Worst Baseball Card Set Ever

Main Street Toy Company was a 10-person outfit that was formed in the wake of Coleco’s demise. Main Street’s founder, Gene Murtha, was a former vice president of marketing for Coleco.  He assembled a small team of executives to run a new toy company poised to “learn[] lessons from Coleco’s mistakes.”

Main Street found quick success with Slap Wraps, a plastic-coated steel strip that would automatically curl around the wrist when slapped on one’s arm. The company sold upwards of $4 million worth of Slap Wraps in 1990. Unfortunately, this was the only successful product in its lineup and by 1991, Main Street had been gobbled up by a competitor and dissolved.

But, what does all of this have to do with baseball cards you ask?

Well, Main Street Toy Company marketed the worst baseball card set ever in 1989. Patented by video game stalwart Eric Bromley and assigned to the fledgling company, Main Street Baseball was an electronic game that used statistics for individual MLB players to help determine game play outcomes. According to the box, you could “Steal a base like Vince Coleman” or “Pinch hit like Kirk Gibson.” Wow!

Player information was embedded in bar codes that were printed onto small stickers designed to be affixed to the back of that player’s baseball card. In theory, this was not a bad idea at all. In practice, however, the kids who wanted to play Main Street Baseball were encouraged to deface baseball cards of their favorite players and then slide them through a slot to scan the bar code. Oh, the humanity!

Main street bar codes

The game included bar codes that contained the 1988 statistics for over 100 players, along with an offer to purchase bar code stickers for each of the 26 teams in MLB at the time. And have I mentioned that the Main Street Baseball game was packaged with the worst baseball card set ever?

Officially licensed by the MLBPA, Main Street was authorized to use the names and statistics for the superstars of the day and produced a 24-card set that featured standard-sized cards. The complete set includes:

NL players: Bobby Bonilla, Will Clark, Andre Dawson, Kirk Gibson, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg, Benny Santiago, Ozzie Smith and Darryl Strawberry.

AL players: Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Carlton Fisk, Don Mattingly, Paul Molitor, Kirby Puckett, Alan Trammell, Frank Viola and Dave Winfield.

The backs of the cards are unnumbered and list only biographical information and rudimentary statistics from each player’s 1988 campaign— batting average, home runs and stolen bases for position player and won-loss record, ERA and strikeouts for pitchers. And, of course, a spot was designated for the bar code sticker.

Main street back

Although the production run is unknown, these cards can be difficult to find. So why would a difficult-to-find set comprised of half Hall of Famers be so brutal, you may be asking?

Well, the cards do not include photos or illustrations of the players.

Main street al front

What? Wait a second. A set of cards that was licensed by the MLBPA does not include any player photos? Not even pictures with the team logos airbrushed out?

Nope.

Main street nl card fronts

Strictly for completionists, the Main Street Baseball cards are the worst ever—unless you have a thing for wholly generic baseball art and a dearth of statistical information. As for the game—who knows. I was never willing to destroy my cards to play it.

Sources:

Anthony Ramirez, “Turning Profits Hand Over Wrist,” New York Times, October 27, 1990.

Pamela Klein, “Fad Wanes, But Marketers, Creators Still Feud,” Hartford Courant, September 2, 1991.

“Canadian Firm Gets Main Street Toy Lines,” Hartford Courant, November 27, 1991.

United States Patent Number 5,026,058, issued June 25, 1991.

http://electronicbaseball.blogspot.com/2014/06/main-street-toy-company-main-street.html (Note: Author’s blog with further information and photos)

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.

SLU Gooden
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:

Jerry Morales: Fashion Pioneer?

Jerry Morales was—at least anecdotally—a slick-fielding outfielder known for his unorthodox habit of catching routine fly balls below his waist and out in front of him. He led PCL outfielders in fielding percentage in 1970 and 1971 and was a top defensive NL outfielder in 1975 and 1976 by standard metrics – including assists, range factor, double plays, and fielding percentage. Morales was also known for his sweet mustache, ranked here as the 12th best in Cubs history.

In his 15-year Major League career, Morales amassed nearly 5000 plate appearances and displayed decent power, belting double-digit home runs in five seasons. Morales was an All-Star in 1977 with the Chicago Cubs and was hit by a Sparky Lyle pitch in his only All-Star plate appearance. He would end the regular season .290/.348/.447, with 11 home runs and 69 knocked in. Advanced metrics have not been kind to Morales as a defensive outfielder, however. According to Baseball-Reference, Morales was worth -0.7 WAR in his 1977 All-Star season and finished his career with a -2.0 WAR, including a lifetime dWAR of -12.4.

On the other hand, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. was a perennial Gold Glove recipient, winning ten consecutive awards from 1990-99 with the Seattle Mariners. Although the second half of his career, mostly with Cincinnati, was marred by injuries and declining defensive value, Griffey finished his Hall of Fame career with a lifetime 2.2 dWAR, upstaged by his offensive prowess and a trophy case overstuffed with Gold Gloves. Griffey appeared in 13 All-Star Games and compiled a .440/.464/.640 slash line in 25 at-bats, with a home run and seven driven in.

95 Pinnacle Griffey 128
1995 Pinnacle #128

Junior was also known for wearing his baseball cap backwards, although his reason for doing so began of necessity, not style. “My dad had a ‘fro, and I didn’t, so I wore his hat and it always hit me in the face, so I just turned it around and it just stuck. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a tough guy or change the way that baseball is played. It was just that my dad wore a size 7 1/2, and I had a 6 1/4. It was just too big.” Griffey participated in 1993 Home Run Derby with his cap on backwards and concluded his 2016 Hall of Fame induction speech by donning his hat in that oh-so-familiar way.

So why all the fuss about Jerry Morales?  Well, as it turns out, he was the first non-catcher to ever appear on a Topps baseball card with his hat on backwards, years before Ken Griffey Jr. became associated with the style. On his 1981 Topps card, Morales is pictured hanging out at the batting cage with his New York Mets cap on backwards.

81 Topps Mets Morales 377
1981 Topps #377

Sure, catchers were often depicted on cards with their caps on backwards, but mainly because they wore them that way under their masks.

The last catcher to be pictured on a card with his hat on backwards was Rick Dempsey in this 1991 Score edition.

91 Score Rick Dempsey 816
1991 Score #816

But Jerry Morales will always be a fashion pioneer.

Sources: