager Cal Ripken Sr. in the dugout and the double-play combo of Cal Jr. and Billy in the field.

That experiment lasted six games, when the winless O’s canned Cal Sr. and replaced him with Frank Robinson.

If only the Rip Brothers Show had been as mercifully short!

While Cal was struggling through is own troubles at the plate, Billy hit like a middle infielder: .207 batting average, 2 home runs, 34 RBI, 48 OPS+ (or 52% worse than the MLB average, in other words).

Add in a defensive profile that also showed the younger Ripken as something less than you might hope for in your second baseman, and the sophomore checked in at -1.6 WAR (Baseball Reference version) — yes, negative 1.6, easily the worst mark on a bad team.

All of which is to say that, by the end of the 1988 season, collectors had pretty much already cleared a permanent home for Billy Rip’s 1988 rookie cards in our commons bins.

And nobody at all was looking forward to pulling Billy Ripken baseball cards from our 1989 wax packs.

1989 Fleer Billy Ripken Error Card (#615) – What It Is

That all changed after about the second copy of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken card saw the light of day.

See …

By 1989, the hobby had done exploded (in my local vernacular), and if there was one thing that the dizzying activity of the previous few years had taught us, it was that the next “mania” was just a wild hair (wild Herr?) away. And, though the Error Mania from earlier in the decade had subsided to a large degree, swallowed by Rookie Card Mania, we were always on the lookout for any gaffe a card company might make.

They couldn’t burp sideways without our calling them out for it.

And so it didn’t take long at all for 1989 Fleer to set the hobby ablaze, not when eagle eyes across the nation spotted the vulgarity in perfect synchronicity:

1989-Fleer-Billy-Ripken-error-card-f-face

In case you missed it, or in case you’ve been living under said crab bucket for the last three decades, the “error” is right there on the knob of Ripken’s bat.

“F#*@ FACE”

“F–K FACE”

“F FACE”

“RICK FACE”

The card is known by all of those euphimisms, but usually by the full, straight-out vulgarity.

It was shocking.

It was horrifying.

It was amazing.

But … how could something like this happen?

Well …

How Did the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken Error Card Happen?

This was, of course, the first question that parents, teachers, priests, and English teachers across the land screamed from the cardboard mountaintops when the Billy Ripken F-Face card first came to light.

How in the world did something like this happen? Why did a bat like that even exist? How did the censors not kill the card before it made it out of the shadows? WHO IS JOHN GALT?????

There was much immediate speculation. Among the theories were:

  • Ripken did this alone because he’s a jerk.
  • Another player (or players) — maybe even Cal — pranked Ripken.
  • Fleer planted the card to generate publicity.
  • Ripken and Fleer conspired to perpetrate this act.
  • C. Nettles created the error to turn down the heat.
  • KGB

Ripken himself has waffled on an explanation over the years, claiming ignorance early on before blaming teammates.

In more recent interviews, Billy has stuck to this basic story …

Ripken’s bag of bats arrived at Memorial Stadium early in 1988, but they were too heavy and he had to send the back. He decided to keep one of the big boomers, though, for batting practice. And, in order for him to easily differentiate his BP bat from everyone else’s, since they were all just basically piled up, he had to come up with a distinctive marking. He chose to write Rick Face on the knob.

Why that particular phrase? The folly of youth, maybe.

And how did the bat end up in a Fleer photo? According to Ripken, he had just finished batting practice one day, throwing his bat to the side, when a photographer asked him to get some pics. So Billy Rip picked up the bat again and headed off to pose.

Alright, but how then did Fleer not notice the obscenity on the bat, and how did they allow that photo to get out in their wax and cello and rack packs in 1989?

That part is an enduring mystery, and it’s at least possible — though unlikely — Fleer sort of looked the other way, hoping to generate some buzz.

Even if that wasn’t the plan, the Ripken error card did, indeed, generate plenty of buzz.

1989 Fleer Billy Ripken Error Card — The Variations

Technically — technically — there was no error on the original version of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken baseball card.

There was just a picture of a young baseball player holding a baseball bat over his shoulder. The name, team, and position were all correct (modulo a Bill-Billy argument).

It just so happened that the knob of that bat dropped an F-bomb on the hobby.

And so there was an error on the card — an error in judgement at the very least. On Ripken’s part, for sure. And either an error in judgement or an error in editing and proofing on Fleer’s part.

But, for whatever they lacked in terms of due dilligence in issuing the card, Fleer jumped to the ready once news about the Ripken vulgarity got loose in the wild — card shows, hobby publications, even national media outlets.

And Fleer undertook a plan of action that was both swift and indecisive.

How did they “fix” their error?

Well, it was a multi-pronged approach, beginning with …

(The following is a retro-guess at chronology, based on “evidence” available here in the 2020s. The actual order of steps may have been somewhat different before we were able to document every waking moment. My calls to the Wayback Machine for verification have gone unanswered.)

Whiteout

1989 fleer Billy Ripken White Out

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

This all happened at the very tail end of the 1980s.

So, how would you have corrected a printed error back in those days?

Right.

