My first foray into Starting Lineups began when I was about 7 years old. At the time to a kid like me, Starting Lineup figures were toys, period. I never once thought about them being collectibles, and my introduction to them was the Christmas of 1991 when my parents bought me the 1991 lineups of Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, and Joe Montana. Now at the time, it was very common to find superstar Lineup figures as they hadn't taken off as collectibles yet. I did what any normal kid would do...I opened them.
The 1st three lineups I ever received. No, they didn't last in those packages!
Not only did I open them, I...gasp....PLAYED with them! In fact, when I was kid, I used them as wrestling figures, along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and my WWF figures. Imagine, Hulk Hogan vs Michael Jordan in a WWF ring! 1992 would be no different. For Christmas I received a lot more Starting Lineup Figures. I vividly remember, Scottie Pippen, Barkley, Bird, Dee Brown, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Derrick Coleman, the list goes on and on. Another accessory my parents bought me this time were the collector display stands. These were discounted in the bargain bin at Toys R Us. My parents ended up buying me display stands for all 3 sports. Little did I know, how valuable those would end up being.
Starting Lineup Collector's Stands. They initially didn't sell well at all and ended up in bargain bins. Later during the Starting Lineup boom, the Stands were very sought after.
Again in 1992, I opened every single lineup I received. Again, lineups were readily easy to find, even here in South Texas, finding Emmitt Smith, and Troy Aikman was not a problem. The first lineup I actually kept in the package would be one I found at a local card show in 1993. I bought a 1989 Legends Oscar Robertson there. The reason I kept in package was kinda strange. It looked like an old figure and it was of a Hall of Famer and the Cincinnati Royals were a team that didn't exist anymore so I kept it in the package. It had nothing to do about it being valuable. I was still buying figures and opening them in 1993, like the Griffey Jr, Jack McDowell, Horace Grant etc.
1st unopened lineup in my collection
It was in 1993 though, that I did learn that as a collectible, Starting Lineup figures were more valuable if they were kept unopened in mint shape. The days of opening them up and playing with them were over. I started regretting opening them up and it made me sick to my stomach that what were once so easy to find, were now becoming very hard to find. No more finding Jordans, Emmitts, Nolan Ryan's by the bundle. Starting Lineups were beginning to take off as collectibles now. Now, at this time, I wasn't a huge collector, I would buy them here and there, but it was spread out for the most part. Starting Lineups were still behind cards in the hobby department. It would basically be one of those things I would look for only if we happened to go to a Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Toys R Us. The first lineup I bought at a store that I kept unopened was the 1993 Frank Thomas which I found at our local K-Mart. I thought I had hit the holy grail, and imagined that this piece had to be worth a ton of dough, lol.
1st Lineup I found at a retail store and kept unopened. 1993 Starting Lineup of Frank Thomas
The addition of the Thomas had me officially "collecting" Starting Lineups. No more opening them up at all for me. Like I said, it started it off very small. In 1993, I only added like 5 pieces to my collection. The 93 Steve Young ,93 Michael Irvin, 93 Cal Ripken Jr, 93 Dominique Wilkins, 93 Larry Johnson . I curiously did end up opening the Wilkins for reasons unknown, and in 1994 bought and opened the Laphonso Ellis (of all players) as well. After that though, I would never open up another figure again. Still entering 94, Lineups were a distant secondary hobby, if I managed to find any great, but there was not a really big desire to hunt for them. I was so entrenched in cards and video games, that basically lineups would only come if I received them as gifts, like the 1994 Gary Sheffield, and 94 Latrell Sprewell and Shawn Kemp.
1994 brought in figures of players such as Shawn Kemp and Latrell Sprewell
As 1995 rolled around, it was still more of the same of the last couple years. I averaged around 3-4 new figures a year, so it wasn't that many. 95 only brought in figures of Alonzo Mourning, Jerome Bettis, Barry Bonds and Juan Gonzalez. 1995 would officially signal the end of the 1st phase of my SLU collection because starting in 1996 things really started to take off, and Starting Lineups slowly started it's ascension to the top of my hobby world.
1995 was the official end of the "Initial Era" of my Starting Lineup Collections. It would be the last time I added less than 10 figures in a year to my collection.