One of the enduring mysteries of the over-production era of the card collecting hobby is how did a card with an easily observable obscenity on the bat get past so many people who were supposed to ensure such language would not appear on a card. Unlike the 1964 Topps Ray Sadecki card in which the card was cropped in such a way the word “ass” appeared in the background, the early printings of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken card actually had a four letter word on the bat knob. When the news broke on a national level, the mania surrounding the card became instantaneous and worldwide. Everyone wanted a copy of the card with what Dr. Beckett called “Rick Face” written on the knob.
At the time I was working for dealer Mike Gordon and he went out a bought a bunch of boxes which contained the Ripken card partially because he thought those boxes would sell and partially because colleague Tom Reid had planted into his mind that Wall Street type brokers were snapping up this card. That was partially true as there was a quirk in New York State law that because of the type of product baseball cards were, there was no licenses needed to sell cards on the sidewalk. I remember, as late as 1994, being able to buy cards directly from street vendors. I purchased a 1994 Upper Deck All-Time heroes box for about $30 from a vendor at 72nd street and Broadway to have something to break later that day while I was visiting my dad.
But while I was at Mike’s store I do remember the Ripken cards were located at the bottom of the unopened boxes and whenever we finished selling a box I would put out a new box. However, I would also make sure to mix up the packs so they were not in the same place. One time, one of our ‘regular’ customers came in, saw we had a new box and asked if he could select his own packs. Having mixed up the packs, I said sure and let him pick his bottom packs. When the packs were opened and no Ripken’s came out and I explained, oh by the way, I shuffle the packs around the collector realized he could not game these packs and never asked to buy any more packs.
The other interesting part is during the year, was one of the regular advertisers in SCD would advertise nine different Ripken variations. Each week it seemed as if there was a new Ripken being discovered. During that period, I even learned how to read the dates on those Fleer wax, cello and rack cases because they all had codes which told you what date they were printed. No, I do not remember the codes anymore!