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Robert Edward Auctions

Obscene Gestures on Baseball Cards Present Before Billy

Twenty-five years ago, perhaps the most famous obscenity to ever appear on a baseball card was part of the original release of the 1989 Fleer set in which a four-letter word was noted on Billy Ripken’s bat. This card, deemed the “Rick-Face” version by Dr. James Beckett in 1989, featured a very young Billy in just 1989 Fleer Billy Ripkenhis second baseball card year. That card exploded onto the card marketplace with such velocity that the price was almost equal to the Fleer and Donruss Cal Ripken rookie cards. It was not, however, the first time such words or gestures appeared on a baseball card.

Hoss Radbourn Old Judge cardWhen we wrote about the 19th century Old Judge McGreachery card recently, we forgot to note about one of the Old Hoss Radbourn cards in the Old Judge set.  You see, old Hoss was probably not happy about having to spend all that time at the photographer’s studio or with any photographer and slyly (it seems) extended his middle finger as he placed his arms at his waist.  A few years ago Robert Edward Auctions sold a high grade  example of the infamous Old Hoss card.

Believe it or not, it was not even the first time the Hoss had given an obscene gesture during a photo.

Old Hoss Radbourn giving the fingerSeems like the feisty Mr. Radbourn just preferred not to be photographed or liked to give them a hard time.  When you pitch as often as he did, I guess you’re entitled to be a little snarly.  By the way, his arm—and his very interesting life—were the subject of a great book by Ed Achorn.

More than 80 years after that Old Judge card came out, one of the most boisterous baseball personalities ever was featured on two cards in the 1972 Topps set.

The In Action card featured Billy Martin doing what he did best, arguing with umpires. With the new replay rule really reducing the amount of baseball arguments, I wonder if any manager will ever again become famous in the way Martin or Leo Durocher or Earl Weaver for their arguing skills. As far as my memory goes, Billy Martin 1972 Toppsthat is the only card which shows a manager arguing with an umpire.

And that was sure an appropriate follow up for his regular issue card which shows him handing a bat with an Frank Thomas 1991 Upper Deckoutstretched middle finger.

A poorly cropped photo of the signage behind the 1964 Topps Ray Sadecki probably had kids chuckling 50 years ago, although this time the obscenity was quite unintentional (we hope).

And to many, Frank Thomas was showing his opinion about being photographed in the dugout on his 1991 Upper Deck card.

It could be coincidence or maybe Frank just liked to use that digit but 1994 Stadium Club card #285 also shows him possibly providing a one finger salute (or is he really just applying eye black strips?).

I’m sure there are other cards with obscene gestures in other sports but these are some of the best known examples.

About Rich Klein

Rich Klein has spent almost his entire life collecting baseball cards having begun at the tender age of seven. He has spent more than three decades in the organized hobby including editing the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Card and Collectibles. He lives in Plano, TX along with his wife Dena and their two dogs. You can reach him at [email protected].

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