Alleged Bush Card Swap Prompt Appeal Play

Judge Wapner could have a field day with this one. It's a lawsuit over possession of a card that no one was supposed to have. And although it's no federal case, the president is at the center of the controversy.

Call it ``The Case of a Bush in the Hand Is Worth a Whole Lot of Trouble.'' The litigants first entered a Champaign, Ill., courtroom Feb. 23.

The plaintiff, Jim Danner of Champaign, alleges that on or before Dec. 18, Lee Hull, a friend who runs a memorabilia shop, offered to sell him a 1990 Topps baseball card of President Bush for 15 cents.

Hull, who isn't supposed to have the card in the first place, said Danner was dreaming.

And Topps, which isn't involved in the suit, said that whoever had the card was in possession of stolen merchandise. Topps still has to figure out how the president's picture found its way to the central Illinois town.

Hull said it came from a wax-pack box he purchased from an unidentified woman in December.

Topps said that was impossible, because all the 100 cards made were given to the president.

Danner said Hull promised to sell him one for 15 cents.

``I never offered the card to him for 15 cents,'' Hull said. ``It's never been offered for sale. The thing is, even if I had offered it to him for 15 cents, why didn't he buy it? Didn't he have the cash in hand?''

To put everything in perspective, we must go back to last year, when a member of the Bush family supposedly asked why the president - a baseball star at Yale - never was on a baseball card.

Rather than allow the president to wallow in embarrassment, Topps devised a plan to put the president on cardboard. The finished product, numbered USA 1, shows the prsident in the traditional pose for a Yale captain. He's clad in his uniform and leaning against a wooden fence before a mural of trees in the basement of Yale's field house.

``Only 100 cards were made, and they were all presented to President Bush,'' Topps spokesman Ken Liss said.

Yet Hull said he found one in a wax pack.

Liss said that was impossible, because the regular baseball cards were printed in Duryea, Pa., and the president's cards were printed in New York. Topps has demanded that Hull return the card, but he has refused.

Hull has said that he has no intention of giving the card to Topps, although, thanks to Danner's lawsuit, he couldn't even if he wanted to.

Hull had to turn the card over to the Champaign County clerk and post a $25,000 commercial bond. No trial date has been set.

Topps could make the whole stink disappear by running off a few million of the president's cards and making them available through a mail-in offer or by including one in its end-of-season update set, provided there is a baseball season to update.

``Absolutely not,'' Liss said. ``The whole idea was to make these special cards for the president. There's no chance that we would make any more.''