Readers over the age of 28 or so will almost definitely remember this very famous Billy Ripken card for at least two reasons: (1) because it was worth a whole bunch of money, and (2) because it had a swear on it and swears, according to all manner of research, are awesome.
In an interview with Bo of weblog Baseball Cards Come to Life!, longtime Fleer photograher Steve Babineau explains how the Ripken card happened.
I shot the Billy Ripken card – it was definitely not intentional. I was at Fenway, and everyone is out there doing BP. Billy is the only one wearing a game uniform with the number in the front. Everyone else is wearing their orange BP top. For everyone else I would need to make sure there was an identifying marker like a glove, or I would take their picture as they walked away to get their uniform number. I didn’t have to magnify Ripken’s card because the number was clearly visible. In the past Fleer used to send us full color sheets, which we would use to check for reverse negatives and other problems with the picture.
That year, to save money, they just sent us blueprints that were in three shades of blue. Your eyes don’t focus on something like that. After the card came out, my boss called me and told me to look at the knob of the bat. “Please tell me it says ‘slick face,’” he said to me. I had to look at it with the magnifying glass and tell him that that was not what it said.
The next year the first team I went to see at Spring Training was the Orioles, playing the Expos in West Palm Beach. I went up to Billy and he says “Thanks for making a nickel card into a thirty dollar card!” He told me he started using that bat as a BP bat on a road trip in Detroit or Cleveland before coming to Fenway. He said it was his brother that wrote that on his bat. I heard that he actually started signing that card for kids but had to stop.
As you can see from the other image here — one featuring the principal figures in baseball’s memorable Pine Tar Incident — not all of Babineau’s photos included swear words.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.