1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381 Marlbroro Variations (UPD 5/8/2020; UPD 10/1/2021)

10 Aug

To Beckett, PSA, SCD, et all,


There are at least 8 different versions of this card. Let’s say 8 for those who disagree with the minutia often inherent in variation cards, however, truthfully, there are at least 13 distinct versions.

Here we are, some 22 years after it’s discovery (1999 if you take the word of Beckett’s Annual Price Guide editors), 32 years after its release and this card is still causing confusion and trouble. Its origin remains murky as no former Fleer reps have gone on record to explain why this card was changed or why it took Fleer so many different tries to get it right. Even stranger is that this is not a legend’s brother’s second-year card or a journeyman reliever’s card, this is the rookie card of one of the game’s greatest pitchers and yet very little hard info exists on it. And what little info that does is in need of regular updates. It seems that collectors have settled on “Randy didn’t like the sign…” as reason for the changes, however, I am not convinced due to production timeline)

I can’t tell you for certain how many variations exist on this card, because just like it’s more famous relative, 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken #616, new varieties are still being discovered. But it’s safe to say that Fleer altered this card at least 12 different times! I’ve spent more time than you can imagine, squinting at poor-quality scans of this card on ebay over the last 20 years now. I know a lot about the different varieties, or I should say, I thought I knew a lot, but then I met, and began discussing this card, with an avid collector named Kevin, who has compiled an impressive collection of the varieties, including the first known copy featuring a completely-clear Marlboro sign (another copy turned up in late 2019, PSA graded; yet another turned up in September 2021, now also a PSA 9) Kevin’s knowledge as well as the expertise of several collectors on the Net54 forums have helped keep my interest in this variation alive, specifically it’s proper cataloging in the “big books” and with PSA’s registry, in turn (all these years later and still the cataloging and labeling of them is a huge mess full of inconsistent and incorrect information). 

Let’s take a look a some of the many, many different varieties available. This article will not cover every version, especially considering how many distinct varieties do not scan well.  Plus, I will be updating it with new images and notes on versions not listed here, as they become available. For now, here are the basics:



A very close up pic of the “Clear” Marlboro version. For obvious reasons, this is believed to be the first version of card 381 produced. Un-tinted (aside from natural lighting/shadows), unedited and extremely scarce. To date, just three copies have been confirmed. Quite possibly the rarest, pack-issued junk era variation. As it stands, far scarcer than the iconic Frank Thomas NNOF print flaw. 

This is typically what get’s labeled, bought and sold as the “Marlboro” or “Ad Visible” version. Long thought that this was among the clearest types out there. Sign is pretty visible, very low levels of green or red tinting (we’ll talk about that later).

As you can see on this “Red Tint” version, the sign has received a darkening effect of some kind. As if a reddish filter was placed over just the sign area. Certain features of the sign, such as the cowboy and lettering appear to be muddled with an even darker red coloring.


One of the rarest and more recent discoveries is the “Blue Tint” version, the sign has received an aqua-colored mask effect of some kind. As if a blue/green filter was placed over just the sign area. Certain features of the sign, such as the cowboy and lettering appear fairly visible still. Note the small amount of stray color on Randy’s ear.

This looks very similar to the previous red tint cards but there are a handful of subtle differences. I’m not 100% sold that this is a completely separate variety than the one listed above but something about the tinting, specifically around the lettering on the sign stands out to me when compared to the above card (especially in person).

And now, things start to get weirder. At some point – or possibly a result of Fleer using multiple printing facilities, Fleer proofers added a very green tint to the sign (note the bubble by the cowboy, especially how you can see the white of the logo – you’ll see the bubble again later…). Like the muddled red versions above, there are varying versions that are similar enough to not warrant their separate cataloging but an understandable challenge for the completest. It should be noted that the green tint varieties are among the tougher to acquire (…may no longer be true?). This type is commonly referred to as the “Green Tint” version.

Again, like the Billy Ripken card, this proves so frustrating that that Fleer decides to crudely scribble over the offending sign:

Probably one of the tougher correction varieties, this appropriately-labeled “Black Scribble” version can be a bear to track down. I’ve seen fewer copies of this type, though many more over the last five+ years than anytime prior, I would guess that this is a short-run, transitional type, much like the “White Scribble” Billy Ripken variation. Note the prominent red still present at the top right of the sign.


An example of a “green tint” variety with the “Black Bar” correction through the Marlboro lettering. Beneath the black ‘bar’ you can see what appears to be a dark red scribble over the word Marlboro, which leads me to believe that this version came after the “Green Scribble” (above).


