I went home to my mother’s house this past weekend to paint her kitchen; she’s gearing up for the yearly rummage sale. Amongst the possible rummage items were my Starting Lineup figurines, all of which were Brewers players from the 1988 and 1989 seasons. I used to have a Kirby Puckett figurine from 1989, but somewhere along the line he vanished: I might have traded him for some cards back in the day, or he might have been the victim of another rummage purge by my mother. At any rate, I salvaged these guys from the purge-in-process.
As you can see, none of them are still in their packaging. I was only seven years old when I got these, and I was more interested in crudely recreating one of the copious Brewers losses that I watched on TV or at Milwaukee County Stadium than I was in “resale value” or whatever. First I would write inning-by-inning scripts of the games (because, you know, I already wanted to be a writer and stuff) and then I would act them out the best I could with the seven or eight figures that I had.
I played rough. As you can see, fake Rob Deer swung so hard at a fake pitch that he broke his fake bat off at the fake handle:
The B.J. Surhoff figurine was always my favorite. I liked Surhoff a lot as a player, even after he left Milwaukee; I had a t-shirt jersey of his from his days in Baltimore. There was much buzz around him as a prospect — the fact that I remember that from when I was six years old is surprising to me — and my oldest sister had a crush on him (even if he was a bit dopey back then).
Plus, the pose of the figure is unique and has utility: I often raised the right arm and used the catcher’s mask to strike other figurines in their faces — because that’s how fake B.J. rolls! Gritty grit grit: what a body needs to be a catcher. (I myself wore my socks high when I played with these figurines. I knew the tangible features of “intangibles.”) Surhoff, of course, amassed ~36 WAR on his career, so he had more than mere intangibles.
My second favorite was the Teddy Higuera figure. A once-celebrated, long-forgotten next-best-thing, Teddy would post his best full season in 1988 (72 FIP- in 227.1 IP). But just as this figurine would soon collect dust in my mom’s basement during my preteen years, the real Teddy never pitched another full season after 1988, and was out of the league entirely by 1994.
The fact that I preferred these two figures over the others suggests some things about me that’s true of my tastes in ballplayers even to this day: I prefer the obscure; I obsess over potential. In fantasy baseball I’d almost rather build a team of prospects and lose for three years than “win now.” Only the eminent guilt of wasting my buy-in keeps me from doing so, and even then only to a certain extent (I have more minor leaguers than minor league spots in my dynasty league). And after my prospects have graduated to the majors, put up a couple of solid years, I’ll come to find them boring, and trade some of them away for the next crop of prospects.
Still, this post would be remiss not to mention the best of the players represented in these figures: Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, both of whom were in the later half of the careers and perennial All-Stars by 1988, both of whom would go on to be enshrined in Cooperstown — both as Brewers. (This is sort of surprising to me about Molitor, who won a World Series and W.S. MVP with the Blue Jays, and notched his 3000th hit while playing for his hometown Twins. But most of his career — the best years of it — was in Milwaukee.)
“The Ignitor,” whom I met as a real person at a Blockbuster Video near my mother’s house that same year (1988), and whose uniformed buttocks provided reason for my mother to bring binoculars to games.
It’d be whatever the opposite of remiss is to mention Dan Plesac, but I’ll do it anyway. (Actually, Plesac had a solid career as a closer and setup man, posting a career 82 FIP- in over 1000 innings.) This figurine was from the 1989 class of Starting Lineups, as indicated by the change in uniform color though they didn’t change the poses between those two years, as you can see. At some point, I had a Glenn Braggs figure from 1989*, but it was also lost over the years.
Sometimes I forget how obsessed I was with baseball, even at an early age. I’ve probably wasted my own potential there; maybe I could have been the next Bob Uecker or something. Thank god for NotGraphs, which allows me to celebrate these little things. I’ve always been interested in the narrative that the game creates. Now, I’m slowly coming to recognize how baseball has shaped the narrative of my own life: however mundane, however full of regret and missed opportunity my life is, so is baseball. So is baseball.
Update, June 19: Actually, the Glenn Braggs figurine had fallen out of the bag that I brought home from my mother’s house when I pulled out the rest of them, and was under my chair the whole time I was writing this. Beautiful fail. To become fully aware of Glenn Braggs, see this post by Carson Cistulli.