Bill Ripken did not have a memorable baseball career on the field, but he’ll never be forgotten by anyone who was involved in the baseball card hobby in 1989. That’s when his 1989 Fleer card caused a national stir by showing an obscenity that had been scrawled on the knob of the bat he was holding for his baseball card photo.
Fleer claimed the obscenity had slipped past its photo editors in the rush to get the product on the street. Once it was discovered, the company made several variations of the card with the obscenity hidden. That didn’t stop the original card from selling for as much as $500.
For years, Ripken said he had been the victim of a practical joke by teammates and was angry that he would always be associated with a card that featured such a vulgar phrase.
But the week of Dec. 8, CNBC.com’s Darren Rovell posted a story in which Ripken admits he was the one who wrote the infamous phrase on his bat handle.
He told Rovell that the bat in question was part of a new shipment that he had received, but they were heavier than the ones he normally used in a game. He opted to keep them for use only during batting practice.
He wanted to mark the bat in a way he could quickly find it among the dozens of other bats piled up before batting practice, so he wrote the obscenity on the bat knob.
“We were in Fenway Park and I had just taken my first round of BP,” Ripken told Rovell. “Right before I got up to hit again, I remember a guy tapping me on the shoulder asking if he could take my picture. Never once did I think about (what was written on the knob). I posed for the shot and he took it.”
Ripken said he used the “victim of a prank” excuse in an effort to deflect criticism for allowing the phrase to show up on a No. 616 baseball card. “It was fairly easy to say that somebody got me with a joke because people think you’re the scum of the earth for doing something like this,” Ripken said.
He also said he “can’t believe” Fleer’s photo editors didn’t catch the obscenity and believes they let it slip through on purpose to generate publicity. “I think not only did they see it, they enhanced it,” Ripken claimed. “That writing on that bat is way too clear. I don’t write that neat. I think they knew … they could use the card to create an awful lot of stir.”
Ripken says he still gets asked about the card today, several times a week, in fact.