Here we have an example of the “Negative” or “Stencil” version. In this pic is the red tinted type (a scarce blue tint type was also produced). Notice that the white area of the Marlboro logo is has been recolored a dark red color leaving the greenish-black color of the letters and the cowboy to stand out quite a bit. 

One of Fleer’s other tricks was to place a “box” around just the Marlboro logo in the background. I have found that these vary in size and in some cases, you can see the word ‘Marlboro’ through the box with a good light source. This card pictured is a “Green Box” version. The overall tint or color to the box is greenish.

“Red Box” without bubble. Pretty much the same idea as above but using a reddish tone to cover the offending portion of the background. These come in several shades with many minor varieties to them leaving it up to the collector as to whether or not they should be cataloged separately. These are fairly common among the non “Blacked-Out” types.

“Red Box” with “bubble.” There are a handful of differences between this and the card pictured above, most notably the bubble by where the cowboy should be. This bubble shows up on a few of the different correction attempts and is always in the same place. This would suggest that something was obstructing that spot of one of the printing plates even throughout changes to the background! A mysterious little fingerprint left to aid in the unraveling of this card’s production origins.

This card. Not sure what it should labeled. Maybe “Dark Red Box?” I’ve seen fewer of these than either of the above-mentioned “box” varieties. In person, this card looks almost like the final, “Blacked Out” version but it isn’t. An exceptional light source will reveal that it has a triangular black shape over the lettering that looks almost identical to the “Green Scribble.” This version seems to have also cleaned up all those little edges, bubbles and bright spots on the other “box” varieties. A bizarre version that needs further study.


Final corrected version? Nope. While this unusual (and seemingly quite rare) version passes all the light and angle/tilt tests, there is no visible residue of the sign, tints or corrections to it, at first glance this solid blacked-out card appears to be the very common, final version (see below) but it is, in fact, not. Notice the tell tale sign of pre-final correction: the small gap between sign top and Randy’s head. 

This is the most common type found. In fact, these have been pulled out of boxes that contain the Bill Ripken “Fuck Face” error, a testament to how quickly all these changes were made to this card. This is the “Blacked Out” version, the final version, using a similar method of correction as card #616 – a full black-out of the offensive area. This is the version most frequently found for sale and it’s also the version that comes out of factory sets (they were produced last).

Hopefully you’ve found this tutorial useful. It is my goal to get these recognized by the big guides and one day come to a final tally on the different variations. *Probably never going to happen*

Remember, even though this card comes from a massively overproduced set, it’s still the rookie card of a future Hall-of-Famer, with 5 Cy Young Awards, a perfect game, a no-hitter, 300+ wins, 4800+ Ks, 10-time All-Star and World Series MVP! I think given the rarity of some of these variations, it’s a no-brainer that Randy’s scarcest RC is found within the 1989 Marlboro varieties. Imagine if Nolan Ryan or even Roger Clemens had 10+ variations of varying rarity affecting their rookie?

UPDATE 8/13:

Just received this today:

This looks especially “blacked-out” around just the lettering of “Marlboro.” At this point, I am unsure if this qualifies for a new, unique variation, but check out this comparison shot next to the 1st version mentioned above, aka, the Marlboro version:

randy negative

Negative/Stencil ‘Box’ Variation

RJ Clear 9:21 Find

September 2021 Clear Variation Find

89frj-red box-auto

TTM/IP Auto’d Box Variation

UPDATE 5/8/2020; 10/1/2020:

At this point, I think it is safe to say that the order of rarity fluctuates constantly. Versions I used to encounter often ten years ago are hardly seen today plus the addition of several recent discoveries keeps the effort to rank these cards somewhat impossible. Keep in mind that this list are my ’13 categories’ that the thousands of copies I have reviewed fall into with acceptance for some degree of variance in ink and color. I do not count stray dots, fisheyes or any of the print flaw cards that weren’t a result of editors attempting to cover the area:

1.) Clear sign (three known copies to date)

2.) Blue/Aqua tint, very visible MARLBORO 

3.) Green scribble B (taller, narrower scribble area)

4.) Green tint, black bar through MARLBORO only

5.) Green scribble A (shorter, wider scribble area)

5.) Light tint, solid black bar through MARLBORO only

6.) Negative/Stencil box (area surrounding MARLBORO blacked out, cowboy and letters greenish)

   **Where the blue “stencil” variation fits remains TBD**

7a.) Green Tint A (light tinting, letters visible)

7b.) Green Tint B (dark tinting, letters muddled)

