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Revisiting Billy Ripken & other memorable errors in next Beckett Baseball

We were all set to feature a montage of the most memorable error cards of the last 30 years or so on the cover of the next issue of Beckett Baseball (No. 54) coming your way soon.

Revisiting Billy Ripken, the unraveling mystery of the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas and more are nestled  inside its pages.

But this guy named Stephen Strasburg arrived in the major leagues and forced his way into our lineup on a few pages — and the cover of the magazine after his 14-strikeout, no-walk performance in his major league debut.

As part of those adjustments, we sacrificed some stuff there so you can have it here — one small part of that equation being a chat with a collector who is dedicated to discovering the story behind the famed Ripken error card (one of its many corrections seen here).

His name is Donovan Ryan and he lives in Bakersfield, Calif., and he’s the brains behind billripken.com, a repository for everything Ripken.

Beckett acknowledges five versions of the card — the error, a whiteout version (rarest), white scribble, black scribble and the black box. However with the cards printed at more than one location there are very minor differences between some of the fixes. Ryan notes some of those “other” versions on his site, which we will also show to you in the magazine. (Realistically, since most collectors don’t know there are differences, there’s no substantial established value for the variations of, say, the black scribble … yet.)

We posed to Ryan a few questions — one being what would he ask readers out there who might know more about the card. Perhaps one of those long-lost behind the scenes workers at Fleer finally would want to talk just like Ripken did awhile back and give the world the real story behind the card?

Or maybe what’s out there is all that’s known …

Ryan, who has collected cards since 1987 but admits to taking a “nine-year vacation” away from the hobby, re-discovered the Ripken card in 2004.

Billy Ripken devotee Donovan Ryan & son, Jacob.

“I ran into a FF version on eBay in 2004 as I was still searching for the right niche,” he said. ” It was a printing flaw missing some ink. It was cheap enough, $40, so I grabbed it and set out to get all the versions. I then located all of the ones that the guides listed, then more. Then more.

“That’s where it got fun for me. Setting out to find all of them, articles, stories etc and learn to seperate the real from the fake. ”

While digging for new information about a 21-year-old baseball card isn’t getting any easier, Ryan said he’s enjoying the chase.

“I’m not in any rush to find everything,” he said, “because honestly once I did, I’m unsure if I could find another niche I enjoy as much as this one.”

So, what would Ryan want to know about the Ripken card at this stage?

— “If you sent Fleer a FF or a saw cut card, they would issue you a replacement along with a letter. I’m looking for a scan of that letter and which version you would receive.”

— “I own a card that has all the traits of a counterfeit — different cropping, thinner card stock, different print dot pattern, enlarged Orioles logo, most noticeable the bird and registration symbol, different font on some of the text on back and more. So this was not just a copy but a card that was made. I’ve owned numerous versions and network consistently with other E&V collectors and never have seen another. I’m wondering if others have a similar printed FF cards or other 1989 Fleer cards.”

— The Whiteout. A rare version that can easily be replicated. I’ve heard stories of this card being pulled from two of the three packaging types. But no proof it was not just a back-doored version. I’ve never seen one top or bottom of a unopened pack. Someone has to have one right?”

Perhaps our readers out there can help. Let us know if you have any firm information about these things.

The Ripken error really wasn’t the driving force behind us trying an issue focusing on something different — the recent discoveries of other black-ink variations related to the 1990 Topps Thomas was one  along with the seemingly constant flow of questions we get about errors and variations.

We take a quick look at this collecting niche — a large niche at that — in the magazine. Look for it soon.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an e-mail to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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