To Err is Human, To Find One is Prosperous.
Errors are as much a part of baseball as any other part of the game, and on some occasions, they are downright hilarious. Even the most tepid baseball fan can find enjoyment in sitting back and laughing at those blooper reels that they show on the jumbo screen in between innings of a game. Although there is something ironic about a group of people that were most likely cut from their middle school JV baseball teams laughing at the most gifted athletes on the planet, there is entertainment value in a good error. The Washington Nationals spelled their own names wrong on their jerseys (for one night they were the “Natinals”) and it broke the internet. So finding sports card errors or something out of the ordinary, or dare I say tawdry, makes them special and collectible.
Let’s start with the mistakes. A near-mint 1990 Topps Frank Thomas card goes for about ten grand partly because they forgot to put his damn name on the card (and partly because it was his rookie card. Welcome to the show, kid!) Just a blank blue rectangle where a name should be. Maybe Topps was trying to say something.
Within four years, “The Big Hurt ” would win back-to-back American League MVPs and would need no introduction. Topps was just ahead of the curve.
Speaking of names, during his twenty-two-year career, nobody had a more confusing name than infielder Graig Nettles. Is it Graig? Is it Craig? Who the hell could keep that straight? Certainly not Fleer who in 1981 had “Graig” on the front and “Craig” on the back.
The 1989 Upper Deck “Reverse Negative” version of a Dale Murphy card is a fun one that a die-hard fan actually got the slugger to sign backward.
And finally, a card that revolves around a man that knows a thing or two about making mistakes concerning baseball, Barry Bonds. Long before he was a scandal tornado with a distorted head that rivaled The Great Gazoo, Barry Bonds was perched to be the fresh young face of baseball. But on a 1987 Donruss card, it wasn’t his face at all.
Donruss issued his card with the smiling mug of slick-fielding veteran second baseman Johnny Ray instead of Bonds and a mint condition one can fetch about three grand these days.
But those are just mistakes. They’re cute and all, but they aren’t as funny, head-scratching, or downright as offensive as some of these collectibles. Ever wish there were more cards with players milking cows? Rex Hudler had you covered in 1996. How about baseball chronicling the invention of the cell phone? You know the ones. They’d give you a hernia to pick up and were only available to the uber-rich like Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street” or to the police like Danny Glover in “Lethal Weapon.”
Devil’s in the Details
The card community did their best to document the evolution of the technology with entries of Rickey Henderson, Todd Zeile, and Cal Ripken, Jr. A 1989 Score Paul Gibson card features a Tigers teammate “adjusting” himself in the background as either his cup was bothering him or the Tiger Stadium organist had broken into a thrilling rendition of “Bad” by Michael Jackson. Shamone, my good man. Shamone all the livelong day.
Several players displayed their lack of subtlety as they not so discreetly flashed the middle finger in their cards as Billy Martin, not known for his candor or couth, did in 1972 as manager. But the all-time legend in this category is card number 616 of the 1989 Fleer set. It has come to be called the “F#*k Face” card, and it features Orioles infielder Billy Ripken posing with the knob of his bat facing the camera.
Many players write their jersey number or something indicative to them on the knob making it easier to find in the bat rack. Ripken explains that he received a delivery of bats that were the wrong model and too heavy to be used in a game. But being the apparent conservationist that he is, Ripken figured he would use them for batting practice so they were not wasted.
Rather than confuse them with his game use bats, he wrote “F#*k Face” on the knob, and just so happened to be holding one when his picture was posed for his Fleer card that year. It made it past every proofreader and check in the system to be released en masse and go down in history as one of the most infamous baseball cards ever manufactured.
Not long ago, pop culture went into a frenzy when someone left a coffee cup in a scene on “Game of Thrones.” It’s hard to argue that the best part of any Jackie Chan movie is the three minutes of credits where we get to see him hurt himself over and over again. People get excited when something doesn’t go as planned, and sometimes that creates a niche in collecting.
The Infamous Golden Rod
In Star Wars card collecting, one of the most valuable items around is card number 207 which depicted C-3PO coming out of an oil bath which he really enjoyed…a lot. On the card, he earns his nickname “Golden Rod.” Anthony Daniels explains how this happened, but no one really cares because C-3PO’s got a boner!
A Menendez Special Appearance
I save my favorite example of these kinds of cards for last, though. It’s the best because of its nefarious nature. The card is from 1990 and it features the New York Knicks’ Marc Jackson. To glance at it you may think it is an ordinary card, just a player driving up the court with the crowd in the background. But it is what lurks in that background that makes this card so chilling.
Pictured courtside is a pair of brothers. Brothers that not so long before this picture was taken had murdered their parents in cold blood. The Menendez Brothers, to be exact. Let’s think about this for a minute. This picture was taken at a Knicks game after these men had ended their parents’ lives with 12-gauge shotguns for inheritance money that they found out they would not be receiving. They then spent some of that money on courtside tickets to games that they attended just like every other fan that hadn’t slaughtered their parents, and they don’t look like they’ve lost any sleep over it.
It’s a snapshot of a place where pure evil meets the frivolity of sports, captured forever on 6.4cm by 8.9 cm cardstock.
Which is your favorite of the sports card errors? Tell us about it in the comments!
*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not reflect investment advice on behalf of GoCollect.