Orange County Register 1/89

Orange County Register, The (includes 24 weeklies) (Santa Ana, CA) The Orange County Register January 29, 1989 Notoriety finally in the cards for Billy Ripken Because of obscenity, he's a popular item Author: Marc Stein The Register Edition: EVENING Section: SPORTS Page: C04 Estimated printed pages: 3 Article Text: When your brother is a six-time All-Star and your father is a former big-league manager, it's easy to get overlooked. Baltimore Orioles second baseman Billy Ripken, entering his third season in the major leagues, has played in the shadow of brother Cal Jr., arguably baseball's best shortstop, and father Cal Sr., who has coached or managed in the Orioles' system for 33 seasons. In recent weeks, however, thanks to something as ordinary as a baseball card, Ripken has been anything but lost in the shuffle. It might not be the way he wanted to become famous, but baseball-card collectors are in a frenzy to acquire the 1989 Fleer Corp. version of Ripken's card, the hottest property in the hobby today. Why? At first glance, you'd be pressed to find the attraction of the card, which pictures Ripken standing with a bat on his right shoulder. Cast your eyes downward, however, and you'll find the source of the hysteria -- a two! -word obscenity scrawled on the knob of the bat. Fleer, based in Philadelphia, , released individual wax packs, cards packaged with gum, in late December. Approximately three weeks later, the Ripken variation, the term manufacturers use for an error, was publicized. Thanks to national media attention, wax packs originally priced at 45 cents are selling for as much as $5. The card itself, originally valued at 5 cents, is selling anywhere from $25 to $100. The 660-card set, originally valued at about $25, is selling in some areas for more tha n $200. All because of a player who hit .207 in 1988. Despite the public's willingness to invest in the card, local dealers, who remember a similar situation in 1981 with Graig Nettles' Fleer card, aren't sold on the card's value. Nettles' first name was spelled incorrectly on the 1981 card, causing it to sell for as much as $30. Today, the Nettles card is listed at $15, but sells for no more than $5 at card shows. "The big thing I've noticed is the people calling in that aren't even involved in the hobby," said Tony Galovich of American Card Exchange in Costa Mesa. " People are calling in asking for Ripken's Fleer card, and I ask them if they want his Donruss (another card manufacturer) card, and they don't even know what Donruss is." Once the mistake was discovered, Fleer, which is circulating a corrected Ripken card, tried to withdraw as many of the cards as it could. No one knows, however, how many of the original version reached the public. "I've heard estimates as high as 1 million of the card," said Wally Rountree of Keeping Score in Santa Ana. "Everything that's been going around is rumor. It may not be true, because there's been nothing published about it except in newspapers. But if there's a million of anything, it's not rare and not worth it." All of the local dealers contacted have shied away from the card, mainly because of its obscene nature, but also because of its obscene price. "The card is basi! cally obscene, and I don't feel good selling it to a child," Galovich said. "Anybody paying $75 or $100 for the card now, if they wait until the end of the year (to sell it), they're going to be at a loss." Nevertheless, interest in the card is growing at an astounding rate. Rountree said he received 300-400 phone calls last week, and all the dealers contacted said inquiries about the Ripken card far exceed normal collector interest. "We've gotten tons of requests, and even more requests of people trying to sell the card," said Clay Hill of Baseball Cards-Sports Card Plus in Westminster. "It's an interesting thing. I've seen a (classified advertisement) in a paper asking for $1,500 for the whole set. The set will be about $25, so does that mean the Ripken card is worth $1,475?" It appears the value of the card will rise, or at least not fall, until it can be determined how many flawed cards are in circulation. But that answer could take as long to! figure out as how the obscenity got by the executives at Fleer. "What a joke as far as what Fleer is doing," said Bob Diver of Stadium Baseball Cards in Anaheim and Laguna Hills. "I think Fleer did it to keep sales up and to get interest in the Fleer card. The whole scheme behind it is that they did it on purpose. That's my general feeling. They really don't need to do that because there's enough demand for the set." Both Fleer and Ripken said they are embarrassed by the incident, and the release of the card has given dealers nothing but headaches. In the end, though, it's the collector who figures to suffer, especially if the card's value suffers the sharp dropoff predicted. "Even if there is 100,000 of the card, it is still a tremendous amount," Galovich said. "If there were a 1,000 or less, then you've got an item." Caption: An obscenity that mysteriously appeared on the end of Billy Ripken's bat has collectors swearing they're going to acquire one of the cards. The Associated PressBLACK & WHITE PHOTO Memo: BASEBALL 'rh Copyright 1989 The Orange County Register Record Number: OCR160502