Buckle up ladies and gents! I am about to pull back the curtain on a very regrettable moment from my youth. When I was in the 6th grade, I did something really terrible. I am ashamed of it now but at the time, I just thought I was being cool. My parents never really used foul language around our house so when I started watching movies like Beverly Hills Cop and Smokey and The Bandit, I got an introduction to a whole new vocabulary that was taboo. I knew enough to know the words were wrong to say but I still found them hilarious and I wanted to be a part of the fun. I never dared to utter the words in front of my parents but I did experiment with them a bit at school with friends.For the most part, it was always just harmless fun and there were some friends who were still “scared” to use that language at 12. You have to remember what it was like to be a 12 year old for any of this to make sense. One day it moved from harmless fun to very harmful for me. The initial details are fuzzy but I remember a friend of mine helping a few of us on a test in class and another friend decided to tell on her. He went right to the teacher and told on every one of us and none of us were real pleased. The friend who helped us got in the most trouble and she was probably the least culpable in the situation. She knew the answers and legitimately passed the test. It was the rest of us slackers that needed the help.Well, my adolescent brain concocted a response to this young lad that was going to really hit him where it hurt. I wrote him a note! Yes, your humble blogger resorted to writing a scathing response to him to try and make him feel bad. I used some choice language as well! It is not one of my proudest moments. What my adolescent brain did not factor in was that this kid’s dad was in fact the principal of our middle school. Trust me, I learned some hard lessons early in life that have taught me to just go with the flow and not be a pot stirrer. This was one of those instances. If he went to the teacher and told on us for cheating on a test, what made me think I could get away with a profanity laced note? THAT I SIGNED!
That letter made its way to the principal and I found myself sitting in his office with my mother. I got 3 days In School Suspension (honestly, the only time ever) for that note but that was just the tip of the trouble iceberg. My dad has been a truck driver all my life and when I was school age, he would be gone for several days at a time. I normally got some sort of punishment from my mom and then got more when he got home and heard the news. I remember numerous times being paralyzed with fear when I heard that semi pulling into the yard because I had done something stupid while he was gone. I would be ok when the event happened but would slowly build up dread as I knew it was closer to time for him to be home. That is partially why I am such a straight shooter today. My dad ALWAYS finds out when I do something stupid.This time, he came home a few days later while I was at school so when we pulled into the driveway, I saw him and my Uncle Greg working on his truck and I almost immediately started crying. My mom told me to go tell him what happened. That was the other horrible part; she didn’t tell him that stuff while he was on the road so he would have time to process it. Oh no, she made ME tell him when he got home. I remember stumbling through my admission and seeing the anger and disappointment filling his face. I also remember my Uncle Greg walking around the side of the truck to hide his laughter. I paid for that stunt in a big way. That was one of those “I didn’t sit down for a week” incidents and I lost all of my Nintendo privileges. I probably didn’t say a cuss word again until I was 17 or 18. And I look over my shoulder today when I say one…..at 40!Coincidentally, a card company had a profane faux pas that very same year. I didn’t know about it until much later in my collecting days but if my parents had found out about that at the time, I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to collect cards either. Fleer produced a pretty solid set in 1989 and there were some very good rookies in that set that included Ken Griffey Jr., Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz. But 28 years later, the set is most well known for a veteran player in the checklist that had a relatively quiet career aside from his last name and his 1989 Fleer. Most of you know by now but that player was Billy Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles.
Ripken’s 1989 Fleer Card #616 has several versions but the first one to hit the printing press had the words “F**K FACE” written in big black letters on the knob of the bat. Somehow this got by Ripken, the photographer AND Fleer and made its way into stores and into the hands of the public. It didn’t take too long to get noticed but by then, the damage had been done. Fleer jumped in and whited out the words and started reprinting the cards. There are 4 basic versions but as you can see on www.billripken.com, there are many variations to these versions. And yes, this card has its own website. The 4 basic variations are as follows:
1. The Original Version
2. The White Out Version
3. The Black Scribbles Version
4. The Black Box Version
Even though there were multiple attempts to cover the obscenity, all of the versions made their way into packs over the production run. From what I can tell, the White Out version appears to be the rarest of the variations but there are variations of those variations and I’m already neck deep in 1991 Topps so I just can’t go there. Fleer tried to backtrack and Ripken himself dodged it for a while before coming clean in an Interview with Sports Business Reporter, Darren Rovell, in 2008 about the origination of the phrase. There are a ton of stories but this one came from Ripken himself. He is quoted as saying;
“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 a 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 (Wild Thing?). 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.
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.”