8.) Standard Marlboro version (no red or green tint but visible letters – variations within this variation exist)

9). Red tint (variations exist within this variation)

10.) Blackened sign, gap between Randy’s head and top of sign (typically these cards have a fully       blacked out background without a gap between Randy’s head and the top of the sign, this version has  recently appeared and is not to be confused with a darkened, red or green box version)

11.) Red box (‘bubble’ variations within exist)

12.) Green box (‘bubble’ variations within exist)

13.) Blackened sign, no gap between Randy’s head and top of sign (common correction)

***Really, who knows…***

FYI, all images in this blog are scans of variations previously owned by me, currently owned by me, contributed by fellow Marlboro enthusiast experts (thank you) and the lone exception being the “Clear Sign” copy. I look forward to posting more varieties as they come into my possession so keep checking back to this article periodically.


31 Responses to “1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381 Marlbroro Variations (UPD 5/8/2020; UPD 10/1/2021)”

  1. richtree October 27, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    found the pink dot on the Expos version…..I have 4 or 5 of these so it is a full run…

    I put 3 on ebay if someone wants to see the pictures – there is a zoom picture….


    • Cliffton June 7, 2022 at 8:52 pm #

      Here’s what I got so far, about 80% complete, frankly don’t care anymore about what gets posted or not, #10 I now have acquired, it’s by far the coolest variation i’ve ever seen (is not listed here), makes the blue ones you post look like corrected versions. Imma come out with pictures/descriptions when I hit 95% complete which will be within the next couple months that fully discloses the entire process and which versions happened when & why. Appreciate the little bit of nfo you provided. Late- C.

      1: Clear Sign.
      2: Light Blue Tint over bottom half of Sign.
      3: Green Tint over Sign.
      4: Red tint over sign/green background/green circle around first O in Marlboro.
      5: Red tint over sign/black background/green circle around first O in Marlboro.
      6: Red tint over sign/green+black background/NO green circle around first O in Marlboro.
      7: Marlboro Scribbled out in Red, Dark Green Spotted around Scribble.
      8: Marlboro Scribbled out in Red, Dark Green Spotted around Scribble/Green Haze over entire background.
      9: Marlboro Scirbbled out in Black, Dark Green Spotted around Scribble.
      10: Marlboro Scribbled out in Red, Light Green Solid around Scribble.
      11: Green Letters of Marlboro Visible, Top Sign in Green/Bottom Sign in Dark Blue.
      12: Entire Sign Blocked out in Red, Green Letters of Marlboro Visible.
      13: Box V.1 Box in Green (No part of sign or Marlboro Visible, Only Box)
      14: Box V.2 Box in Red (No part of sign or Marlboro Visible, Only Box)
      15: Box V.3 Box in Pink (No part of sign or Marlboro Visible, Only Box)
      16: Box V.4 Box in Black (No part of sign or Marlboro Visible, Only Box)
      17: Ad completely blocked out in Green (Red scribble by face).
      18: Ad incomplete blocked out in Black. (Space between bottom rim of hat and bell visible)
      19: Ad completely blocked out in Black.

      • Dylan June 8, 2022 at 7:32 pm #


        Here is a “little bit” more information for you since you skipped over the more important parts of my reply so I will repeat:

        This card was NOT corrected in a totally linear way as you seem to believe. As I mentioned previously, actual, definitive research has been done by opening cases from several specific production dates and these cases contained a mix of correction attempts. This means that there were multiple plates printing simultaneously and they contained different correction attempts. Not simply different scribbles or different box versions but a variety of several correction types coming from the same day of production and several OTHER types coming from boxes a few days or week after that, some of which you believe were issued well before their production companions.This is documented.

        As a matter of fact, the actual date for the last cover-up versions before the final black-out version has been figured out.

        I agree that the general coverup through-line goes from lighter to darkest but it was not as simple a through-line as you believe. Add into the mix that Fleer used multiple printing facilities for this product (and subsequent years). One facility likely had a separate group of correction types than the other(s). Again, this information came out over the last two years as a large amount of sealed cases were broken with documented results.

        The versions listed in this blog are not an absolute, ironclad count as variations within them exist but that is left up to the collector to decide on. In your case, it seems like you are a big fan of the card and I would recommend that you use your energy and your findings to start your own blog on them.

