Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Sports

November 17, 2006

An Obscene Hobby

Donovan Ryan has become the world's foremost expert in naughty sports cards, including the infamous collectible with Bill Ripken holding a bat inscribed with "Fuck Face."

David Goldenberg

Jets rookie running back Leon Washington recently caused a mini-controversy when his Topps Bowman "Signs of the Future" card appeared to show him flashing double birds to the camera (Associated Press). Washington pleads innocence, but his image has joined the pantheon of naughty sports cards that are the domain of Donovan Ryan.

Donovan Ryan
Collector Donovan Ryan with his son, Jacob.
Ryan is not exactly the sort of person you'd expect to be the world's expert in trading cards featuring, um, adult content. After all, he's a family man, and he uses euphemisms like "the F-word" and "privates" when discussing his collection. But the potato-shed manager from Bakersfield, California, spends more than 10 hours a week on his hobby, and he has become the de facto leader of a ragtag bunch of collectors who specialize in an exclusive and weird niche of the trading-card business.

Ryan, 32, has been collecting sports cards since the 1980s, but he got serious in 2002 when he came across a Bill Ripken card on eBay that was slightly different from the most-famous version. Bill, never nearly as popular or as good a player as his older brother Cal, garnered notoriety in 1989 when a Fleer card was issued with him holding a bat, the bottom of which clearly reads, "Fuck Face." The one Ryan found also featured the obscenity, but "It was missing one of the color plates from the printing process, creating a white background instead of the normal gray," Ryan tells Gelf, so he bought it. "I started looking into it and buying different copies, and before you know it I had eight, then nine, then 10 versions." Pretty soon, Ryan's collection of Fleer '89 Ripkens outshone everyone else's, and he started getting emails from other collectors who pointed him to other cards that feature cursing, obscenities, and other malaphotisms. He now runs billripken.com and the eBay group Adult Sport Card Errors.

Gelf talked with Ryan over the phone to find out more about his strange hobby, what his family thinks about it, and what his favorite cards are among those he's come across in his research.

Gelf Magazine: How do you go about finding more versions of the Bill Ripken card?

Bill Ripken
Bill "Fuck Face" Ripken
Donovan Ryan: I started listing that I collect the Bill Ripken card whenever I sell stuff on eBay. If anybody has info, they let me know. I ran into a guy named Ryan Wehn and he had the same interest. Together we put our heads together in 2002 looking for different versions. Right now we have 12 that are confirmed legitimate versions, and we believe somewhere there are at least four more that we haven’t yet found. We've contacted Beckett's and other price guides and told them, "Hey, there's more out there than you list in your price guides." For the most part, though, the reason Beckett's doesn't list them all is that some of them are easy to counterfeit. Fleer used a skill saw to mark the cards that had a cuss word on the bat so that when they cut the sheets out, they could easily identify that card and pull it from distribution. They even did that on five different corrected versions of the card, which is kind of odd.

At any rate, we started looking for different Bill Ripken versions and found a whole bunch of articles about it—we have like 30 altogether from magazines. We've contacted the people who used to sell the cards and try to find out what they know.

Our website currently only has about 25% of the info that we know. We've withheld the rest until we find out everything and make sure these claims are true.

GM: Your site counter says that only a few thousand people have visited billripken.com. How do most people get in contact with you?

Leon Washington
Washington claims he is making "E"s.
DR: Most people do it through eBay or through collectors' message boards that I regularly post on. My username is 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken collector. People see that and they get in touch with me. I try to network whenever I can, through Yahoo Groups or any of those trying to reach out to collectors. The website started about four months ago. It's relatively new, we have a lot more information we want to post on there. There haven't been that many hits. Most of our hits happened yesterday when a Sports Collectors Daily article that mentioned us was linked to on Fark. [Editor's note: Sports Collectors Daily also did another piece on Donovan's quest.]

GM: How much time do you devote to the website?

DR: There are three people involved. Me and Ryan and another guy John, who doesn't want to be mentioned for whatever reason. He does all the posting of information and is in charge of all the technical savvy. Ryan and I look—it used to be on average two to four hours a day, and that varies. But I would say two hours a day on average, posting on message boards and looking on the internet, things like that.

GM: Is most of this time spent on the Ripken card?

DR: It used to be just the Bill Ripken card, and then Ryan and I discovered that there were other cards that had adult-related errors on them. That was interesting. It went along with same theme as the Bill Ripken card. It's kind of a side project we do as well: finding other error cards or cards that intentionally or unintentionally have bad things on them that kids shouldn’t see.

GM: Is this a game that professional players play?

