Your Turn: What’s your favorite sports card error or variation?

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By Chris Olds | Beckett Sports Card Monthly Editor

People make mistakes.

If you study the entire history of sports cards, you can easy see that this simple statement holds true. From tobacco cards to today’s releases, there are often mistakes that are made as human beings prepare our cardboard.

Sometimes the mistakes are on purpose — we’ll see some of those as homages to 1965 Topps when 2014 Topps Heritage arrives later this week — but most of the time they are not. For myself, seeing two versions of the same sports card side by side have always had a kind of mystifying effect as a collector. I’m not one to hunt through 5,000-count boxes to find new mistakes, but I am one to always stop and look to see which version of a card have if I know it has an error and a variation. (Basic lesson: A variation card is created when an error is corrected — and sometimes that spawns more than two cards. Typically, the rarer version will sell for more.)

For the next issue of Beckett Sports Card Monthly, we’ll be revisiting errors and variations as something different for collectors of all sports to chew on — something that’s partly in the past, partly in the present but completely fun. (At least to some of us.)



As part of that package, we want to know which errors and variations stand out in the minds of you guys, our readers. While I’ve never actively called myself an E&V collector, I tend to keep any that come my way — whether it’s the standard kind of cataloged E&V or some type of botched print job. One fun pairing? The 1990-91 Hoops Sam Vincent cards above. One shows a Chicago Bulls player in the foreground of the photo who you might recognize — that’s Michael Jordan wearing No. 12 when his jersey was stolen before a game years ago in Orlando. For whatever reason, the card was corrected. In this case, the error — perhaps because it’s Jordan — typically sells for $4 or less. The other one? Well, there’s really no reason to charge for it.

Tell us which error cards in the past — from any sport — strike you as memorable. Maybe it’s the 1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy RevNeg card — that’s price guide-speak for “reversed negative,” aka a flipped photograph. Maybe it’s something else. We want to hear which mistakes are memorable in all sports from all eras, whether it’s tobacco cards or modern-day mistakes that aren’t corrected because print runs are so short compared to the past. Tell us what you enjoy about errors and variations if you happen to specialize in this niche.

We’ll run a selection of your answers in the issue alongside other stories and items about mistakes that were made and fixed in the past.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball and Beckett Sports Card Monthly magazines. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.


How about the entirety of the 1991 Upper Deck set? With it’s multiple error holograms on the back. Some even had 1992 Upper Deck MLB’s logo!

Posted March 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
Tracy LeVeaux

The greatest error card of all-time is the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken card. Hands down. No other error card such controversy in the mainstream media. To this day, it remains a popular card. Runner-up: 2007 Topps Derek Jeter with Mantle & Bush. Technically, this was “corrected” for the factory sets. Those should be more valuable than they are.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

fred marion pro set cracks me up

Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink
Richard Hogenson

1987 Donruss Opening Day Johnny Ray/Barry Bonds. I bought that card for $2.00 at a garage sale.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

Billy Ripken-hands down! I heard a story that Billy was in Boston-and another player wrote the imfamous “FF” on his bat knob as a joke. Billy-at first-acknowledged that indeed, he knew it was there- hence the big smile with the bat knob clearly facing the camera shot.
However, as several fines and lawsuits were pending, he has denied knowing about this.
Being the character Billy was-and still is- my guess is that he knew about this prank all along.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
Patrick Flores

1982 Fleer John Littlefield pitching lefty while he is actually a right handed pitcher. That error card have held its ground for years as the memorable error card until Dale Murphy 1989 Upper Deck reverse came along. The Littlefield one is considered my favorite, sure cuz I’m biased that I own the PSA 10 error card of him right now.


Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

I always liked the infamous 2003 Topps Bong Puffer card.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

The 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF. Its one of the more memorable ones that holds a significant value

Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink
David Johnson

There are so many errors that came up in the late 80s and early 90s it almost seemed like card companies were doing them on purpose in hopes of generating more excitement about their products. It took off in 1989 with all the errors in Fleer and Upper Deck, but the Bill Ripken FF card definitely took center stage. The next year there was the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF card, which got insanely high prices for an error card. Nothing has really come close since.
However it wasn’t just baseball, in football Pro Set was full of errors in 1989 and 1990. It also seemed like in basketball Michael Jordan was a target of several errors/variations, aside from the Sam Vincent card already covered the 1992-93 Upper Deck Slam Dunk error was one of the biggest error cards in basketball, however it has since dropped dramatically in price.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

my favorite is the (I think) 2006 Topps card calling Pete Mackinan Lloyd McClendon. Yes, both were interim Pirates managers but how do you mix a white guy and a black guy who’s a lot younger.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

1. A: 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken

1. B: 1989 Upper Deck Dale Murphy

Enough said

And nice article and thanks!

And anytime there is a pic of 89 upper deck cards it gets me going.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
Vaughn Lamore

2011 Topps Heritage A-Rod sp variation reverse negative is the one I like the most….probably because I’ll never get a chance to own one but that’s the fun of collecting and the challenges put forth by the hobby!

Posted March 3, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

Jake Peavy rookie cards. Where his name is spelled Peavey and on the one of him, Phil Wilson, and Darwin Cublian, Jake has some of Wilson’s information

Posted March 3, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

When he played for the Jets I picked up the “gang sign/bird finger” Leon Washington rookie auto. He claimed it was a thing his boys did back home. Some people thought it was a gang sign.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
Matt Duckworth

For me the ultimate error/variation card is the 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card.
There are at least 10 variations of the card. I can’t think of another card that has that many variations.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

The first error I remember chasing around as a kid was the 1979 Topps Bump Wills ERR.

The 1989 UD Dale Murphy ERR is a personal favorite as Murphy is my favorite player.

The 1957 Topps Hank Aaron UER is also a favorite. Good job by Topps screwing up an all-time great in his lone MVP season.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

I was a fan of the Jeter/Bush from 2007 Topps. I bought more blasters than I care to say, and ended up trading for one with a friend . It’s only a fraction of the price now.

Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink
Nick Mikulicich Jr.

1964 Topps #561, David Bennett/Rick Wise rookie
Why: because of the text on the back – “The 19-year-old righthanded curveballer is just 18 years old!”

Posted March 3, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

My favorite error card would have to be the Scott Garrelts/Bill Bathe photo error card from 1990. Got the error version of Bill Bathe in a pack before even finding out it was an error. After hearing about the incorrect photo used on the first version; hunted down and purchased the corrected version at a card show so I would have both. Favorite variation cards ( that I own) are the two players signing autograph variations in 2012 Topps series two of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Go Phillies!! (had to get that in there!). Favorite variation that I don’t own, that is on my short bucket list would have to be the 2013 Topps football photo variation of Cam Newton doing his famous touchdown Superman pose. Go Panthers!! (had to get that in there, as well!) Happy collecting everyone!!

Posted March 4, 2014 at 9:41 am | Permalink

It’s not a sports card, but my favorite has to be the 1977 Topps Star Wars C-3PO “GOLDENROD” card…..If you aren’t familiar, it’s similar to the Fred Marion “belt” card.

Posted March 4, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

Hilarious error, and it can be had for under $20!

1977 Topps Star Wars #207 C-3PO

Look it up. Enjoy!

Posted March 4, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

It’s not an error per se, but trying to track down the different versions of Randy Johnson’s “Marlboro” Fleer card has given me such a headache.

Posted March 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

The 1989 Fleer Ripken is, and will likely be, the only error card in my collection. I kind of like the “infamy” (for lack of a better word) of of it. Maybe “controversial” better describes it.

Posted March 5, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink
ralph mccullough

love most of those as mentioned i have sorted and organized some boxes lately i have found a 2005 topps total ttc29 vernon wells that should be a roy halladay / a 1991-92 pro set bobby smith 289 that has glenn anderson on the front/ a 1991-92 bob bassen #221 that has mike ridley on the front and my new favorite 1993-94 classic four sport gold #191 grant hill that has mark johnsons name on the front ..beckett has no pricing variations on these , tought i would share…i like the fav is the ripken got both…fun to find them when sorting though ;)

Posted March 5, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

I either have to go with 2006 Alex Gordon or as many of you have probably chosen 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken

Posted March 5, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

Surprised no one has mentioned the 1990 Score Ryne Sandberg error. Or the 1969 Clayton Dalrymple variations, one with the Orioles and one with the Phillies. Actually not surprised no one mentioned Clayton’s card.

