It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since a light hitting infielder and a Fleer baseball card combined to offend old people, confuse collectors and amuse millions of ten-year-olds. But it’s true: two decades have passed since the legendary Billy Ripken “F**k Face” card entered the nation’s consciousness.
It’s a tale that’s been shrouded until mystery…until now. Ripken’s been retired for 11 years (yeah, I was as shocked as you to learn his career spanned 12 seasons), and since Cooperstown probably isn’t calling, he figured he might as well open up about the only reason, other than his last name, that anyone remembers him.
For many years Ripken maintained that one of his teammates played a prank on him. But as he tells CNBC’s Darren Rovell, that perfect penmanship could have only belonged to him:
“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.”
Naturally, it took prepubescent boys about 0.02 seconds to notice the obscenity. And when they did — the f**kface hit the fan.
What ensued was absolute chaos and—as the “error” card’s price rose to nearly $500—there were some amazing stories. A kid, who happened to be a fan of Ripken, had purchased a huge lot of No. 616’s from a dealer for $50. When the curse was found, the new worth of the cards was closer to $20,000. There was the story of one kid who sued another kid for convincing him to sell his Billy Ripken for $1, without knowing the curse was on the bat. And the tale of the Geraldo show entitled “Men who write bad things in public places,” when an audience member claimed it was he who wrote the obscenity on Ripken’s bat.
Fleer panicked too. In subsequent printings, they tried everything from scribbling over the offending text, to whiting it out, to placing a big black censor’s bar over it.
Picture courtesy of BILLRIPKEN.COM, an entire site devoted to a man, his potty mouth, and a baseball card that made him a legend.