March 12, 1990 12:00 PM

One weekend last December, Lee Hull and Dan Cook, co-owners of the Who’s on First baseball-card shop in Champaign, Ill., bought a box of cards from a woman who often sold them their stock in trade. “I pulled one pack out,” says Cook, 39. “About the third card I came to was George Bush.” There, in his Yale University uniform from 1947, was indeed first baseman and future President Bush. It wasn’t quite like stumbling upon a rare 1909 T206 Honus Wagner, which experts say in mint condition could fetch as much as $250,000, but it was still a freak find for any rabid collector. Yet the card Hull and Cook say they were innocently dealt has created an imbroglio involving the owners of Who’s on First and the industry giant Topps Co.

The ruckus started last month when, unbeknownst to Hull and Cook, Topps, which claims it printed only one set of 100 Bush cards, presented the entire set to the President at White House ceremonies. About the same time, Hull and Cook had read about the limited edition in Topps Magazine. “I called Topps to find out what the chances were of someone having one of these cards, and I was told there was no chance at all,” says Hull, 31. Though no one could explain the existence of an additional card, a Topps executive nevertheless called Hull and accused the card shop partners of being in possession of stolen property. The company is still mulling over strategy, but Hull and Cook aren’t intimidated. “It’s like we won the lottery and Topps wants to take it away from us,” says Hull, who has been offered $10,000 for the card.

As if to add injury to insult, the guys at Who’s on First also face a lawsuit filed by Jim Danner of Champaign, who claims he offered to pay 15 cents for the card last December when it was still displayed on the shop’s bulletin board. Hull calls the suit ridiculous and vows to play hardball with any and all comers. As for Topps, he says, it “asked if we’d give it back if George Bush asked us to. I said only if he came here or we got to go to the White House.”

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