When Kenner released their Starting Lineup action figures in 1988 I was perfectly positioned in their target demographic: 7 to 8 year old boy, just getting into sports, enthusiastically collecting baseball cards and toys.
I continued collecting Starting Lineup figures well into the '90s. As I entered my teen years I had more money, more knowledge of collecting, and more access to figures I had never seen. Long before 1993 I knew that certain baseball cards were valuable, while others had the potential to be valuable years into the future - if they were kept in mint condition. Part of the reason why all of those vintage Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams cards are so valuable today is because kids in the 1950s played with them as if they were toys.
And so, sometime in 1993, a light bulb went off in my head. If these Starting Lineup figures are taken out of the box, played with, dropped, chipped, faded, etc. etc... they won't be worth spit. However - if I can find a 'rookie' figure, or a superstar player, and resist the urge to open the package.. I might have a valuable figure in a few years.
My test subject was this Ken Griffey, Jr. figure. It was not his first piece, but it was the best one I could find at Toys 'R Us at the time. I fought the impulse to open it - and was proud of myself for doing so.
Let's say the retail price of this Griffey was $5.99. I know the original SRP was about $3.99 in 1988 and by the end of the 1990s toy stores were charging $7.99, or more. How much does this sell for 28 years later?
About the same price. There's a nice one on eBay right now for under $10 shipped. That seller also has a 1992 Frank Thomas for $7.50 shipped - I know I paid more than that for my 'Big Hurt" figure.
Clearly I wasn't the only one who had the idea to keep these figures sealed. The Griffey figure above isn't going to pay for my kids' college but it is a very important part of my collection. Every subsequent SLU figure I purchased would remain sealed, with few exceptions.
I still have one of the two Andy Van Slyke cards that came with his 1993 Starting Lineup figure. The second card and the actual figure is long gone from my collection.
If I ever decide to stop collecting sports cards (and tbh, I'm getting there) SLUs would be my next hobby. Nearly all of the 1993-issued figures could be purchased for under $20, and most could be found at flea markets and shows for $5 or less - assuming sellers would bother to bring them.
Let's take a look at the full four-sport checklist of Kenner's 1993 Starting Lineup line:
Baseball - 45 figures
Figures I'd buy for $5: Cal Ripken, Roger Clemens, maybe Mike Mussina
Random players included: Juan Guzman, Roberto Kelly, Shane Mack, Bip Roberts
Mack batted .310 or better in 1990, '91, and '92 so perhaps Kenner thought he'd earned his stripes. But by this point the checklist had just 40 figures in the main set; was Mack really one of the top 40 players in baseball? If he was, why don't I remember this at all?
The Extended series also includes a figure each for the expansion Marlins (Benito Santiago) and Rockies (David Nied) and two White Sox stars - Carlton Fisk and Bo Jackson. Including the three Pale Hose in the regular series, Chicago has five figures in the 45-piece set, tied with Texas for the most of any team.
The Angels, Royals, and Brewers were not represented in the 1993 set - and the Mets were only partially represented on the David Cone cards.
One more thing: Giants pitcher Bill Swift and Mariners pitcher Dave Fleming are listed on the back of each 1993 Starting Lineup figure as part of the "New 1993 Edition" - but neither piece was produced. I'm sure no one else cares about details like these but I've noted non-existent figures ever since I started chasing a phantom Steve Largent figure from the 1988 SLU set.
Speaking of football, let's take a look at Kenner's 1993 NFL line:
Football - 27 figures
Figures I'd buy for $5: Joe Montana, Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, maybe Deion Sanders
Random players included: Barry Foster, David Klingler, Russell Maryland, Anthony Miller, Chris Miller
Foster had a monster year in 1992, crashed back down to earth in 1993 and didn't play again after 1994. Klingler was the only true rookie in the set; he's listed as a "Young Sensation" along with Cortez Kennedy and Ricky Watters. Maryland made his only Pro Bowl in 1993. He finished his career with the Packers in 2000 and I don't remember that at all, either. I'm getting forgetful in my old age.
Anthony Miller was one of the NFL's top receivers in the early '90s and a Pro Bowler in 1992 and 1993. He's probably not "random" in the strictest definition but I've not heard or seen him mentioned in years. Chris Miller was a Pro Bowl QB in 1991 and should have been included in the 1992 NFL set. Kenner was a year too late.
One more thing: Defensive players comprised one-third of the 1993 series and kickers Pete Stoyanovich and Chip Lohmiller were also part of the set.
I remember being very excited to
see the first kicker figures - even though Morten Andersen should have
received that honor ahead of them.
Basketball - 29 figures
Figures I'd buy for $5: Christian Laettner, Clyde Drexler, Shawn Kemp, maybe Kenny Anderson
I've said that most 1993-issued figures can be found for under $20 today. Once exception is the Shaquille O'Neal 'rookie' piece, which recently sold for over $50. Michael Jordan's figure ain't cheap, either.
Random players included: Stacey Augmon, Todd Day
Augmon had just completed his second NBA season in 1993, and I understand Kenner's decision to immortalize the "Plastic Man".. in plastic. Day was one of five 1992 draft picks included in the 1993 SLU set - and the least successful by far. Note the two Topps cards packaged with the figure.
Two of my favorite 1990s greats - Hakeem Olajuwon and Reggie Miller - are not included in the 1993 series. There are no Celtics(!) or Lakers(!!) figures in the set, either. I'm not very familiar with NBA SLUs and I don't recall seeing any in stores that year, but it appears that the 1993 series was the first to include basketball players not holding a basketball:
One more thing: In 1989 Kenner produced over 120 NFL figures - and five NBA figures. Just three years later the NBA checklist was larger than the NFL set.
This is already a long post so let's take a quick look at the smallest set Kenner produced in 1993:
Hockey - 12 Figures
Figures I'd buy for $5: Steve Yzerman, maybe Eric Lindros
I took home a large portion of this set around 1999-2000 when I worked at my LCS. The shop owner paid me in inventory - mostly cards but occasionally I took home some Sports Illustrated back issues and Starting Lineup figures.
Grant Fuhr was the tough to find piece two decades ago. Fuhr figures still sell for well over $5 unless you buy in bulk.
Random players included: None. The only non-Hall of Famer in the inaugural NHL set is Jeremy Roenick. Technically Jaromir Jagr isn't a Hall of Famer but that's only because he's still playing.
There are no Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1993 set. Kenner probably planned on Fuhr representing the Leafs but he was traded to Buffalo in February of that year. Wayne Gretzky was not included, likely because of an exclusivity deal with Upper Deck. The "Great One" didn't appear on an SLU figure until 1997.
One more thing: If you're wondering what a NHL Starting Lineup set might looked like prior to 1993 I've got you covered at The Collector with my SLU Lost Years series, accompanied by Gavin's custom cards.
Thanks for reading!