      • Cliffton June 8, 2022 at 8:26 pm #

        I understand what you think happened and I get why you think it. As far as pulling multiple different variations out of the same box/case, of course that’s very likely because they implemented these “fixes” very quickly, I am a fan of the card, IE: Of the set and do plan on posting a thorough explanation when I get close to acquiring the remaining variations I’m missing. Frankly it doesn’t even matter if they’re were multiple places printing the card with multiple fixes because in our hobby everything comes down to rarity and this is the biggest point your missing. The box versions are the most plentiful of all the variations, it doesn’t matter who printed what, they are the most common, kind of like the black scribble of the Ripken card. The first attempts at fixing the card and the clear version is the most rarest. IE: Green Tint over Blue Tint. As far as not seeing the process, not sure why you don’t clearly see a pattern, just look at the above pictures?! You can see they scribbled out the bottom part of the Marlboro lettering, then they scribbled out the bottom & top parts of the Marlboro lettering IE: The tops of the letters. Sure it’s not “simple” because frankly they did quite a lot here. Green/Red/Blue, one color on top of the other, green over background, scribbles but to think it was all random is quite incorrect.

      • Dylan June 8, 2022 at 8:52 pm #

        I don’t believe that you are following what I am saying because I definitely do not “think its all random.” I know which versions came out of the first week of printing, second week, third week, etc and through to the final version. The different varieties on a given day/case/box are not in the order you believe them to be in. Not entirely but you are sort of close. Scribbles, tints, even box versions, can come from the same case from the same day of production. It isn’t exactly “random” but there were simultaneous correction types being utilized during each day/week of production until the later days just before the final correction version (fully blacked out). It is incorrect to believe that, say, box versions weren’t produced until after all the various tinting attempts.

        The clear version could only have been issued on the first day of production as that case has not turned up and broken and documented. Plus, its just obvious that it was the original version.

        And my blog isn’t making a claim on rarity beyond what information I have found in all of these years. If I see few of a variety type for a while and then ten years later, I no longer come across them, in my mind, it is a rarer or tougher version. This works both ways as previously believed rarer versions have turned up more frequently since, say, 2004. I run these observations against a large network of other passionate collectors of this card, several of which have vast amounts of them. My blog is an outline of these varieties, especially in regards to proper cataloging of them in the big books (and PSA for those who want that), and not a price guide.

  2. Nat Mitchell February 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

    I have 11 of the “Black Scribble” versions of the card and they are all diifferent, but 1 of them is identical/nearly identical to the picture you have listed above that you use to describe the “Black Scribble” version, down to the “Fish Eye” over the 2nd “o” in Marlboro. Any thoughts you can share would greatly appreciated.



  3. ben north November 6, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    I have 3 different green scribble versions one just has a black blob over marlboro, one has the black blob and a black scribble, and the one that took me 2 years to track down just has the scribble with the tops of the l and b showing. Has any one found any different green scribble versions?

    • Robert February 12, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

      Mine is completely blacked out. You cannot tell anything is there. No tint, cover up…nothing. The card still reads #381. Version 569?

      • Dylan April 9, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

        Hi Robert, that is the most common version, also the final correction type.

  4. Jim January 27, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    I just looked at the PSA pop report for the 1989 fleer glossy and noticed there is a single PSA 9 Fleer Glossy Tin AD on Scoreboard….has anyone seen this card? I though the glossy sets were made later in the year…so I found this odd. Did someone from the factory put the original plate back into production later in the year to create this card?

    • Dylan September 26, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      This very likely refers to the Coke sign at left. Probably how that got past the graders at the time. There are no copies of the glossy showing the Marlboro ad in any state.

  5. SSavage February 13, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    I recently inherited one of these 1989 Fleer Johnson 381 and I’m trying to figure out what I have. The Marlboro sign is completely blacked out and you can’t see any of it. The Coke ad on the left side is very crisp and visible, as well as the screen saying “Welcome . …”

    There is no discussion here about the back of the card and I’m curious if that has any significance. The back of my card is white text with yellow trim and nothing is over the “Did you know . . ” box. However, I’ve seen other pictures online that have a blue trim and a “Collector’s Edition” round logo superimposed over the “Did you know” box. What’s the difference? Are their more variations of the back? Does the back mean anything to collector’s?

    I know nothing about baseball cards, so any reply or additional info on this card would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  6. rickh adams September 26, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Beckett only acknowledges 2 version, the error and the non corrected error. So, what versions r those and how do u price the others? Ive got the one that looks like black smoke or haze in frt of sign, what is that?

    • Dylan September 26, 2014 at 11:36 am #

      Beckett doesn’t acknowledge a ton of variations across all types of sports cards. Unfortunately today, sites like this, blogs, message boards and trading card databases are where you will find more extensive info on variations. As for the Randy Johnson cards, please see this in-depth analysis of them. There are a few more types too, but this covers a large batch:

      • rickh adams September 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

        What ablut value? Or, would these be 1treated like #/25 cards?

