We Can Thank Cal Ripken’s Brother Bill For the Most Obscene Baseball Card of All Time

All things considered, Bill Ripken has led a rather charmed life. He played baseball in the majors for several years. Now, he’s an analyst for the MLB Network, a career many armchair athletes would kill for. Of course, Ripken’s feats may diminish in the eyes of some due to his last name. His brother Cal Ripken Jr. was a Hall of Fame shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, setting MLB’s record for consecutive games played.

One part of Bill’s career is more memorable than his brother’s, however. It involves one of the most infamous baseball cards in history. Let’s look at Bill Ripken’s baseball card that somehow slipped past the card manufacturers.

The infamous Bill Ripken baseball card

When baseball card collecting was at its height, “error cards” were something of a commodity, explains SB Nation. This referred to cards with some sort of mistake that occurred during printing. The baseball card boom took place in the late ’80s. Multiple companies produced cards; Topps, Donruss, and Fleer were three of the biggest names in the industry.

In 1989, Bill was playing for the Baltimore Orioles when Fleer produced his card. In his picture, he stands with his bat in his hand. If you look closely — or even if you don’t, as it’s impossible to miss — you can clearly see the words “F*CK FACE” scrawled on the barrel of Bill’s bat. 

Bill Ripken and Fleer’s reaction

Initially, Bill told the Baltimore Sun that he must’ve been the victim of a prank and that he was not the one who had carved the phrase into the bat. “It appears I was targeted [by teammates] … I know I’m kind of a jerk at times. I know I’m a little off. But this is going too far,” Bill said, according to CNBC.

Fleer responded by printing multiple versions of the card — all with different obstructions editing the obscenity out. The card became a hot commodity with collectors, leading some, including Bill himself, to speculate that the “mistake” was intentional to drum up interest in the card.

So how did the bat get into Bill’s hands in the first place and who truly carved the words into it? The answer is less complicated than you may think. 

How the obscenity was carved into Bill Ripken’s bat

In a later interview with CNBC, Bill contradicted his earlier claim that he was the victim of a prank. He admitted he was the one who carved it in the bat. Here’s what happened: Bill noticed that the pile of bats outside his locker at Spring Training were a bit too heavy. But he decided to use them for batting practice. Bill needed to write something on one of his bats to make it easily identifiable. He wrote the famous phrase on his. 

At Fenway Park later that season, a photographer asked to take Bill’s picture and he agreed, unknowingly holding the bat in question. According to Bill, it was an unintentional mistake on his part, and he couldn’t believe the picture made it onto his baseball card. He ultimately blamed Fleer:

“I mean, [Fleer] certainly have to have enough proofreaders to see it. I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it. That 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.”

Ripken makes a great point. Ultimately, quality assurance falls to Fleer. The card was their product and therefore, their responsibility. They did not catch the gaffe, however, and it led to one of baseball’s most infamous cards. It doesn’t sell for much these days. With baseball cards being less valuable than they were in years past, the card currently sells for about $5.