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Topps on a roll with its 1997 baseball issues featuringMantle, Mays

Topps is riding a wave of popularity created by the first series of its 1997 baseball issue. It appears the momentum may strengthen with its second series release.

The second series features reprints of the 16 Mickey Mantle and 27 Willie Mays cards that first appeared in the first series. The difference is that the second offerings are in their Finest and Finest Refractor versions.

Mantle Finest cards are randomly inserted one in 24 packs, while Mantle Refractors are found one in 216 packs. Mays Finest (1:20) and Refractor (1:180) cards complete the insert chase highlighting two of the game's greats.

Perhaps the highlight of the second series, though, is the card autographed by 1996 American League Rookie of the Year and World Series champion Derek Jeter. This card is available only to hobby retailers and is inserted one in 1,152 packs. Good luck.

"Autograph cards were almost taboo a few years ago," admits Melissa Rosen, Topps' assistant director of public relations. "Collectors now see them as a way to get closer to the players. The players have actually held and signed the cards."

Another new addition to the Topps lineup is Team Timber (16 cards, 1 in 36 packs), which places the game's top sluggers on laminated litho-wood cards. Some of the big batsmen included in the set are Ken Griffey Jr., Ken Caminiti and Bernie Williams.

FORGERS CAUGHT: With charges against six more defendants in the latest autograph and memorabilia fraud case, the FBI has broken the back of what it feels was a major fraud ring in the country.

Agents charge that the six (Jon Schwartz, Kevin Walsh, James Studley, Timothy Lee, Barry Carlstrom and Richard Hall) were involved in forging autographs of key Chicago professional athletes including Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Frank Thomas. One dealer in Ohio purchased more than $300,000 worth of bogus merchandise over the course of a year.

Operation Foulball, as it is called, is an ongoing FBI crackdown. The agency has been working with Upper Deck and other companies while attempting to snare would-be forgers.

PUBLISHING NEWS: Beckett Publications has restructured its Future Stars title. Newly designed and renamed (Beckett Future Stars & Sports Collectibles) it emphasizes new memorabilia releases such as mini helmets, autographed items and the like. Also, Beckett recently released its 1997 baseball preview issue. With six regional covers, look for Chipper Jones on the cover of the Southeast edition.

Sports Card Trader magazine, published by Century Publishing, will cease to exist after the May 1997 issue. Known widely for its annual list of the Top 25 Most Powerful People in the Hobby, the monthly publication was seen mostly on newsstands. Editor Doug Kale confirmed the subscriber list and other considerations were sold to the publishers of Tuff Stuff magazine.

PATRICK DOES THE PROSE: ESPN's Dan Patrick wrote the card backs for a subset titled "From Way Downtown." It is part of Upper Deck's second seriesbasketball issue that was to be released by March 1. On the back of PennyHardaway's card, Patrick writes, "Here is a player whose nickname is pureirony, because his value to the Magic is as much as gold."

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