Kenner Collector Focus: Interview with Starting Lineup Collector Joe Curcio

Unproduced 1998 Los Angeles Dodgers Bob Welch

Starting Lineups have always had a special place in my heart, so I was excited to hear from reader Joe Curcio when he contacted us about an amazing collection of prototypes he has been able to assemble.

Growing up a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, I spent many Sunday afternoons watching favorites like Boomer Esiason, Chris Collinsworth, and Anthony Munoz.  What I didn’t realize at the time, was that  I was also watching the future inventor of Starting Lineup, the popular Kenner collectible toy line.  Pat McInally, a former punter for the Bengals from 1976 to 1985, pitched the idea for Starting Lineup to Kenner as his football career ended.  The complete history of the line follows the interview with Joe.

Hi Joe.  Thank you very much for taking the time to share your stories and Starting Lineup collection with us.  When did you first become interested in Starting Lineups?

I have been a Starting Lineup collector for many years.  I started buying and selling them in 1990 at the age of 15.  Over the past 20+ years I have made quite a collection for myself, but I was also missing the elusive prototype figure in my collection.  Back in 2004 I had the chance to purchase a Jim McMahon in the very desirable “squat” pose.  They did produce Jim McMahon in 1988 but not in this pose.  Being a huge Chicago Bears fan, I had to have this figure.  But it had a $900.00 price tag on it. At the time, that is more than I could afford.  I passed up the figure and still have not been able to locate another.

Were you always interested in prototypes, or was it something your tastes changed to after collecting for a while?

1989 Cleveland Browns Bernie Kosar. Released with orange stripes on the socks instead of brown as shown on the prototype.

I was always interested in the prototypes.  I remember seeing a few here or there at the large conventions, but I was young at the time and the price of them was way out of my range.  As I got older and had a better job my interests in them became more of a reality.  Now I have a collection of them that I am very proud of.  I even owned 2 of a Charles White at one time, but one was sold to another collector.

When did you finally add a prototype to your collection?

I knew a few collectors that had prototypes but when they were asked where they came from it was always hush, hush.  Finally in the spring of 2007 a fellow collector contacted me and told me that his Kenner source was planning on moving a lot of the stuff he had.  But his contact information did come at a price.  I took care of that price with other Starting Lineup figures and received a name and a phone number and finally got a few prototypes in my collection.

How did the conversation go once you contacted the ex-employee?

I contacted the gentleman in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of Kenner.  Turns out he worked at Kenner as a painter from the 1970′s up until the early 1990′s on many lines including Starting Lineup and Star Wars.  He started

1989 Cincinnati Reds Johnny Bench. Unproduced pose from the Baseball Greats line.

giving me a list and prices of the items he had.  I was like a kid in a candy store when he told me what he had.  Many of the prototypes were of figures that had been produced by Kenner, but I was only interested in players that Kenner never produced in either a certain year or team.  For example, in 1989 they did produce a Johnny Bench figure in the “Baseball Greats” line, but my contact had him in 2 different poses that they did not produce.  So I purchased them off off him.  I did not end up getting the prototype figures of players that were produced.

Were these prototype figures final production quality or from earlier stages?

The prototype figures look different from the regular produced items.  They are hand painted and are in a flat color paint.  They may or may not be slightly bigger and many hard copies come apart very easily.  All the limbs, head and waist come apart.  Some are production parts that are just repainted from other figures to make the prototype.  The figure’s paint is very fragile.  Also the numbers and players name is just a dry transfer and is very, very fragile.  I will not touch my figures and AFA will not grade them last I heard.  My thinking is that it is just too hard to put a value on them.

Did the artist give you any idea how many of each prototype existed?

The artist told me that usually 2 or 3 were made of one player.  These were used for commercials, catalogs or to show toy companies/department stores what the item is that they are selling.  Also, the prototype figures came in a plastic bag with a number assigned on the bag for the head and pose.  Also listed on the bag was the player’s team name and the name of the player.  Today you will not always find the bag for the figure, so having it is a plus.

Did the artist share any stories of his days at Kenner?

I gained a great friendship with the Kenner artist and we had many long conversations on the phone.  One of the most interesting stories was how the first years of Starting Lineup were not that great.  Sales were terrible and Kenner offered all the department stores the option to let them buy back the old, unsold product.  Once Kenner received the product back, it was loaded up on trailers and taken to Cincinnati landfills to be buried.

I asked the artist why after 1990 you never see any prototype style figures.  He told me that George Lucas had a big hand in Kenner and knew about all the Prototype figures in all the toy lines going out the back door and being sold on the secondary market.  He put a stop to it and made sure everything was kept under lock and key.  I saw some great pictures of items that were never produced and would love some of those items as well.  This conversation put a dent in that dream though.  I ended up purchasing about 40 Starting Lineup prototype figures and was thrilled.

What are some other good prototype finds you have had over the years?

 

1998 Temple University Eddie Jones

In the winter of 2008 I purchased a small lot of College Basketball figures off of eBay.  I knew one of the figures in the lot was not produced, but there was talk about it being produced back in 1999.  I remember thinking to myself this couldn’t be.  I won the lot and sure enough, it was the real deal.  It was Eddie Jones from the F.A.M.E. line.  This was talked about in the Kenner Collectors Club mailer but was never produced.  So then, what was this?

1998 Starting Lineup Collector Club Volume 5, No. 4

This was a packaged sample.  It was made for sales reps to take around to sell the product.  It is believed that only 5 would be made either in or out of the package.  The great thing about mine is that it was in the package with a player card as well.  I contacted my artist friend from Kenner and he told me that I got a great find.  He was no longer working for Kenner at the time this figure was to be released, so he really couldn’t tell me how this happened.  Remember, he told me that Lucas put an end to all of this,  so I asked the eBay seller where he got it from.  He told me that a friend of his used to work for Kenner/Hasbro back in the late 90′s and gave them to him.  Unfortunately that ended up being a dead lead.

