PSST! WANNA SEE MY DIMENSIONAL BASEBALL CARDS?
He stood on the dresser over my sock drawer, coiled, ready to strike.
His crisp white uniform was pierced by stabs of red streaking up his leg.
Stan “The Man” Musial stood before me, immortalized in plastic by Hartland, and I was in awe.
I was maybe 4 or 5 (1962-63), and I didn’t know who he was. My brother or someone of that ilk had set him there. I dare not touch him.
Stan the Man – a vision in plastic!
The memory of that statue is burned into my memory like a first kiss. It was one of my first introductions to the national pastime, and it punched my ticket to a lifetime of hopeless devotion.
The Musial statuette disappeared when a fog bank enveloped our house in San Francisco. When the mist cleared, boxes of baseball cards and comic books filled the room. I recalled seeing sexy ads in those comics for Aurora’s “Great Moments in Sports” models kids could build: there was my hero, Willie Mays, hauling in Vic Wertz’ blast in the ’54 World Series. Johnny Unitas. Jim Brown. Even Gene Firpo knocking Jack Dempsey out of the ring! I can’t recall why, but I never got one of those models, nor any of the baby boomers on my block (and we had a ton of ‘em). But another long-germinating seed was planted.
Aurora Glory: Willie robs Vic Wertz!
I forgot about those Hartland statues for about 50 years. Memory kicked in when I went to Cooperstown for my first visit to the Hall of Fame in 2013. The gaggle of Times-Square-on-the-Lake memorabilia shacks offered faded versions of the old Hartland statues at prices best suited for lawyers, doctors, and stockbrokers. There was Musial, trapped inside a case, but sharing time-travel secrets with Willie Mays and Yogi Berra.
Here’s current eBay prices for some of those original Hartlands, including the rarest bird of all, Dick Groat. Prices vary, as some come without the original box (shrug).
I found a Groat that sold for $780 at auction, and the selling house claimed it’s rare because Hartland was sold to Revlon Cosmetics in 1964, Groat being the last of the final edition, and they ramped down production. Also, at the time of issue, Hartland statues were experiencing a sharp decline in sales.
After my visit to Cooperstown, a switch was flipped, and a trip to eBay was scheduled.
The heavens parted, and a choir sang. I discovered that reprints of the old figures were available at prices the hoi polloi could appreciate. I did not see any Musials, but Warren Spahn caught my eye, and he was ticketed for a trip to the top shelf in my office. A second surprise discovery was that another outfit was re-producing Hartlands, and I put the snag on an Eddie Mathews. This re-pro was produced in a manner that did not harken to the days of yore as the Spahnie had. Lessons learned.
Spahnie, in residence with tiny Wade Boggs and The Creature.
Ed Mathews 1988 edition. Sad face.
Then, Phase II kicked in.
Around 2002, my son had developed a fascination with the Big Unit, Randy Johnson. Strolling through Toys R Us, we ran into a dynamic figurine of him created by McFarland. Randy found a home on Matt’s shelf next to a Formula 1 racer. Then I forgot all about those McFarlanes.
Flash forward to 2011. I was making a film about the Baseball Reliquary, Not Exactly Cooperstown, and I needed a prop figure that looked like Wade Boggs. I trawled eBay and found a Yaz McFarlane that would be a fine stand-in for Boggs. My art director, Greg Jezewski, crafted a fabulous clay mustache onto Yaz and we were good to go. I also needed a catcher and an umpire to stage my scene with Boggs and found the perfect duo: Jason Varitek, in the squat, who came with an ump.
Varitek and friend assume the position.
Hammerin’ Hank Aaron was also needed to re-create his 714th home run, and the McFarlane not only had a fantastic pose, it looked like the man himself. A call went out to procure a Jackie Robinson figure, and there was #42, sliding into home plate, his cap lying in the dirt.
Jackie slides into the Baseball Reliquary’s “glorious attic” for my film, Not Exactly Cooperstown.
My eBay safaris had disclosed there were lots of these McFarlane baseball greats in the universe, and full-blown mania set in. Soon the mailman delivered a delightful parade of figures destined for the man-cave.
“Hoot” Gibson in residence.
First was a spectacular (and pricey) Bob Gibson in glorious follow through. He would make a swell tandem with Yaz if I ever need to re-create moments from the 1967 World Series.
McFarlane was going for Mays, but we got Willie Kirkland’s face instead.
