Two years ago, lots of people wanted a Bill Ripken baseball card. That he was a Baltimore Oriole and had grown up in Aberdeen would account for a certain popularity in the Baltimore area, although he had hit only .207 in 1988.
But his 1989 Fleer card (No. 616) appeared with an obscenity on the bat knob.
Once this was reported, and Fleer announced that it would recall and correct the cards, people who had not owned cards since childhood -- and some who never had owned a card -- thought they had found an investment opportunity.
They lined up, often there to greet card dealers as they opened their shops. And they paid -- up to $150.
It's still a relatively expensive card, but worth only a fraction of what some people paid two years ago.
It carries a catalog value of from $12 (February Beckett's Baseball Card Monthly, February Tuff Stuff, December Sports Card Trader) to $18 (Jan. 21 Baseball Card News), but that is less than it can be purchased for in the Baltimore area.
Interest in and inventories of the card vary.
"We sell them on a regular basis," says Don Bevans at All Star Cards in Baltimore. "People still ask for it on a regular basis. . . . It's still a novelty to some people." Two years ago, Bevans got $75 for a Ripken error card; now, he sells them for $22.50.
"We get it in, and it goes," says Glenn Herndon of Jeff's Dugout in Ellicott City, whose stock was depleted before Christmas, with the cards going for between $19 and $24.
At Straightaway Center in Glen Burnie, Harry Sponseller, who sold one two years ago for $50, has a couple of cards marked at $17. "The [wax] packs [that the error card was found in] still sell," he says.
"I could sell one a month for $25 or $30 apiece," says Robert Fickus at Baseball Unlimited in Rosedale. Most of his requests come from collectors filling out sets.
At Hit & Run Cards in Aberdeen, the last Ripken error card was sold a year ago, and there are none in stock. "There hasn't been much demand," says Eric Zwiebelman. At the height of the craze, the card went for $125 there. "His [Ripken's] mom even came in the shop [to see the card]," but she didn't buy one.
Perry's Baseball Card X-Change in Baltimore is on a dealer computer network, but Paul Botwinik sees little interest in the Ripken card from out of town. "We sell some now and then," he says. He sold them for as high as $125, but now sells them at $40 to $50.
The drop in price doesn't surprise some dealers.
"It's not something I like to sell," says Joe Bosley of The Old Ball Game in Reisterstown. "That's what I told people when they were getting those astronomical prices. . . . At this point in time, it's just a novelty."
"We were discouraging our regular customers from buying it," says Tom Blair at Jay's Sports Connection in Towson, where the card once commanded $150 and was $30 to $40 last summer. "We didn't think anything would come of it. . . . You really couldn't see anything [on the bat knob]."
Bill Tanner at Baseball Card Outlet in Dundalk, whose top price was $30, says: "I never sold them when they were hot. I didn't think they were worth the price everyone was getting for them."
Most dealers got their original inventory by opening cases of cello and wax packs they had intended to put out for sale.
Two cautions: The version of the card with the knob whited out has a catalog value greater than that of the Fleer set ($50 vs. $28 in Baseball Hobby News, $40 vs. $30 in Beckett), but beware of erased cards. Feel the surface to be sure it has a uniform gloss. And never ask Ripken to sign the error card. He always refuses, although he is happy to sign other cards.
Score hockey sets are available, and they include five cards of Eric Lindros, the junior hockey standout and probable No. 1 draft pick, not available in the wax packs. . . . Score's 110-card baseball update set is in, too, and includes Cecil Fielder, Sandy Alomar Jr., Lindros (during a tryout with the Minnesota Twins), New York Mets prospect D.J. Dozier (the back shows his three-year Minnesota Vikings statistics, no baseball numbers) and Orioles Chris Hoiles and David Segui.
Today, Baltimore-Washington Sports Collectibles Show, Holiday Inn BWI Airport, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Jan. 19, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 20, 964-8022.
ZTC Today, Sports card show, Glen Burnie Elks Hall, Severna Park, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 922-8366.
Saturday, Cecil County Babe Ruth League baseball card show, Cecil CC, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., 301-287-3151 or 301-287-2163.
Saturday, Sports card show, Security Holiday Inn, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 922-8366.
Feb. 2-3, Spring Training Celebration and Card Show, Caravel Academy, 2801 Del Laws Road, Bear, Del., 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., (302) 834-6825.
Feb. 3, Sports card show, Freedom District Fire Hall, Sykesville, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 922-8366.
Feb. 3, Sports card show, Towson Quality Inn, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.