An In-Depth Look At The Legendary Billy Ripken Fuck Face Card
The junk wax era was notorious for an insane amount of error cards. With card producers rushing to release as many sets as possible within the shortest time, quality checks dropped until they became non-existent.
These error cards differed, ranging from incorrect images, wrongly spelled names or inaccurate stats. In most industries, such errors imply a defective product and command a lower value (if any). However, this isn’t true for the trading card industry as there’s excellent value to be found in trading error cards.
Collectors love adding these unique and rare cards to their collections. This article shall review one of the most famous baseball “error” cards with a rich history. The Billy Ripken “Fuck Face” card.
With a total of 84 notable errors in Fleer’s 1989 Baseball set, it’s easy to wonder what’s unique about this card. Well, let’s find out.
Billy Ripken Fuck Face 1989 Fleer variations are plentiful on ebay – Check them out here!
An Intro to the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken Fuck Face card, #616
Billy Ripken was a second base for the Baltimore Orioles and the younger brother to Baseball’s prestigious Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. With a batting average of .247; Billy was nothing special on the field. In the 1988 season, Billy hit a meager .207, having played a career-high 150 games. His card was fated to be a common valued at no more than a few cents.
However, a few weeks after the new set hit the stores, Billy’s card became the most sought-after card in the entire set. The reason for this was two words – Fuck Face.
At first glance, there’s nothing special about Billy’s cards. He poses for the camera holding his bat with the barrel resting on his shoulder. However, two very visible words written on the knob pushed this card into infamy. As news of a card that contained a clearly written (and enhanced?) obscenity spread, it caused hysteria in the collection community.
Fleer quickly released a statement saying they’re aware of the “problem,” sincerely regret the fact that it occurred, and have taken steps to effect the necessary changes. The President of the Baltimore Sun Company, Vincent Murray, also released a statement.
“We regret it ever occurred…and I’m sure he (Ripken) does too. A lot of pranksterism, if you will, goes on between major-league players. We catch a number…but we didn’t catch this one.”Vincent Murray, President of the Baltimore Sun
To save face, Fleer halted production of the Fuck Face card and released several corrected versions. They also asked collectors to return their cards and get another card without the swear word. While this happened, the card’s value soared, and people paid as high as $20 for it.
While a $20 valuation looks little today, this was in 1989. Packs were sold for $0.50 and boxes for $25. After several major news publications of the time reported the story, the valuation for the original card rose to $300. The price for packets of the set rose to $100, while stores sold cases for $1,700.
How the Billy Ripken “Fuck Face” photo happened
There were conflicting stories on how the Fuck Face card occurred. At first, Billy Ripken said teammates had targeted him. In his words:
“It appears I was targeted (by teammates),” Ripken told Kurkjian. “I know I’m kind of a jerk at times. I know I’m a little off. But this is going too far.”
He was also “sorry that so many young people were exposed to it.“
Some publications also rumored that Billy’s brother Cal inscribed the profanity to embarrass him. Few believed Fleer wrote it themselves to boost publicity and increase card sales. Upper Deck had just hit the Baseball collecting market with exciting new products, and Fleer required something extra to stay relevant. The truth remained elusive.
However, 20 years after the incident, Billy Ripken, in an interview with CNBC’s Darren Rovell, revealed just how it happened in 2008. He had been holding his batting practice bat marked, so it stands out.
“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.“
He didn’t deliberately pose with the bat for his Fleer photo. He thought he was posing for a random photograph.
“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.”
Billy couldn’t believe the proofreaders at Fleer didn’t spot it and felt Fleer enhanced it to boost sales.
“I can’t believe the people at Fleer couldn’t catch that. I mean, they certainly have to have enough proofreaders to see it. I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it. That writing on that bat is way too clear. I don’t write that neat. I think they knew that once they saw it, they could use the card to create an awful lot of stir.“
Remember that before now, Ripken claimed that teammates targeted him. When Darren Rovell pointed out his earlier response, Billy had an explanation ready.
“I tried to deflect it as much as I could. It was fairly easy to say that somebody got me with a joke because people think you’re the scum of the earth for doing something like this. The truth is that there’s a lot of words like that that are thrown around in the clubhouse. They just don’t get out there.”
While this interview shed light on how the Fuck Face card came about, the Fuck Face card was already infamous. Demand – and value – for the original card soared. Today it’s arguable Baseball’s most famous error card.
The notorious 1989 Fleer set was littered with errors
The Fuck Face card was a part of the 1989 Fleer Baseball, a particularly infamous set. It’s known for the absurd amount of errors and variations. It had everything, from missing positions to wrongly spelled names to missing halos. Despite having 84 notable errors – or maybe because of it – this set is one of the few from the junk era that holds its value very well.