He went on to say that he “can’t believe the people at Fleer couldn’t catch that” and then turned the screws by saying, “I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it. The 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.” And he was right about creating an awful lot of stir. 1989 Baseball cards are known for a few specific things; overproduction, Ken Griffey Jr., error cards and Billy Ripken’s Fleer. If it was intentional, Fleer may have gotten a little blowback in the beginning but the story has had tremendous legs and I still find the hunt for the original and variations intriguing almost 3 decades later. It would seem that it played out in their favor all these years later.So I picked up a box on a recent trip to a card shop. I don’t know if the packs are searched or anything. It was cheap so I bought it. At the very least, I might pull one of those nice rookies. The design itself was quite different than the one before it in 1988 and after in 1989. 1988 used a similar design to 1984 with the white border and colorful accents while 1990 went with a plain white border design. 1989 used a gray border with vertical white stripes at the top and bottom. The player photo was in the middle of the card and most of them jumped out of the horizontal photo border to create somewhat of a 3D effect. There was a thin line at the top and bottom of the photo in the team color while the player name, position and team logo was in the top border. The Fleer logo was the only writing at the bottom of the card.The backs of the cards had the same, albeit a little darker, gray border with vertical stripes but had highlighter yellow to draw attention to the stats and player info. A large portion of the back was just plain white stock unless the player had many years of service. There was also a “Did You Know” and “Before and After All-Star” section on the cards that were afforded the room. I have to say that it is one of my favorite 80’s designs. I don’t know if that’s because of just how “80’s” it is or what but I enjoy 1989 Fleer immensely. The wrappers weren’t my favorites as that designation is reserved for ’89 Donruss and ’90 Fleer but they scream ’89 Fleer as soon as you see them. The box contains 36 packs with 15 cards and one sticker in each. So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and bust this thing open.We’ll start with the box bottom. As with many boxes in the 80’s, there were some cards only available on box bottoms. My 4 were the Tigers Team Card, George Brett, Alan Trammell and Mike Greenwell.As stated above, every pack came with a sticker. There were two options with the sticker; one had a full team logo and the other had 4 smaller team stickers.The “insert” card for ’89 Fleer was the All-Star card. I pulled 4 with Bobby Bo, Paul Molitor, Orel Hershiser and Alan Trammell. Fleer All-Star cards would go the artist sketch route soon after.There were also several horizontal cards depicting record breaking or marquee moments from the previous baseball season. These horizontal cards also included dual prospects. This particular card was one of my favorites because I was a HUGE Canseco fan back in the day. This one commemorated his 40-40 season in 1988.The rookie stack I pulled was pretty impressive. I pulled 4 Hall of Famers on the bottom row and some other fun names that I had forgotten from the ’89 Rookie Class. Very nice box of rookies!The next photo covers some of the stars that we all loved to collect in the late 80’s. These guys were hot in the hobby at various times and highly collectible. Eric Davis was one of my favorites.The final stack was the Legends of the Junk Wax Era. These guys were some of the biggest names you could get. Most of these guys are Hall of Famers today and others probably should be. I’m looking at you Roger Clemens.As for Billy Ripken, I learned something new today. I learned that you can actually pull two different variations from the same box. Like I said before, I don’t know if this box was clean but with the names I pulled, I would think that it was pretty close. With that said, I pulled both the Black Scribbles and Black Box variations of the Billy. I owned the Black Box version already but am happy to add the Black Scribble to my PC.This was an awesome box to revisit. It will get a score of 5 on the Dub-O-Meter and it’s as solid a 5 as I can give. The rookie class is great and loaded with Hall of Famer’s that can be had cheap. There are also some cool variation chase cards if you like that sort of thing. The Ripken card is one of those “iconic” cards from the Junk Wax Era and opening packs to try to find one is always fun, no matter how many you already have. We all go back to being 12 years old when we see that card. I like the design of the card and the presentation of the player photo but the only drawback is that there are fewer action shots than posed shots. That doesn’t slow me down a bit though as that was typical of Fleer for many years. I will always be partial to 1989 Donruss because it’s the first set I collected. But if I’m being honest, Fleer is likely the best set from that year. I just didn’t have a lot of access to it locally when I was a kid so I collected it after its newness wore off. It remains one of my favorite wax rips today though and I’m sure you’d enjoy it too. Find yourself a cheap box and go on the hunt for Billy! You won’t regret it!
1. Let me be the sacrificial lamb so you don’t have to buy these cards. Just read the post and thank me later.
2. There is worse but there is much better – not worth the effort though.
3. Middle of the road – I wouldn’t talk you into buying these but I certainly wouldn’t talk you out of them.
4. You should probably go out and buy a box and enjoy the rip – I did! It has some downside but worth the ride.
5. Stop reading and find a box to buy and get to Breaking! What are you waiting on?