Willie Mays, my hometown hero, was next, and a bit of a disappointment. He looks more like Carl Mays than Willie. The M&M boys followed as a duet; the poses were great, the resemblance passable. Nolan Ryan’s pose is marvelous: the Express scrunched in wind-up, about to give birth to a heat-seeking missile. I scored a bit of a dinged up Tom Seaver with part of the brim of his cap nicked.
Buster has gone up in price: now $50!
I don’t go in for many contemporary players, but Buster Posey made the cut with a dynamic pose. I also ended up with a Barry Bonds figure that was acquired before the real mania kicked in.
Roberto shares a locker with Yaz, swapping batting tips and recipes.
Then there are the jewels in the crown. Roberto Clemente (the priciest of the bunch), which bore a great resemblance to El Magnifico, resplendent in his 1971 double knit Pirates uni. #44, Willie McCovey of my Giants, looks fantastic in his orange jersey and killer sideburns, ready to annihilate a fastball with his whuppin’ stick (a version of Big Mac in his SD Padre uni is also available).
Beware of Willie McCovey and his fantastic sideburns!
Mickey, Hank & the Babe play bridge on Thursdays, BYOB.
Tom Seaver hangs out with BB King’s custom Gibson 335 ES.
Some of the squad ended up being sold to recoup production costs: adios to Jackie, Varitek and the umpire.
A deeper dive was now required to see who else existed in the McFarlane baseball figure universe (they do other sports as well) and how much it would cost to indulge.
McFarlane got into the figure biz in the early ‘90s, producing figures of their own intellectual properties after a deal with Mattel fell through. Their first baseball set came out in 2002:
- Pedro Martinez
- Randy Johnson
- Shawn Green
- Ivan Rodriquez
- Sammy Sosa
- Albert Pujols
- Mike Piazza
A total of 33 (!) series have been produced. There’s a sub-set, “The Cooperstown Collection,” featuring legendary players like Ruth, Cobb and Lou Gehrig (there’s even a figure of Gehrig giving his “Luckiest Man” speech). Here’s the gang from the 1st Cooperstown Collection series (2004):
A number of players have multiple versions (or “variants,” which has the player in a different jersey or uniform, e.g., Ruth with the Red Sox and the Yankees). Here’s the priciest, acc. to eBay:
Ty Cobb variant ($80)
Christian Yelich ($60)
Roberto Clemente ($60)
Bob Gibson ($50)
Buster Posey ($50)
John Smoltz ($40)
Anthony Rizzo ($38)
Jeff Bagwell ($38)
Rickey Henderson ($35)
Hank Aaron ($35)
It’s irritating to see contemporary players like Yelich commanding more dough than guys like Clemente!
Babe Ruth (!) $1
Scott Kazmir ($1)
Chipper Jones ($6)
Greg Maddux ($8)
I’d like to present my wish list of players, managers, and mascots for the next series:
- John McGraw
- Norm Cash (with table leg as bat)
- Don Mossi (with ears you can size to your liking)
- Leon “Daddy Wags” Wagner
- Jimmy Piersall (perhaps one of him in mid-breakdown, climbing the backstop at Fenway)
- Jim Bouton (Seattle Pilots edition)
- Seattle Pilots manager Joe Schultz (pounding the ol’ Budweiser)
- The San Diego Chicken (aka “The Laurence Olivier of Mascots”)
- Al Schact
- Max Patkin
- Connie Mack
How about an All-Miscreants Team?
- Hal Chase (infamous scoundrel)
- Denny McLain (recently referred to as “a bull that carries his own china shop with him”)
- Cap Anson (virulent racist)
- Billy Martin (beating up a marshmallow salesman, please)
- Joe Pepitone (complete with hairdryer and toupee accessories)
- The Chicago Black Sox
- Albert Belle
The possibilities are endless! I’d love to see a collection of baseball writers (Grantland Rice, Jim Murray), fans (Hilda Chester), Negro Leaguers (Oscar Charleston, Satchel and Josh Gibson), maverick owners (Bill Veeck, Sr., Bill Veeck, Jr., & Mike Veeck would be a sweet power trio) and lovable oddballs (Eddie Gaedel, Moe Drabowsky, Frank Robinson in Kangaroo Court get-up).
Who knew playing with dolls would be so much fun?
Links to Hartland and McFarlane goodies!
McFarlane Cooperstown Collection:
Video of the Hartland collection from 1958-1962: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_t5XHcNY-p8