DR: Some of them are known to be planned pranks and jokes like that. I think some of them are intentional to see what they can get away with and be the talk of the dugout.

C3PO
C-3PO's many tongues seem to include the language of lust.
The C-3PO card—They've never figured out what's the deal with that one. There are some that are unintentional that are just funny. There's a 1954 Ray Sadecki Topps Baseball card and there's a billboard in the background with an advertisement for, I think, a glass company. But they cut off the first letters so there's just A-S-S in the background right there clear as day on the baseball card.

There are other unintentional errors that go along the same line. In 1966 and 1967, Claude Raymond had a Topps baseball card. In both different pictures, he had his zipper down. He sitting there ready to catch the ball and it's obvious that his zipper's down. It's funny that he did that two years, back to back.

GM: Are there a lot of people out there who collect these types of cards?

DR: Six months ago, I started an eBay group called Adult Sport Card errors. There are 55 or 60 people who are on there who actively look there for information and new stuff that I find.

GM: Does the fact that the Jets player just got away with something on a card recently mean that this sort of stuff is going to happen more often?

DR: They might be trying it more but I think the quality control is a lot better than it used to be. It used to be in the '80s you have lots of cards with no back on the card, or no front, or the wrong person on the back, or the centering was really off. There used to be a lot of quality-control issues. Since they're charging people more money and the quality of the cards has really picked up, I think they do more in the screening. I think that players still try to get that stuff past, but I think the editors catch that stuff more. I think the last adult-related error that was similar to that was in 1990 or 1991.

GM: Does your physical collection include a lot of these things?

Fred Marion
Relax, it's just a belt.
DR: Yeah. I have almost all of them. There's a few that I don't, just based on the price points. They're out of my league. Like there's a 1990 Pro Set football card for Fred Marion. On that one, the belt from the other guy's pants came undone and it looks like it's his private hanging down. It's just a shadow and the belt. They caught that really quickly and there's only a few that got out. They usually sell for around $200, so that's why I haven't picked that one up yet.

GM: What's your price point? What are you willing to spend for a card?

DR: That's hard to say. On certain Bill Ripken versions I've spent $500 and I never thought in a million years I would have done that. The significance was that I wanted something bad enough that it didn't matter.

GM: Why do you think the baseball-card industry seems to be in decline?

DR: It's hard to say. Once the Bill Ripken card and other cards came out that attracted national headlines and there was money you could make, the companies followed what the collectors wanted: high-dollar stuff. It's just sad, because there are a lot of people who can't afford $5 for a pack of cards—it puts them out of it.

Sadecki
Nothing to see here.
My two boys, it's something I try to instill into them. I buy packs for them to collect. We try to go through every card (my oldest is 11, my youngest is four). We go through and see whether they have a funny name, we read their stats, maybe they're in a funny pose or something. I try to emphasize that this can be fun instead of, "Oh look at what you got. That's worth a hundred bucks. You're rich!" The sad thing is that there's so much emphasis on the price point of it and the money that can be made.

GM: So you wouldn't think of selling any of your stuff?

DR: Most of my older stuff I've sold so I can fund and afford the things I like to buy now. I buy a lot of unopened '89 Fleer packs, looking for the few versions that I still need.

GM: How much money have you spent so far pursuing these Bill Ripken cards?

DR: I've spent a thousand for two cards. I would say that including magazines, cases, etc., about three thousand would be a fair estimate. It's probably more.

GM: Do you ever have any intention of selling them?

DR: That's interesting. I always collected unopened packs or old tobacco cards and thought, "This is the keeper that I want to hand to my children." All that stuff has been sold now to collect the Bill Ripken. I've been doing the Bill Ripken now for four years and it's honestly something that I can say that I know in my heart that it's something I'll never sell, that I'll give to my kids when I don’t feel bad about them seeing the F-word on a card.

GM: So they don't know about it yet?

DR: They don't. They always make jokes around the house all the time: "Daddy loves Bill Ripken," and, "Why do you have so many?" I just tell them that they're all different. They always try to go in my room and look at my display case, and I just kind of shoo them away and say, "Not yet." But honestly, I would never sell them. It's something I really enjoy and for a long time. Now when I get an email from someone who needs help or someone who's got something I need, it just makes my day. For me, Ryan, and John, it's just something that's gotten us back into collecting. It's really fun. We don’t do it for any financial gain or anything like that. It's the thrill of the hunt.

GM: What does your wife think of this?

DR: Um, I've learned to compromise a little with that and limit my time that I spend, because for a while there I was getting kind of addicted to it and spending way too much time. The money's only an issue when the money's tight and she's thinking about the fact that I have $500 baseball cards sitting there. But she understands, and she's been great about it. In the beginning, she didn't understand, but then she saw how much time I put into it and how happy it made me.

