The Oddest of the Oddball: 1988 Starting Lineup Talking Baseball

The best baseball cards are evocative—tangible reminders of a particular period of life, memories of rooting for a favorite player, or the circumstances in which one came to acquire a prized possession. In 1988, I was 16 years old and deep in the throes of collecting every single baseball card I could get my hands on, especially oddball releases of my favorite players. At that time, nearly every store, food manufacturer, restaurant, and dozens of other companies were anxious to cash in on the baseball card craze and contributed myriad releases to the Golden Age of Oddball.

IMG_1897
1988 Starting Lineup figures, Tony Gwynn and Don Mattingly

Kenner debuted its Starting Lineup figures and cards in 1988 with a set of 124 baseball players. Sister company, Parker Brothers, released Starting Lineup Talking Baseball, an electronic baseball game that was packaged with a set of 40 baseball cards featuring the biggest stars of the day. With an initial retail price between $89.99 and $99.99 (approximately $200 today) this set of cards was essentially the Holy Grail of oddball sets.

The game was amazingly sophisticated and unlike the ubiquitous Mattel, Coleco and Entex baseball games of the 1980s, the Parker Brothers version featured programmable lineups, real players, and an announcer who would offer play-by-play accounts of the action on the field. Unfortunately, it was often difficult to find willing opponents due to the complicated nature of game play.

EB.slu all star card 1
Sample of All-Star cards included with game

Each of the players on the American and National League All-Star teams packaged with the game contained a photo on the front and statistics on the back. The cards are an odd size (2 5/8″x 3″), however, and are almost too wide to fit in a standard baseball card album page. Licensed only by the MLBPA, none of the cards included team logos. The cards are not numbered in the traditional sense and only have a “Player Number” that corresponds to programming the lineup to include that particular player.

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Odd sized cards – with 1988 Fleer Dwight Gooden behind for scale

This alphabetical listing of the set includes the Player Number in parentheses and the * indicates that player is in the starting lineup:

  1. Bell, Buddy (15)                              21. Puckett, Kirby (21)
  2. Bell, George (22)*                           22. Quisenberry, Dan (30)
  3. Boggs, Wade (18)*                          23. Raines, Tim (23)*
  4. Brett, George (19)                           24. Randolph, Willie (15)*
  5. Carter, Gary (11)*                           25. Righetti, Dave (29)
  6. Clark, Jack (13)*                              26. Ripken, Cal (16)*
  7. Clemens, Roger (27)*                     27. Ryan, Nolan (30)
  8. Davis, Eric (20)*                              28. Saberhagen, Bret (28)
  9. Davis, Jody (26)                               29. Sandberg, Ryne (16)*
  10. Dawson, Andre (24)                       30. Sax, Steve (12)
  11. Fisk, Carlton (12)                            31. Schmidt, Mike (19)*
  12. Gooden, Dwight (29)                      32. Scott, Mike (25)*
  13. Gwynn, Tony (21)                           33. Smith, Ozzie (17)*
  14. Henderson, Rickey (23)*               34. Strawberry, Darryl (22)*
  15. Hernandez, Keith (14)                   35. Trammell, Alan (20)*
  16. Kennedy, Terry (11)*                     36. Valenzuela, Fernando (28)
  17. Mattingly, Don (14)*                      37. Whitaker, Lou (17)
  18. Morris, Jack (25)                             38. Winfield, Dave (24)*
  19. Murphy, Dale (18)*                        39. Worrell, Todd (27)
  20. Murray, Eddie (13)                        40. Yount, Robin (26)

These All-Star players were pre-programmed into the game. A cartridge was also included that featured legendary Hall of Famers, so right out of the box a game could be played pitting Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Kirby Puckett and the American League All-Stars against Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson and the Hall of Fame team.

