Friday, July 14, 2017

[YouTube] Starting Lineup Talking Baseball


For the inaugural video I chose Starting Lineup Talking Baseball (SLTB) as the subject. Parker Brothers released SLTB in 1988, the same year that the baseball figures debuted from Kenner. Parker Brothers and Kenner Toys were actually part of the same company at one time as General Mills merged the two when it owned them, calling the division Kenner Parker Toys. Tonka acquired Kenner Parker in 1987 and split them back up with Kenner then being renamed to Kenner Products. A few years later in 1991 Hasbro acquired Tonka, Kenner, and Parker Brothers.

Second base is printed the wrong way; same error on the manual.

SLTB was quite advanced for 1988, featuring the ability to either control real teams or manage them while the computer plays against itself. Instead of simply following blinking lights to determine what is happening as most electronic toys did at the time, the device also features a commentator that provides play-by-play. This wouldn't be seen in video games until Sega's Joe Montana II Sports Talk Football in 1991 and then MLBPA Sports Talk Baseball in 1992. Speech was included in sports games as far back as Intellivision's Major League Baseball (1980) but not commentary. Although I cannot find evidence of it, I do wonder if Parker Brothers was involved at all in Sega's commentary development as the voices between SLTB and Sports Talk Football sound similar to me but then maybe that's just how all computers sounded.

View from the pitching side.

Batting keypad.
Pitching keypad.

Other unique options for an electronic sports game in the '80s is the ability to make substitutions such as pinch hitting, pinch running, changing fielders, and calling in relief pitchers. Players can also bunt, power swing, go for an extra base, and steal bases while on offense, and throw three types of pitches or a ball, attempt a pickoff, pitchout, intentionally walk a batter, move the infield in, and call for an instant replay while on defense. This is all quite in-depth and better than most video games at the time. The device itself has a keypad on the home plate side of the game for batting and a separate pitching/defense pad on the outfield side (defense is automated once the ball is in play). Whether playing against the computer or another player, SLTB must be rotated at the end of each half inning. The game does sit on a foam disc making it simple to rotate when on a flat surface.

The bottom of the game; center circle rotates though
my foam piece has flattened out too much.

Four "C" batteries power the game and there are two cartridge slots behind the outfield. The 1987 American League and National League All-Star teams are built into the game while a Hall of Fame cartridge was included in the package (all rosters are abbreviated to 20 players). To insert a cartridge users need only pop off a section of the stadium seating; two slots are available so that teams located on separate cartridges can be matched up against one another.

Cartridge slots with the Hall of Fame cartridge inserted.

Aside from the Hall of Fame team, all teams also have a set of baseball cards, one for each player in the game and a single card that lists the roster with corresponding numbers next to each player that are used when setting lineups and making substitutions. The All-Star team baseball cards feature MLB player photos while all team cards packaged with cartridges have artwork instead.

All-Star team baseball cards packaged with the game.

Eight cartridges were sold separately with multiple teams per cartridge that cover all 26 MLB teams from 1987:

American League Team Cartridges
  1. New York, Boston, Baltimore
  2. California, Oakland, Seattle
  3. Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toronto
  4. Minnesota, Texas, Chicago, Kansas City
National League Team Cartridges
  1. St. Louis, Chicago, Montreal
  2. New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  3. San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles
  4. Cincinnati, Houston, Atlanta

The Kenner Starting Lineup figures were a big hit and continued for 13 years but SLTB did not fare as well as the figures and no cartridges were made beyond the first year so that only 1987 team rosters are available. I cannot be 100% certain on the original MSRP of the game and cartridges but I came across someone selling their game in the original box that still has a price tag on it of $99.99 and my cartridge boxes say $12.99 so those are likely the original prices. As cool as the game is, the $100 price is steep considering video game consoles were $199.99 or less in 1988 and the Sega Genesis was only a year away and would launch at $189.99.
Instruction manual cover.

Hall of Fame player sheet.

Instruction manual back.
Scorecard on back of Hall of Fame player sheet.

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