Saturday, August 10, 2013


Leave it to a Canadian to bring life to America’s Favorite Pastime. Many years after I started begging my local shop owners for “baseball guys,” Todd McFarlane produced the very toys that I had imagined all of my life.

His rise to domination in the realm of sports figures was quick and complete. Collectors had lost patience with the stagnancy of Starting LineUp (SLU) figures, and McFarlane saw this.

He applied for, and was denied, the rights to use official MLB and NHL franchises for his initial offerings of figures. He released the figures anyway while holding the rights to the MLBPA and NHLPA. His baseball and hockey figures were dressed in the colors of their teams, but did not carry their teams’ official logos.

They flew off the shelves. The figures were bigger and better, featuring incredibly accurate sculpts. They were in the same price range as SLUs. It was easy math for sports fans. Todd soundly beat out his competitor, and acquired the official rights to all four major professional North American sports leagues within very short order.

Many in the business world were surprised by McFarlane’s complete and total takeover of the sports toys market. Nobody thought SLUs would ever go away. They should have taken a closer look at what Todd had going on. In retrospect, it was very obvious.

First of all, he was an accomplished artist and businessman. He had parlayed his signature artistic style into a superstar career in comics. Marvel Comics experienced its first million-copy selling title, Spider-Man #1, due largely to the fact that it was written and drawn by McFarlane.

Secondly, he made the unprecedented move in the early nineties of breaking off from Marvel and DC Comics with several other superstars to form their own company. Fans followed him and his partners, and sales for the new imprint went through the roof. His company, Image Comics, was instrumental in furthering creator’s rights and publicizing their properties. “The Walking Dead” started as an Image book.

McFarlane created the breakout character Spawn, who would go on to star in several series of books, ongoing today; star in a feature film in the mid-nineties starring Martin Sheen, John Leguizamo and Michael Jai White; anchor a long running adult themed animated series for HBO; and get his own action figure line that would revolutionize the toy industry with ultra-detailed and realistic sculpting not seen on toy shelves before.

So. Todd had himself a built-in audience. He cultivated a close relationship with his fans via his website’s message boards. There, collectors were encouraged to communicate what they wanted from their comics and collectibles. McFarlane would often directly respond to fans on the message boards, harnessing the fledgling Internet to spread his influence. He was social-media savvy before that phrase even existed.

His warning shot to the sports collectibles industry came in the late nineties. A mysterious bidder won the auction for Mark McGwire’s record-setting home run baseballs. McFarlane revealed himself as the winner shortly thereafter and took the baseballs on a ballpark tour so fans could see them.

As the SLU property continued to frustrate collectors, McFarlane saw his chance and went for it. By the early 2000’s Todd cornered the sports market on figures and has owned it ever since. Now he has been doing it for as long as Starting LineUps existed originally, and shows no signs of slowing down.

The figures, as you can see, are absolutely gorgeous. There is no question as to whom the players are. He produces loads of toys singly, in sets, and in all shapes and sizes. And he made plenty of our beloved Yankees.

He makes the players of today;

 He makes classic players;

Recreates iconic moments;

And he gave me my favorite Reggie Jackson figure;

In recent years McFarlane began releasing Playmakers toys. These are the ultimate baseball figures for me, and the only ones I still actively collect and hunt for. Produced in a 3/34” size, the figures are in scale with other action figure lines. Facial sculpting is still second to none and the figures are super poseable.

In short, the Playmaker figures are exactly what I envisioned as a boy. Collectible. Fun. Give them to the kids or keep them on the shelf. I have been storing a few for my son to play with when he is old enough.

My son. And now we are full circle. If my boy wants baseball figures, he will have them. And, like me, his first baseball toys will be several years old when he plays with them. They will be older than him. Like mine were.

From father to son. There’s beauty in that. The beauty of the game of baseball.

 Hey, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my baseball figurine series... exclusive here at Bleeding Yankee Blue and my blog, ChadRants



Chad R. MacDonald
BYB Features Writer
Facebook: New York Yankees the Home of Champions
My Blog: ChadRants

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