Starting Lineup figures were the pride of Cincinnati. Conceived by former Bengals punter Pat McInally (700 punts for 29,307 yards) and produced by Kenner from the city, they were a sensation in the 1980s.
In 1988, Kenner launched Starting Lineup, a series of action figures portraying the most notable athletes of the time.
History of Starting Lineup figures
When McInally retired from football in 1985, he sold his Cincinnati condo to a Kenner Products executive. The two struck up a conversation that turned to the toy company’s famous Star Wars figures.
Kenner was a big player in the toy industry. They are perhaps best known for the production of the Easy-Bake Oven starting in 1962. The company was bought by General Mills, better known for its massive industrial foods division.
It was the beginning of the big sports card boom, which would become the infamous “Junk Wax Era.” Meanwhile, it was also the peak of the action figure craze. So the marriage between the two was natural.
Pat later remembered, “I was talking to him about my idea for working with kids and writing books. He took me to a toy store, and we picked up a G.I. Joe. I thought, ‘Why not a sports figure? Everybody knows who Walter Payton, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson are.'”
It did not take much convincing for the McInally to convince the local company to produce the figurines. Luckily they didn’t punt on the idea (ok, I apologize).
It took three years for the awesome sports figurines to show up in the shop. But that wasn’t because Kenner was unenthusiastic about the idea. One of the significant delays was related to the takeover of Kenner from General Mills by toy company Tonka. They reorganized Kenner as an independent division.
However, the new owners of Kenner were excited by the Starting Lineup idea. In fact, the Cincinnati-based toy company launched a massive line of athletes. The toys were a gigantic hit and proved a worthy competitor to the primary action figures of the time.
Ultimate guide to Starting Lineup figure cards
One of the coolest things about the original Starting Lineup releases was the enclosed trading cards. The cards were unique to the release, coming with the Starting Lineup logo. As a result, they can be worth quite a bit of money when graded.
Here is a look at some of the prices they have gone for (prices current as of posting):
Why did the Original Starting Lineup Figures lose their popularity?
The popularity and broad scope of the original release were part of the problem. The 1988 class included well over 300 figures (124 MLB players, 137 NFL players, and 85 NBA players in all). So everyone got their favorite athletes early on. Later releases were far more limited and generally included lower-profile names.
Even when new sports were included, things didn’t go very well. For example, in 1993, the first hockey set was released but did not include the legendary Wayne Gretzky, who wanted more money. His figure finally arrived in 1997, but the release was well past its sell-by date by then.
The kids who grew up on Starting Lineup had grown up and gone to college. Younger consumers were more enamored with video games. Indeed, the golden age of action figures was gone. Sonic the Hedgehog had replaced G.I Joe.
And, of course: Big money
But the real killer of the series was the sports licensing fees. Until the late 1990s, leagues charged (relatively) affordable rates. But the costs began to escalate as the league owners encouraged monopolies. The same process killed off the smaller card producers and left us only with the giant companies.
In 2000 toy giant Hasbro bought Kenner and essentially dismantled the smaller company. In 2001, Starting Lineup produced the last set of MLB figures and quietly left the scene. At least for a while.
Starting Lineup Figures new releases
The new release is part of an emerging partnership between Hasbro and Fanatics.
A Hasbro press release celebrated the new initiative: “We’re thrilled to be bringing back one of the most beloved sports collectibles brands of all time, Starting Lineup, and to be teaming up with Fanatics for its highly anticipated return this fall,” Eric Nyman, President, and COO of Hasbro said in a press release.
“The fast-growing sports collectibles category presents great opportunities to connect with fans of all ages, and we’ve got many exciting announcements to come from the brand in the months ahead.”
Unfortunately, we do not know which athletes will be included in the new release. However, Fanatics already owns the baseball and several soccer licenses. In addition, it will soon hold the NBA and NFL licenses. Therefore, Fanatics will have its choice of athletes.
Update: The Starting Lineup Figures are back and they are much better than you remember.