The numerous variations of the Bill Ripken FF card
All hell broke loose at Fleer once the Bill Ripken FF error was found, and they hurriedly took steps to cover up the knob. If they’ve decided to stick a black box on it and be consistent with their decision, we’d likely have just one variation. However, for some reason, they tried covering it in numerous ways. Twelve ways if you ask some experts.
While no less than 12 different versions of the Bill Ripken FF errorcard exist, some cateogrize only four main versions exist. PSA population reports detail five different versions in their gradings, which can be seen below. All other versions can be classifed as sub-categories — whiteouts, saw-cuts, etc.
Billy Ripken FF error card (Original)
This is the original card with Fuck Face ostensibly written and visible. The original card also has a subversion.
- F-FACE (Original) Double Print
This version has the double-printed swear word, probably due to a print error. While this isn’t a “true” version, it is highly collectible.
While the original Fuck Face cards are chase cards, when it comes to it, they are not truly rare. A LOT of original versions of the cards hit the market. Experts believe there are about 150,000 original Fuck Face cards in the market.
Due to eBay’s policies on profanity, you need to search for these cards by search for “FF” for F-face”
White scribble (Airbrushed)
The very first corrected version Fleer issued. The swear word has been airbrushed in an attempt to cover it. However, upon close examination, the outline of the swear words is still visible.
Fleer’s first attempt to correct the mistake, experts are unsure how many of these cards were released before they switched to other methods. This version of the FF card is the toughest to find and commands a good value once found.
This whiteout version has the entirety of the bats’ knob whited out.
In this variation, a black scribble has been used in an attempt to cover the swear word. This version has tons of sub-versions, some of which are rare.
- Black Scribble w/ F: This version has the first letter F visible.
- Black Scribble w/ F (Swirl Pattern): Another version of the black scribble. It closely resembles the regular ‘F-Scribble,’ but one would notice several differences at a close look. Such as extra marks, smudges, and a damaged plate.
- Black Scribble w/ Loop: Once Fleer realized the regular black scribble didn’t significantly cover the F word, this variant was birthed. The letter F has been significantly altered, making it look like a hook mark (loop).
- Black Scribble w/ No F: Also called the “Light Loop) version, this has the letter F entirely removed.
There is also a “circle scribbled” version sometimes referred to as the semi-airbrushed version. Fleer tried to cover up the swear word using circular dark scribble patterns. Several letters are still clearly visible.
Some versions of the black scribble are harder to find than others. However, this version isn’t particularly rare as many of them hit the market.
Here, Fleer utilized a black box to cover the swear word. This was ultimately the last major variation used to correct the card. Several versions of this exist.
- Black Box (Square Edge): The first black box version produced. The swear word is covered with a black box with four square corners.
- Black Box (Rounded Edge): Black box with rounded corners.
- Black Box (Jagged White Line): Black box with rounded corners and a jagged upper left white stripe.
- Black Box (Glossy Edition): Rounded black box version found only in the Collector’s Edition Glossy and Tin set.
This variation is the second easiest to find of all the FF versions after the original card. However, the Collector’s Glossy Edition is rare. Experts estimate that Fleer made only 20,000 of them.
Bill Ripken FF card value comparison
The value of the Billy Ripken error card has steadily increased to match its demand. Today, a gem-mint PSA 10 copy of this card is valued at $340, while a PSA 9 will sell for nearly $120. Raw copies would easily fetch anything from $70 – $90. Here are some of the top Fuck Face card sales variations in 2022.
|Version||Scarcity||PSA 8 Pop / Value||PSA 9 Pop /Value||PSA 10 Pop /Value|
|Scribbled Out in White||Rarest||32/ $511||29 (N/A)||14 (N/A)|
|Whited Out Vulgarity||Rare||43/ $315||51/ $530||16 (NA)|
|Black Scribble||Uncommon||272/ $20||484/ $82||220/ $399|
|Fuck Face (original)||Uncommon||2,049/ $77||4,383/ $120||2,145/ ($340|
|Black Box||Common||527/ $10||1,129/ $22||878/ $60|
In comparison, another card from the same year, the Ripken 1989 Topps #571 has never been worth more than a few cents. While these values offer significant ROI, they can only get better. Error cards continue to be popular in the hobby, and collectors are interested in owning one of the most famous error cards.
Billy Ripken FF Error Card conclusion
Thirty-three years after its release, the Billy Ripken Fuck Face card is still one of the hobby’s most sought-after error cards. While Billy Ripken didn’t do anything outstanding on the field, his fuck face card is very well-known.
The stringent checks card producers employ today make these errors harder to slip through. This has increased the value of mint cards as their collectability rises. Notable mint versions of early error cards are worth quite a lot now. Indeed, few can deny the fantastic entertainment value in a good error.
Other error cards
- Jose Uribe 1990 Fleer
- C3PO Golden Rod
- Frank Thomas No Name on Front error card
- Dale Murphy 1989 Upper Deck reverse negative
- 1990 Donruss errors