It’s an iconic image in the baseball card world, and one of the most well-known cards outside it. It’s quite possibly the only area where Bill Ripken’s fame actually outshines his brother Cal’s. And until recently the story behind it was something of a mystery. Well, almost 20 years after he made “Fuck Face” a household term among teenage boys, Billy Ripken reveals how that phrase got on his 1989 Fleer baseball card.
Turns out it was a simple mistake. Ripken got a shipment of bats from Louisville Slugger that he wasn’t happy with. Rather than waste the whole batch he decided to use one of them for batting practice. To tell it apart from his game bats he wrote “Fuck Face” on it. Then one fateful day in Fenway Park, during batting practice, Fleer’s photographer asked to take his picture. Not thinking twice about it he grabbed his bat and posed. Amazingly the photographer didn’t see the writing. Neither did whoever developed the photo. Nor did anyone at Fleer, or the printing plant. So the card made its way into normal packs of 89 Fleer cards.
Once they hit store the shit hit the fan. What should have been an eminently forgettable card instead became hot commodity and a lighting rod of criticism. Instead of just admitting it was a mistake Ripken blamed his teammates. He told the Baltimore Sun’s Tim Kurkjian (now one of ESPN’s top baseball reporters) “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.” That’s pretty low if you ask me.
But Ripken’s admitting to the mistake know, which is commendable. And he’s apparently got a sense of humor about the whole thing. He got copies of the cards from Fleer, signed them, and gave them out to his groomsmen.