 

1996 Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman. Released in this paint scheme, but quickly recalled. Believed to be 200-300 in existance.

Finally, in the summer of 2009, an ebay seller started listing many of the production samples that I always dreamed of getting, but always thought would be impossible.  I ended up purchasing probably around 60 of them, both on and off eBay.  I did ask the seller how they got them.  The answer was vague and I really got nothing out of it, but I did get a lot of what I wanted.

 

How big is your collection of Starting Lineups?

I own around 100 prototype/production sample figures.  As for regular production figures, I would say over 1,500.

Here is a small portion of Joe’s amazing collection:

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Thank you Joe for the terrific interview!

 

Here is some additional information and Starting Lineup History:

The story below is from Hasbro’s now defunct startinglineup.com website:

Back in 1986, a major league football career had just come to a close, and a line of major league products was about to be born.  Pat McInally, a Harvard graduate and 10-year veteran of the Cincinnati Bengals, was pulling up stakes in Cincinnati and getting ready to move to the west coast with his family.  Preparations included selling his condominium, and chance would have it that the buyer was a newly hired Kenner executive.  The two had a bit more in common than a real estate transaction.  Pat was the author of a syndicated newspaper column called “Pat Answers For Kids”, and of course the Kenner executive was in the business of developing toys for those very readers.  It was suggested that Pat come up with some ideas for Kenner.

Pat’s first idea was three-dimensional baseball cards, but Kenner didn’t feel that was a winner.  A field trip to a toy store was suggested to provide some inspiration.  Pat and his wife journeyed off across the Ohio River to wander the aisles of one of the major toy store chains.  What they found in abundant quantity were “heroes” based upon fictional characters.  The question that occurred to them both, why not make toys of real world heros like sports stars, who were demonstrating their prowess every weekend?

Nothing further happened until Pat and family had made it to California, but Kenner stayed in touch.  Finally, arrangements were made for Pat to return to Cincinnati and make a presentation of his idea to the company.  On his way to the meeting, Pat made a brief detour to a local store to pick up a pack of baseball cards to supplement his presentation.  Grabbing one of Kenner’s current action figures, Pat had the “total” package for his proposal.  The reaction was overwhelming.  Two hours of discussion ended with only one potential snag.  How to get the licensing rights?  Pat thought he could help with that as well.

On the following Monday, a trip to New York to obtain licensing rights with the major sports leagues took place.  Pat proved to be the key to success here as well.  At NFL Properties they met with John Flood.  John had been a fullback at Harvard during Pat’s tenure there.  After a bit of reminiscing about college, the attendees sat down and negotiated an arrangement.  Next stop was MLB Properties.  Here again, Pat’s college and professional background proved to be a key element in getting the ball rolling.  The MLB Properties legal counsel was Ed Durso, a former running back for the Bengals, and Rick White, head of the division was an alumnus of Chapman College in Pat’s California neighborhood.  The next morning the NBA offices were visited.  The merit of the proposal and the prospect of a line featuring the full gamut of major league sports was impossible to reject.  By the end of that week, committments were in hand and Starting Lineup was on its way to reality.

Here is an interesting article from 1997 that ran in The Kentucky Post about Pat McInally finally getting immortalized as a Starting Lineup.

 

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8 Responses to Kenner Collector Focus: Interview with Starting Lineup Collector Joe Curcio

  1. orly says:

    i have a question. do you know why the 1996 troy aikman double sleeves blue star piece was pulled off the shelves? i just recently purchased one and have always wondered this.

    thanks,

    • Joe Curcio says:

      Not really sure. May of had something to do with the rights to the jersey from NFL to Kenner. But that is just a guess.

      Thanks, Joe

  2. Dave says:

    Hi Joe.

    I am hoping you can help me figure something out. I have an 1989 MLB store display but most of the players have come off and are free in the display. I would like to put it back together but am wondering is there a certain order they should be in. Or where the store displays just random?

    Players: Trammell, Viola, Clemens, McGuire, Gibson, Molitor, Strawberry, Mattingly, Scott, Ozzie Smith, Dawson, Davis, Gooden, and Windfield.

    Any help you can give would be great!

    Thank you,
    Dave
    davef@asphaltzipper.com

    • Joe Curcio says:

      Dave,
      Sorry for the late reply. The stores didn’t put the figures on, Kenner did. But they werent always the same, but usually pretty close. I do believe I have some pics on the KC website here. Mine were right from Kenner, still sealed in the case until I took them out of the sealed case. Just follow that format and you will be ok :) Let me know if I can be of any further help. Here is my email for a faster response. curch@epix.net

      Thanks, Joe

  3. mike says:

    Anybody have Joe Curcio email address?

    love to show an
    1988 Joe Montana
    1988 Elway protos

    and a bizzard Kenner display case, could have been one Kenner took to toyfare, has a mix of baseball, football, basketball.

  4. Joe Curcio says:

    Mike,
    Here is my email address curch@epix.net Would love to see some pics.

    Thanks, Joe!

  5. ricky says:

    1998 hall of fame pro football collection looking on the back of those pieces somebody was rdeleted cause theres a black strip over the name who was that suppossed to be

  6. robin says:

    I’ve seen several Kenner Starting Lineups for sale that say they are “AFA” graded. I see thesefor sale hundreds of dollars over what the presumably non “AFA” graded pieces would cost. What or who gives it the “AFA” grading? Is this grading real or a scam?

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