You would have used Wite-Out, or the genericized version — whiteout.

That’s exactly what Fleer did, too. Yep, they whited out the offending language on Ripken’s bat knob and, voilà!, problem solved.

Except, something about that solution apparently didn’t sit quite right with someone at Fleer, because they turned to something a bit less, uh, blocky …

White Scribble

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

The so-called “white scribble” was another attempt to cover up old Rick Face. Less blocky than the straight-out whiteout approach, the white scribbles sort of obscured the obscenity but didn’t really block it out.

It was sort of like Fleer applied the block, then tried to erase it.

Evidently, “white scribble” didn’t quite hit the mark, either, because Fleer moved on to …

Black Scribble

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

The Black Scribble Solution involved — you guessed it — scribbling through Rick’s face with some sort of black marking, maybe Sharpie or the marker you used in fourth grade and just sort of dropped in a drawer in your room. It was there when you left home and might still be.

Anyway, “black scribble” hid the bad words pretty well, even if it did look sort of amateurish.

For whatever reason, Fleer still wasn’t happy, so they tried again, this time opting for the airplane-inspired …

Black Box

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

This one went back to the full-on block-out approach of the whiteout fix, only using a big black box in stead of a white one.

Black Box sort of gives the impression that there’s a piece of black electrical tape on the bat knob, which actually seems like something you might see, though I’m not sure why.

And with that, the major Fleer attempts at correcting the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken error card (which wasn’t really an error at all) were in the books. To recap, those were:

  • Whiteout
  • White scribble
  • Black scribble
  • Black box

But the truth is, these four categories fall a long way short of representing all the variations and combinations of variations of the 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card that have come to light in the ensuing decades.

One intrepid collector has put together a gallery of Ripken variations over on the PSA website and, while these four buckets are well represented, the number and breadth of permutations is truly mindblowing. You can see that full gaudy display here.

Before we move on, we should give at least a quick nod to another variation that (ahem) cuts across all the others…

Sawcut

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

Yeah, across most or all of the 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken variations, you will occasionally find this additional “sawcut” variety (or defect) that features a long, sknny rectangle that blocks out part of the card from the bottom up — like a saw cut the card at that point.

Even the sawcuts can be found in a variety of locations, adding to the explostion of B. Rip. versions as shown in the gallery above.

Now, no matter which Ripken variation you’re looking at, and no matter when you’re looking at it, one concern that’s always been top of mind for most collectors when it comes to this hobby juggernaut is …

1989 Fleer Billy Ripken Error Card Value

So, we’ve spent a lot of words and mental effort to get to this point, but what’s the payoff?

What is the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken error card worth?

Well, thanks to the accessibility of the modern market, we can get to that answer pretty easily.

If we hop over to the PSA Auction Prices Realized tool, we see that the most common condition for the various renditions of the Ripken card is a PSA 9. Couple that information with the population information about each variation, and we can come up with some good pricing guidance.

So, let’s run it down, card-by-card:

Rick Face

As of this writing, in September of 2022, PSA had graded 9621 copies of the Billy Ripken error card in its original F-Face configuration. That’s easily the most among any of the variations, which probably points to a combination of our general salacious appetites and the true relative populations of the B. Rips.

PSA 9 Value: $95-100

(These values, and all that follow, are based on recent documented sales of the card variation listed in PSA 9 condition.)

Whiteout

PSA has seen a total of 137 whitetout versions of the Ripken error card, hinting at decent scarcity relative to the “uncorrected” card. Indeed, not many of these cards change hands at all, suggesting it’s among the toughest of the variations.

PSA 9 Value: $450-500

White Scribble

When it comes to scarcity, though, Whiteout has to stand in line behind White Scribble, of which PSA has graded just 103 copies. Not too surprising this one carries the steepest price tag, too.

PSA 9 Value: $1100-1300

Black Scribble

So far, PSA has handled 1092 Black Scribble copies of the Billy Ripken error card, which slots it sort of in the middle of the road amongst the basic variations of the hobby stalwart.

PSA 9 Value: $50-60

Black Box

Based on the PSA Population Report, the Black Box version of the 1989 Billy Ripken error card does seem to represent Fleer’s final solution to their Rick Face problem. As of September2022, the grading giant has handled 2756 of that rendition of the Ripken card.

PSA 9 Value: $25-30

Raw Values

Raw values for the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken error card will vary greatly depending on the variation, the condition as perceived by both buyer and seller, and where you encounter the card.

You can get a good idea of the current going rate(s), though, by checking out recent “sold” listings on eBay (affiliate link).

For instance, sales here in September of 2022 have ranged from a buck or so, all the way up to a few hundred dollars dependign on the exact configuration of the card.

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

1968 Topps Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman Rookie Card #177 Authentic Vintage

$380.00 (7 Bids)
End Date: Thursday 10/06/2022 20:58:47 EDT
Bid now | Add to watch list

1968 Topps #177 Nolan Ryan New York Mets RC Rookie HOF BVG 3 VG

$127.50 (6 Bids)
End Date: Wednesday 10/05/2022 23:15:00 EDT
Bid now | Add to watch list