I think mine fell victim to one of my mom’s umpteen garage sales once I moved out, but man how I miss them. In their bright colored packaging, they traditionally stood about 4 inches tall. The brand at times did launch various special series that were larger and came with a sports card of the respective athlete.
Starting Lineup was a brand of action figures produced from 1988 to 2001. First release Kenner and later by Hasbro, they were conceived in 1986 by Pat McInally, a former professional football player with the Cincinnati Bengals. The figures became very popular, including sports stars from baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. In later years, figures from auto racing, boxing, track & field, skating, soccer, as well as golf were memorialized as well.
It’s been said that McInally came up with the idea during a visit to a toy store. He noticed there were figurines portraying war, fighting but nothing based on real-life sports heroes. McInally and a former college friend, who happened to be running Kenner’s day-to-day operations, decided collaboration was in order.
Kenner debuted the Starting Lineup figures in 1988, with a 132 piece Major League Baseball set. Each team had at least four players in the set except for the Canadian teams of Montreal and Toronto. They had only one player because Kenner believed that there were an insufficient number of retail outlets in Canada to warrant a full team set. It was Tim Raines and George Bell, respectively. Based on the eventual fate of the Montreal Expos, an insufficient number of retail outlets were the least of Canadian Baseball’s problems.
The Chicago Cubs and New York Mets had the most players in the set with seven per team, because nothing says child friendly like a Lenny Dykstra figure. Kenner also tended to distribute the players to stores by geographical region. For kids like myself who tended to like out of market players, it was virtually impossible to complete the set.
Around the mid 1990s, amidst sagging sales, distribution strategies shifted. To counteract malaise over regional figures, all of the figures were overproduced and released everywhere (which is why I had an unexplained collection of Toronto Blue Jays). Once it became too much of a good thing, the toys headed toward the bargain bin. It was this shift in strategy that is credited for the ultimate down fall of the line.
Today, the figures are collector items. The prices on the figures vary dramatically. Condition factors in. Ask yourself the following. Was your 1988 Don Mattingly taken out of the package so he can date Barbie? What? Is this not a common condition issue for late-80’s Starting Lineups?
If you are wondering, Mattingly’s value is quoted on sites anywhere from $15 to $60. In reality though, in this exceptionally soft toy and collectable market, I haven’t seen him on eBay for anything higher than $10. Apparently those original quotes were Yankees fans, or Don Mattingly’s relatives, or Barbie fans.