Hasbro and Fanatics kick off the new Starting Lineup era with an all-NBA release. These new toys are instantly recognizable, and you can adjust them in different poses. Check out this article where we reviewed the new release to find out more on the 2022 Starting Lineup Series 1 release.
What did the original Starting Lineup releases include?
The original releases were pretty cool. However, they had their limitations. Due to the use of old-school industrial molds, they only had ten poses for the different athletes. Over time, more poses were introduced, but none were all that imaginative.
Of course, each figure can stand independently (unless you broke it). The base was made to look like the field in that particular sport. So baseball players on grass, basketball on a court, and hockey players on the ice.
The SLUCC was the Starting Lineup Collectors Club. It offered special deals to members, including figures not available to the general public. Some of these were unorthodox releases with helmets instead of figures. Many of them are exceedingly rare today.
SLUCC Release Starting Lineup Checklist
AFC Helmet Collection
Brett Hull & Bobby Hull Classic Double
Joe Montana Freeze Frame
Junior Seau Dan Marino One on One
Larry Bird Backboard King
NBA Centers 3 Pack: Shaq Wilt Kareem
Nolan Ryan Freeze Frame
Nolan Ryan Jacksonville Suns
Reggie Jackson Stadium Star
Shaquille O’Neal Slam Dunk
Ted Williams Cooperstown Collection
USA Basketball 3 Pack: Barkley Payton Richmond
Wayne Gretzky Freeze Frame
Willie Mays Stadium Star
Starting Lineup Figures value
As with most figurines, the value is determined by the condition of the box. An unboxed figure is worth very little. So are figurines in heavily damaged packages. So you will want to look at these boxes the way you look at cards when considering grading.
The value depends mainly on availability. So the widely circulated Michael Jordan is worth a lot less than some of the more obscure athletes to feature in Starting Lineup.
The Ultimate Guide To Starting Lineup Figures Grading Scale
If so, the box is the most critical part of the condition. Although, of course, a broken figure in a pristine box (don’t ask me how that happens) wouldn’t be worth much either.
Mint – Mint has no significant blemishes and would be suitable for sale as new.
NM – Near mint has some scratches or flayed corners, but the box generally looks like it was kept protected over the years.
EX – An excellent condition box has notable flaws or discoloration, maintaining its integrity.
Poor/Distressed – The package is bad, including holes or punctures.
What Do Starting Lineup Figures Sell For?
So, what do these babies get on the open market? First, let’s take a look at some recent eBay sales.
These figures, especially early ones in good condition boxes, can maintain value. So you will want to keep them well protected.
Avoid weight – the boxes are not very strong. Do not place anything on top of them, or the condition of the box (and possibly the figure) will deteriorate.
Avoid heat or smoke – Either can corrode the wrapper or the figure.
Use a clear display case – Your best bet for protecting these figures is to place them in a clear display case.
Bottomline of Starting Lineup figures
The Starting Lineup figures are coming back, and the enthusiasm among veteran collectors is palpable. These toys meant a lot to fans of a particular generation. And it is easy to see why. These campy but awesome little figures just scream 1980s culture. It’s like watching the Breakfast Club. In addition, Kenner made these with love and care. It is notable in the details they included with every figure.
The return of Starting Lineup will add to their visibility in the future. So, this may be an excellent time to get some of the early figures. First, however, make sure you get ones in good condition and, of course, in their original box.
Below we have provided a complete checklist of the starting lineup figures we believe are worth an investment. They include the first generation of releases and the Cooperstown series, a particular favorite.
Who was included in the original 1988 Starting Lineup release?
The 1988 release is the OG and, therefore, generally the most valuable and beloved one. Here is a complete list of all of the action figures included in that class.
1988 NFL Players Checklist
Billy Ray Smith
1988 MLB Players Checklist
Andy Van Slyke
Cal Ripken Jr
Ken Griffey Sr
1988 NBA Players Checklist
Eric Sleepy Floyd
Joe Barry Carrol
Baseball greats and Cooperstown checklists
There is always a market for collectibles of the Hall of Fame greats. Starting Lineup has released a few fantastic series of this sort.