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The Mick returns to Topps

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I can remember reading stories about old-time ballplayers telling their young children as they were kneeling by their bedsides for nightly prayers that Babe Ruth should be duly included when they got around to acknowledging the contributions of various mortals.

I always figured that if the sons and daughters of journeyman baseball ballplayers in the 1920s and 1930s were thanking Babe Ruth for some of their financial good fortune, then the children of baseball card dealers a half-century or so later should be affording a similar nod at bedtime to one Mickey Charles Mantle.

And of course, for most of those years that meant Topps cards. As the slightly whimsical chart on page 43 shows (and the Mantle Card Checklist on pages 44, 46 and 48), his impact on the hobby can hardly be overstated, though it can't really be quantified to the level of precision that we've attempted.

Heck, that's just part of the fun.

Topps officials were understandably elated several weeks back as they announced Mantle's return to the fold, so to speak, with an exclusive agreement that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2006, granting Topps exclusive rights for MLB trading cards, including insert cards, memorabilia cards, cut signature cards and the use of Mantle's image on packaging and advertising.

The Mick makes his first appearance in 2006 Topps Baseball (releasing Feb. 7). With access to the Mantle family's vast photo collection and unique memorabilia pieces, including one of Mantle's only remaining first baseman's gloves, Topps, with the help of Danny and David Mantle, plans to chronicle the life and times of "The Mick" through trading cards like never before.

"No athlete has been more important to our baseball card line over the past 50 years than Mickey Mantle," said Warren Friss, Topps vice president. "We plan to leverage Topps connection with Mantle by sparking the nostalgia of the veteran collector and introducing a true sports hero to a new generation."

In 2006 Topps, that means "unretiring" No. 7, which has been unused since 1997 in an unprecedented nod to a beloved player. The 2006 regular-issue set will also include a host of inserts honoring Mantle, including "The Mantle Collection," which will offer Mantle cards in the styles of 1996-2005 Topps (cards from 2000 and 2002 are shown on this page), and gold and black parallels and relic cards in those same designs. There will also be a Home Run History single card and a Home Run History Cut Signature card, the latter being a 1-of-1 specimen.

Those "Mantle Collection" cards from 1996-2005 will have card No. 7 on the back, so set collectors can essentially fill in the "missing numbers" from those sets. That's kind of a neat move, and yet another indication of the company's greatly improved understanding of the power of its own heritage (lower case, no pun intended).

For more information on the life and times of "The Mick," visit the all-new launching Jan. 1.

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The power of Mickey Mantle's modern cards stems from the almost mystical allure from his originals. I've always been fascinated by the topic, especially since Topps always seemed to do its best work with a subject that, admittedly, gave them a lot to work with.

This is probably hyperbole, but it says here that Mantle's Topps cards from 1951-69 would have been spectacular even had he somehow been a run-of-the-mill ballplayer, as opposed to being the modern version of greek mythology that he was.

It was pure genius to make him the first card of the 1952 Topps high-number series, a move promptly amplified seven or eight years later when Sy Berger piloted a barge out to the Atlantic Ocean and tossed several hundred cases over the side. When you tack on all the additional lore and legend attached to that card, from those historic auctions at Willow Grove in 1980 to Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen turning up a fistful of mint beauties in his historic 1986 find in Quincy, Mass., it's easy to understand why the price tag can soar past $100,000 for some of the highest graded ones.

But that's all high finance; I prefer to think about all the Mantle cards based on aesthetics and historical value. That's why I think he's the proud owner of more than a dozen of the nicest cards ever made.

Which puts all of his post-1969 cards in pretty good company.

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