Starting Lineup (toy line)
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Starting Lineup are a brand of action figures originally produced from 1988 to 2001, first by Kenner and later by Hasbro. They were conceived by Pat McInally, himself a former professional American football player with the Cincinnati Bengals, in 1986. The figures became very popular, and eventually included sports stars from baseball, football, basketball, and hockey; and, to a lesser extent, auto racing, boxing, track & field, skating, soccer, and golf. In the late 2010's, the figures made a comeback as a promotional item at several sporting events.
McInally came up with the idea during a visit to a toy store. He noticed there were many figurines available of the likes of G.I. Joe, but nothing based on real-life sports heroes. McInally and a former college friend who was running Kenner's day-to-day operations decided to work together on the project. Today, the figures are collector items. The prices on the figures vary dramatically. The low-end items can be acquired for around or above retail cost, but many rarer items can fetch prices as high as several thousand dollars for a single figure.
A typical figurine stands about 4 inches (10 cm) tall, but the brand at times launched various special series that can be much larger including a 14" NBA line and came with a sports card of the respective athlete.
1988 Major League Baseball Starting Lineup
Kenner debuted the Starting Lineup figures in 1988 by releasing a 124 player set. Each team had at least four players in the set except for the Canadian teams of Montreal and Toronto that had only one player because Kenner believed that there was an insufficient number of retail outlets in Canada to warrant a full team set, (Tim Raines and George Bell, respectively.) The New York Mets had the most players in the set with seven. Kenner tended to distribute the players to stores by geographical region, so it was very difficult to complete the collection or find players from out of market.
Different Product Lines
While there was always at least one annual set featuring single-packed figures for baseball, basketball, football and hockey, there were many other specialty products such as dual-packed figure sets, team sets, one-on-one scene type sets and much more. In 1989 Kenner introduced the Baseball Greats dual-packed figures, featuring such past Hall of Famers as Mickey Mantle with Joe DiMaggio, and Reggie Jackson with Don Drysdale. Basketball, football and hockey would later get their own dual-packed sets in the late 1990s.
1989 also saw Kenner releasing many other specialty and sometimes one-time only products like the AFC and NFC offensive and defensive helmet sets, 9-figure baseball team sets, baseball, basketball and football one-on-one action sequences featuring two players from different teams, and even a Headliner set which featured a superstar player displayed on a base with a miniature newspaper front page cover touting the accomplishment of that particular player.
1989 was also the year Kenner released the NBA Slam Dunk series, which featured players like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird dunking on a small basketball hoop, complete with backboard and hardwood floor. Kenner would also offer exclusive product lines through their four-issue annual Starting Lineup Collector's Club Newsletter, in which consumers could order such unique items as a Nolan Ryan Freeze Frame product in 1995, featuring the pitcher in four different team uniforms with each figure depicting a different position in his windup and delivery of a pitch. Other specialty product lines included 12" doll-like figures in 1997 and the once popular Stadium Stars baseball set featuring larger figurines placed over a base which was a replica of that player's respective stadium; Roger Clemens standing over Fenway Park is one example of such a figure.
In 2016, three professional sports teams gave away special edition Starting Lineup figures. On October 30, 2016 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released a figure of Jameis Winston. In addition, on November 25, 2016 the San Jose Sharks released a figure of Joe Pavelski and on December 23, 2016 the Charlotte Hornets released a figure of Nicolas Batum.