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New book looks at Upper Deck and its alleged reprints for gain

Collectors rarely get the opportunity to discover what goes on behind the corporate walls of a sports card manufacturer. With that understanding, it is clear to anybody who reads Card Sharks that the book breaks new ground.

Written by USA Today Baseball Weekly columnist Pete Williams, the book focuses on the Upper Deck Co, particularly some of its principal players before Upper Deck came into being.

After chapters dealing with the history of baseball cards and some of the hobby's major personalities, Card Sharks dives into the alleged wrongdoings of California-based Upper Deck. The main issue is reprinting of cards.

Of particular interest to hockey card collectors is the alleged reprinting of the 1990-91 high series French issue for the personal gain of company officials. Only 600 cases were printed originally for the French-Canadian market, and when collectors realized what little product there was, values escalated dramatically. Cases of cards leaped into the $10,000 range, with the key card, Sergei Federov's rookie, hitting the $175 neighborhood.

Exasperated by the large sums of cash being exchanged on the secondary market for this product, one Upper Deck official reportedly ordered the plant manager to reprint cases of the product. What allegedly ensued was company executives hustling to cash in on their own product.

Card Sharks also reports that the Federov cards were reprinted in quantity. Soon after, hobbyists began to wonder where all the additional product came from, and the result was a product crash.

The book alleges that the practice of reprinting cards at Upper Deck actually started with its first issue: the 1989 baseball set. A Dale Murphy error card, which contained a reversed negative, was corrected very early in the press run, making the error version somewhat scarce. The combination of Murphy's popularity and the hype over the new Upper Deck baseball cards drove the card as high as $150. Reportedly, this card also was reprinted for personal gain.

For the record, the French high series cases are now a tough sell at $1,000. The Federov is stable at $10-$15 and Murphy has settled in the $20-$35 range.

So much for the innocence of what was once purely a childhood hobby.

Mario's back: With Mario Lemieux returning to the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 1995-96 season, the National Hockey League club already is trying to capitalize. Jeff Butler, director of merchandise for the Penguins, said a line of T-shirts, caps, etc. featuring "Mario's back" is due out shortly. After a lull on the market, a couple of Steel City dealers have had requests for his 1985-86 rookie cards.

Mantle update: Ballpark Productions has announced that Mickey Mantle will make his first post-operation signing appearance at Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise on Oct. 29. Details concerning signing fees are not yet available.