There are very few cards which truly garner national media interest, but 25 years ago last spring, during the peak of the card collecting hobby, we had one of those occasions. The younger brother of a superstar who would within two decades be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, was posed with a very naughty word on the knob of the bat he was holding.
The card was destined for the 1989 Fleer set, the player was Billy Ripken and somehow the obscenity was never caught. It posed a bit of a quandary for Beckett, which had to somehow acknowledge its existence, especially when it was revealed that printing was put on hold and ‘corrected’ versions were on their way. It became the hottest card in years and Dr. James Beckett would label it “Rick Face”. It was quite a scandal and the rush was on to acquire this novelty card.
Last spring one long time New Jersey dealer commented about how someone tried to outsmart him by asking for “cards of Ripken, not the good one. I just need him to finish some sets.” The dealer handed the customer Billy’s F***face cards with a $30 price tag and said “you’re welcome to them at that price”.
Even more amazing was Fleer’s response in how they were trying to fix the embarrassing mistake and during the process there were at least seven different versions created. There was a dealer in New York who was advertising each week in Sports Collectors Digest and I swear it seemed as if he was adding a card a week to his ad.
These days they’re only a couple of bucks and you can snap up all of the variations on eBay for not much more, but needless to say, the Ripken obscenity card remains among the most recognized in the hobby and, for many collectors, a card that was taboo in their younger days.
A few years later, one of the hottest prospects in years appeared on baseball cards. Hard to believe, but Alex Rodriguez made his major league debut 20 years ago and although he did not start the season with the Mariners made his debut in time to be included in some of the 1994 sets.
However, even then controversy surrounded Rodriguez as he was not on any Topps products due to a conflict about being on a Topps card going back to the days when he was a member of the USA amateur team. That’s correct, even then Alex Rodriguez was causing waves.
Because of not signing a contract, Rodriguez would go several years before appearing on any card produced by Topps. That is a player’s right as Topps signs players to individual contracts and players such as Matt Wieters have never had a regular issue Topps card. Oddly, Wieters did have an 2009 eTopps card but collectors could not pull that one from a pack. Thus in 1994, the early days of Rodriguez career had to be chronicled by other card companies such as Upper Deck and Fleer. Of all the 1994 cards issued of Rodriguez, the best base card of the bunch was the Upper Deck SP.
Somewhat amazingly, the bottom hasn’t completely fallen out of the Rodriguez card market–at least not for those high-end rookie cards. In fact, a couple of PSA 10 SPs sold for over $1,000 each last month and other high-grade rookies consistently bring $250 and up. Of course, that’s probably a far cry from what they would be selling for if there was no cloud over his career.
Rodriguez will be 40 when the 2014 season arrives and as the controversy continues to swirl around a possible return to Major League Baseball, it will be interesting to see if some of his more pedestrian cards show any sign of life should he take the field and be a productive player.