People love printing mistakes. Upside down planes on stamps. Misaligned printings of $20 bills. Some baseball cards are the same way. Below are several styles of mistakes major baseball card brands have made and my favorites of each type.
- The unintentional mistake picture. Claude Raymond and his open fly. Guy adjusting his…er, cup, in the background of a Paul Gibson card. Billy Martin pretty much giving the finger on his card in ’72. Or Billy Ripkin and his @#$% face bat that Fleer had to scramble to fix after the fact, which resulted in a ton of different cards circulating out there—the original swear word card, some where it has been whited out or airbrushed, others where the words are scribbled out, and finally the black box that went out in all the factory sets. On Ripkin’s website, he shows 10 different versions of the card that were printed. There’s also Jim Nettles’ 1990 Pacific card. For his profanity card, he apparently picked up someone else’s bat and he reportedly is not a fan of the card. He’ll sign right over the swear word if you give it to him for an autograph. Also, there are actually more of the swear card than the corrected version, so the clean version is actually worth more (although still not worth a whole lot). Takes a little of the fun out of it if you ask me.
- Reverse negative cards. There have been a few of these, although my favorite makes Hank Aaron a lefty. John Littfield became a southpaw for his card in ’82. Another reverse negative happened in ‘89 with Dale Murphy’s Upper Deck card. There are a few other instances. You would think, that in a sport where being left or right handed truly matters, companies would examine proofs at least a little more carefully than that. But you would be wrong. It’s just funny.
- The wrong guy. Topps switched Carlos Beltran and a not-nearly-as-impressive teammate named Juan LeBron for his first baseball card. Donruss put Johnny Ray’s photo with Barry Bond’s name in ’87 by accident. They caught that one pretty early and switched it. 1969’s Topps card for Aurelio Rodriguez featured the bat boy instead. I always find these mistakes hilarious, because some are actual mistakes on the card company’s behalf, and some are baseball players being baseball players and messing around. These are hands down my favorites.
- Quality control problems. The ’62 Topps Green Tint series where they ran out of ink. The 1990 card without Frank Thomas’ name on it. The ’82 Tops Blackless set. There are a ton of these, in varying rarities and obviousness of their mistakes, and they’re all funny in their own way.
Some of these errors are rare and/or hard to find, and therefore valuable, turning a “nickel card into a $30 dollar card,” as Billy Ripken said. Others, while hilarious, aren’t worth that much. Others can be valuable if you have the whole set. It’s one of the things I like about baseball cards: when you’re paying attention, you’ll never know what you see.