1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381 Marlbroro Variations

10 Aug

THERE ARE WAY MORE THAN 3 DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THIS CARD.

There are at least 8 different versions of this card.

Here we are, some 10+ years after it’s discovery (if you take the word of Beckett’s editors), 20+ years after it’s release and this card is still causing confusion and trouble. It’s 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 info exists on it. And what little info that does is severely in need of an update.

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 being discovered all of the time. But it’s safe to say that Fleer altered this card at least 8 different times! I’ve spent more time than you can imagine, squinting at poor-quality scans of this card on ebay over the last 8-9 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 of them named Kevin, who has compiled an impressive collection of the varieties, including the only known copy featuring a completely-clear Marlboro sign. Kevin’s knowledge and collection have helped reignite my interest in this variation, specifically it’s proper cataloging in the “big books” and with PSA’s registry, in turn.

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:

This is typically what get’s labeled, bought and sold as the “Marlboro” version. Long thought that this was among the clearest types out there. Sign is pretty visible, no 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.

This looks very similar to the previous card 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. 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 the toughest of the varieties outside of the “Clear Sign” version, this appropriately-labeled “Black Scribble” version can be a bear to track down. I’ve seen fewer than 10 copies of this type, though I am certain many more are out there, but due to how seldom they show up, I would guess that this is a short-run, transitional type, much like the “White Scribble” Billy Ripken variation.

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 “Black 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 an 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.

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).

Sadly, I do not have a larger image of the holy grail of Marlboro varieties, but here is a rare glimpse of the only known copy of the “Clear Sign” version:

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.

FYI, all images in this blog are scans of variations owned by me with the exception of Kevin’s amazing “Clear Sign” copy (shown above). I look forward to posting more varieties as they come into my possession so keep checking back to this article periodically.

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:

13 Responses to “1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381 Marlbroro Variations”

  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….

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=250919679312

  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.

    Thanks,

    Nat

  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.

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  1. 1989 Randy Johnson Fleer - September 14, 2010

    […] 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381 Marlbroro Variations « Junk Wax Gems 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson #381 Marlbroro Variations. 10 Aug. THERE ARE WAY MORE THAN 3 DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF THIS CARD. There are at least 8 different versions of this card. Here we are, some 10+ years after it's discovery (if you take . […]

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