      • Dylan September 26, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

        I don’t price cards through this site. The best way to get a value on them is looking at ebay completed sales/sold items. Most types of the variation get between $5-15 on average but again, you should check sold items for a better idea.

  7. Anthony Foti June 16, 2017 at 10:09 pm #

    Thanks this was really informative article, best one I have seen yet. Unfortunately I have the set so I didn’t get any of the cool errors. Unless you know of others I should check for????

  8. rob July 11, 2017 at 9:13 pm #

    Bought a hoard of a half million cards. Started looking specifically for this variety. In one large flat boxes, I found 22 Johnson rookie cards. Two are definate “Marlboro” varieties. A second is a green tint. A few of the others all seem to have some “ink” flaws I need to further investigate. Very nice score for me tonight. Still got another two flats to look thru. Seems the common star boxes have zero RJ/RC’s. Thanks for the detailed images!

  9. apatheticsportreport September 26, 2018 at 10:36 am #

    Reblogged this on Apathetic Sport Report and commented:
    Unfortunately I have the most common “blacked out” version, but I enjoyed reading about the 8 unique versions of Randy Johnson’s 1989 Fleer rookie card.

  10. Mr fleer October 19, 2018 at 9:19 am #

    I have some lovely information for you on the Johnson error. Top secret. Also can you find out the first time ( month & year ) Beckett ever listed the johnson error. Call me at 214 881 0688

  11. Robert Anderson Jr. November 26, 2018 at 3:22 pm #

    How come nobody ever talks about the 1989 Fleer Jay Buhner with whiteout over the d in outfield and without whiteout over the d in outfield. I have never heard of it mentioned at all.

    • Dylan November 26, 2018 at 5:49 pm #

      Likely because it is very, very minor. There are actually several similar variations where stray marks and small aberrations affect some print runs in this set. I suggest listing both versions on ebay to gauge interest in the card.

      • Robert Anderson Jr. November 27, 2018 at 9:48 am #

        I am thinking it has to do with the Whiteout that was used on some of the Billy Ripken cards.There are a couple on Ebay with and without. Thanks for the reply.

      • Dylan November 27, 2018 at 11:37 am #

        The Buhner whiteout appears to be fairly common whereas the Ripken is much rarer and of varying type/portion. This suggests that they are unreleated printings or uses of whiteout for correction. Guillermo Hernandez and Joe Orsulak are other fairly common cards in the set who can be found with small bits airbrushing.

  12. Rick Lipary December 23, 2019 at 4:43 pm #

    Don’t ask me how, but I wound up with THREE of the “Marlboro” variation Randy Johnson cards in 1989, ALL with a super vivid and clear Marlboro sign. I told my “friend” Robert to keep them set aside, and I would come back to Long Beach and retrieve them after I got settled in Flagstaff. When I got back to Long Beach, I found that he had sold many of the cards, and given others (including the Johnson Marlboro’s) to charity!!

  13. Cliff May 12, 2022 at 2:42 pm #

    I applaud the effort here. Thank you. You are missing a few major variations. Before the final black out and after the “gap” the card was blocked out in green instead of black, it gets confused with the final black out version. What you call “bubble” I call “box” version, there is a green box, a red box, a pink box, if you look at the first O in “Marlboro” you’ll see a half green circle around it, that is residue from a variation- this way you can tell the order in which the errors occurred. The green line down the left side on the “box” etc. The green lettering etc. there is a order in which these errors came to be, a process in which they tried to cover the sign. It can be determined.

    • Dylan May 16, 2022 at 5:55 pm #

      Hi Cliff,

      I think you may be misunderstanding my use of “bubble”. It pertains to a circular shape that appears on a number of different “box” varieties. But while this blog and the ’13 or so’ different versions listed here are meant to outline the most prominent and easy to classify variations produced, it is, of course, up to the collector to determine if the variations within those 13 versions constitute new versions.

      A lot of work has been done to understand the process that this card underwent. I have contributed to many discussions on the topic that can be found on the collector forums of Net54, Blowout Cards and Collectors Universe. Several other devoted collectors have provided, and, mostly agreed upon, a fairly thorough timeline/process account for the card. A good portion of this research and these discussions have revealed that the card was not corrected in an entirely linear fashion: one could open a sealed case from, say November, 9, 1988 and pull as many as three different versions. This has been tested over and over again, leading most to believe that Fleer had multiple plates set up simultaneously with differing coverup methods on each.


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