Two weeks after Fleer released its 1989 baseball cards, the company received a call from a Baltimore sports reporter seeking a comment on card number 616. When managers looked up the card they saw a photo of Orioles second baseman Billy Ripken holding a bat on his right shoulder. On the knob of the bat were the words FUCK FACE.
The company halted distribution immediately, but this elevated the card from a novelty to a rarity, and the frenzy increased. By January its price has risen to $100; an unopened case could fetch $1,700. Ripken himself signed a few at a Jersey City card show, and the autographed cards became more valuable still. (“If people are crazy enough to spend that kind of money on a card,” he said, “it doesn’t concern me.”)
How the obscenity had made its way unnoticed through Fleer’s production process remains a mystery. The photo had been taken in Boston before an Orioles-Red Sox game in 1988; Ripken eventually admitted that he’d written the expletive himself to identify a practice bat, but he insisted that its appearance in the photo had been an accident.
See Inverted Jenny.