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.







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Comments

- Sports
- posted on Feb 06, 07
John Stanley

Dave,
I have one of the Ripken fuck face cards and 1 carton of unopened fleer cards unopened from the same year. What in particular are you looking for with the Ripkin card?
Sincerely John Stanley

- Sports
- posted on Jun 25, 07
Donovan

No not Dave Me !!!!!! lol

Looking for versions we dont have yet or ones we want to upgrade. The FF is not rare as many think and we all have one in great condition. If your version is not the FF let me know.

As for the unopened carton. I might have interest in that. Alot of cases though I have bought were resealed so I would need a few pics.

Happy Hunting,Donovan

- Sports
- posted on Jul 23, 07
Joe Carey

Dave I realize you already have an ff in great condition. I have a clear pack 89 fleer with the ff right on the front of the pack. It is still sealed and has never been opened. Who knows what is inside . If you are interested please contact me.

- Sports
- posted on Aug 08, 07
Donovan

Dave I realize you already have an ff in great condition. I have a clear pack 89 fleer with the ff right on the front of the pack. It is still sealed and has never been opened. Who knows what is inside . If you are interested please contact me.
*******************************************

This is not the Dave that your looking for!!!

There is no Dave. David is the Editor/Co- Founder.
Im interested in the FF if its on a rack pack. LMK thru here or my website. I tried to contact you via here but I cant.
Donovan

- Sports
- posted on Sep 04, 07
CHRIS HANSEN

DAVE,
HAVE YOU SEEN THE PAUL GIBSON 1989 SCORE
CARD IT SHOW THE PLAYER IN THE BACKGROUND
ADJUSTING HIS CUP I HAPPEN TO FIND THIS
CARD GOING THROUGH A WAX BOX.

ALSO WHOULD YOU HAPPEN TO KNOW WHERE I
CAN FIND THE ERRORS TO THE 1990 PROSET
FRED MARION AND DEXTER MANLEY CARDS
IF SO CAN YOU EMAIL ME AT HANSEN101080@YAHOO.COM I'M WILLING TO PAY
A GOOD BUCK FOR THESE CARDS

THANKS

CHRIS HANSEN

- Sports
- posted on Sep 04, 07
David Goldenberg

Hey Chris,

I hadn't seen the 89 Score Gibson, but just found it online (http://tinyurl.com/324l3d). Awesome. Evidently they airbrushed it out later, so your find might be worth something.

As for other errors, I don't know, but try emailing Donovan (who wrote the comment above yours).
Thanks
David

- Sports
- posted on Sep 27, 07
Mark Gairdner

Hello, I have 18 1966-67 Topps Hockey cards. They all have wrong backs, does anyone have infromation about these cards?

- Sports
- posted on Oct 02, 07
Donovan

Marion/Manley- Those two are quite rare. I have seen a couple on ebay in the past few years. They go for alot of coin. I would like the Marion but its too pricey.

Gibson-That card was corrected and due to mass production the error hold little value.

Wrong Backs-Those and blank/wrong back/front were quite common in the 1980's. For your older ones, that would hold more value. Especially to a set collector of that year, oddball,error,variation collector. Not enought to pay your house off but more value than the nornmal card to the right collector.


Happy Hunting

- Sports
- posted on Dec 01, 07
SES

I have a 1990 pro set card of Fred Marion but it is not the one with the belt is it worth anything

- Sports
- posted on Dec 20, 07
Donovan

ses- no, not that much. They printed that card in bulk.

- Sports
- posted on Mar 22, 09
scott

how do i found out if i have dexter manley error card from 1990 pro set

- Sports
- posted on Apr 07, 09
Donovan

The error mentions substance abuse problems on the back of the card.

- Sports
- posted on Feb 19, 11
Charlene Battles

Dave
I have the famous FF card with grey background. I would like to sell. What is the value? Also I have the comic book "The death of Superman" would you know value?

- Sports
- posted on May 15, 11
RICH

have an un-cut sheet of the marion (belt out)card a sheet of ten cards...let me know if you want to see some pdf scans of this sheet...give me your e-mail adress i will send you a scan...rich

- Sports
- posted on May 22, 11
RICH

GIVE ME YOUR E-MAIL ADRESS AND IWILL SEND YOU SOME PDF SCANS OF SOME UN-CUT SHEETS I HAVE OF THE FRED MARION BELT OUT AS WELL AS THE DEXTER MANELY SUBSTANCE MENTIONED CARD ...THANKS

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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