I think the Billy Ripken is the most famous (infamous).

Do I get bonus points for spelling Dalrymple correctly?

Posted March 6, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

Clearly the winner has to be the infamous Billy Ripken “FF” card; I still have one that I pulled from a box back in the day. I can’t think of any other error card that gained near the notoriety that one did.

My personal favorite would have to be the 1982 Topps Pascual Perez card with no position printed on the front. That was the first error card I ever found, in that case while sitting on the floor in the spare bedroom of my grandparents’ apartment. I didn’t even realize that it was an official error card until I bought my first price guide several years later.

Also, while I don’t believe it was ever corrected, the 1985 Topps Gary Pettis card featuring a picture of his younger brother at least deserves an honorable mention.

Posted March 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

89 Score Paul Gibson variation. Still pretty funny.

Posted March 7, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

bill ripken is the most memorable…but the juan gonzalez reverse negative ud is still one of my favorites

Posted March 9, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
Jason K

I’m kinda surprised nobody mentioned the numerous variations of the Nolan Ryan cards in the 1990 Donruss set.

Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
Kevin Wolf

This has to be the 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken card. There are potentially 30 or more different versions of this card, many of which collectors have probably never even seen. When one also considers all the different Randy Johnson Marlboro cards, it makes one wonder who was minding the store at Fleer back in 1989? Although 1989 Fleer is cheap to purchase today, it still brings a smile to my face to pull an error or rare correction from a Fleer pack to this day!

Posted March 16, 2014 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
Will Autry

I’d have to go with the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken FF card. I remember the interest it sparked in collectors and non collectors alike. Even a few mom and pop stores started selling packs for a dollar each!

Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:14 am | Permalink
Nat Mitchell

The hands down best error/variation cards are the 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson Marlboros. For one, there are far more variations of that card than any other card ever produced and its not even close. Secondly, they are pretty scarce, in a time period where nearly every other card was massively over produced. Fleer was printing the common version of the Johnson long before the Ripken errors were corrected. A ton of mystery still surrounds the cards and a lot of people don’t even know they exsist. How many other rare rookie cards of a HOF player from the 80’s can you buy? I would add a few to your collections, you’ll thank me in 20 years.

Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

It appears it’s been a while for any new error favorites mentioned. Here’s my top 3!

1. The #207 Topps Star Wars error of C3PO from the 1977 set. Let’s not forget, this card was even
refused to be graded by PSA for a very, very long time. Not until PSA changed their mind and decided
to start grading it in 2013, had any PSA graded ones even appeared on the market.

2. The #274 UD Vintage from the 2002 set of Home Run Leaders. Not even mentioned so far? Come on,
where can you find the wrong color (red instead of yellow), missing names of the players (NNOF?),
American League printed on the front front instead of National League, but with the correct back stating
National League. So, so wrong in so many different ways! Should escalate in value someday with so many
things wrong with it.

3. Another not mentioned card. The Topps 2004 Traded HTA #T221 Barry Bonds Card with the NNOF or
as Beckett has graded it as “Missing Foil”. Check out on ebay what these are going for currently. Not that many
around. And with it being of Barry Bonds, you know his rookie card’s status. Even if he doesn’t make it into
the Hall of Fame, this card and the one above should hold some value. Look at Pete Rose cards even with his

Posted January 10, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. with a front side photo of Bob Welch in black & white on the reverse side…
I’ve never seen another like it!!!!!
If anyone can provide information to enlighten me, please feel to reach out at, theemambamvp24 ((aol))
Some say it’s a test proof, others say it’s a promo, others say it’s scrap, others called it an error…
I don’t know who or what to believe!!!!

Posted February 1, 2015 at 7:30 am | Permalink

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