SLU Henderson front
Note the copyright (L) is KPT (Kenner Parker Toys) and (R) Parker Bros.
SLU Henderson backs
Rickey Henderson cards for comparison

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball was customizable with the rosters of each of the 26 Major League Baseball teams at the time, available on eight cartridges that initially retailed for about $19.99 each:

  • No. 4001 – Tigers/Blue Jays/Indians/Brewers
  • No. 4002 – Yankees/Red Sox/Orioles
  • No. 4003 – Royals/White Sox/Rangers/Twins
  • No. 4004 – Angels/A’s/Mariners
  • No. 4005 – Cubs/Expos/Cardinals
  • No. 4006 – Pirates/Phillies/Mets
  • No. 4007 – Giants/Padres/Dodgers
  • No. 4008 – Reds/Astros/Braves
SLU Cart boxes
Game cartridges included team sets of cards

Each of these packages included a separate set of cards for the teams on each cartridge.  In total, there were 546 of these cards issued – 20 players and a checklist card for each team. These cards are the same odd size as those included with the game; however, the team set cards feature illustrations of the players on the front, not photographs. Here is a link to the complete checklist:

Starting Lineup Talking Baseball Teams Checklist

The cards included with the game cartridges are somewhat representative of each of the teams but the fact checkers for this game made some glaring mistakes! The first sign that the product might be prone to errors was evident on the game’s playing surface. The designer was apparently unfamiliar with the layout of the bases and (maddeningly) positioned second base parallel with the front edge of home plate.

BH.SLU field closeup 2
Playing surface of game

This massive oddball set features several players who appear on cards for two different teams. One of those players, Lee Smith, is actually included in the Cubs team set with Calvin Schiraldi – one of the players he was traded for! Elsewhere, Billy Ripken’s last name is spelled wrong, even though he was listed alphabetically right next to brother, Cal, whose name was spelled correctly.

EB.SLU dual card appearance ex
Some of the players who appear twice in the set

Here are players who appear on cards for two different teams:

  1. Bradley, Phil (Mariners/Phillies)
  2. Butler, Brett (Giants/Indians)
  3. Clark, Jack (Cardinals/Yankees)
  4. Davis, Chili (Giants/Angels)
  5. Davis, Mike (Dodgers/A’s)
  6. Dernier, Bob (Cubs/Phillies)
  7. Gibson, Kirk (Dodgers/Tigers)
  8. Knight, Ray (Tigers/Orioles)
  9. Moreland, Keith (Cubs/Padres)
  10. Parker, Dave (Reds/A’s)
  11. Slaught, Don (Yankees/Rangers)
  12. Smith, Lee (Cubs/Red Sox)
  13. Wilson, Glenn (Mariners/Phillies)

Taken as a whole, this is one unusual set – numbering nearly 600 – replete with oddly-sized cards, curious player selection, and a strange distribution method. Regardless, the Starting Lineup Talking Baseball cards evoke pleasant memories of playing the game with the precious few who were patient enough to play, driving all over the Chicagoland area with my card collecting buddies trying to track down missing cartridges/cards, and generally, that halcyon time of my life when I was less burdened with adult responsibilities. I still like to flip through these cards and reminisce. But if only I could find someone to play to play the game with…

Sources:

Author: Baseball Law Reporter

JOHN RACANELLI is a Chicago lawyer with an insatiable interest in baseball-related litigation. When not rooting for his beloved Cubs (or working), he is probably reading a baseball book or blog, planning his next baseball trip, or enjoying downtime with his wife and family. He is probably the world’s foremost photographer of triple peanuts found at ballgames and likes to think he has one of the most complete collections of vintage handheld electronic baseball games known to exist. John is a member of the Emil Rothe (Chicago) SABR Chapter.

4 thoughts on “The Oddest of the Oddball: 1988 Starting Lineup Talking Baseball”

  1. Great post, what an awesome game! I’d love to get my hands on one. I wonder what they go for now on E-Bay… if you can find one, plus the team cartridges.

    Like

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