My friend Jesse bought me two identical 1999 Starting Lineup “Freeze Frame: One on One” action figures that look like this:



One sits next to me as I write. The other hangs on my bedroom wall, above my lamp.

Here is the pivotal action shot, the action figure that would be if I took it out of the packaging:



As you can see, Kenny Lofton is stealing second base as Cal Ripken Jr. helplessly awaits the throw. (7/12: Editor’s Note: I have failed you all. Cal Ripken played 161 games at third base in 1998. Kenny is, apparently, sliding into third base). 

How can we know if Lofton will be safe? I’m pretty sure he will be, but perhaps, the ball is two inches from Ripken’s glove, and is omitted from the scene. Let’s take a look at some statistics to investigate the likely outcome of this moment, frozen in time.

In 1992, Lofton came up with the Houston Astros. The Astros already had a center fielder in Steve Finley, so they shipped Kenny Lofton to Cleveland for Eddie Taubensee and Willie Blair. In other words, even in 1992, the Houston Astros were making awful trades.

Lofton blossomed into a star in Cleveland, leading the league in steals for five straight seasons, from 1992 to 1996. In 1997, Lofton was traded, alongside Alan Embree, to the Atlanta Braves for David Justice and Marquis Grissom (it goes without saying that Embree was the clincher in that deal). Lofton spent one season with the Braves, recording 27 stolen bases in a whopping 47 attempts. He was re-signed by the Indians the following year, back when the Indians did things like sign marquee free agents (sorry, Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn). Back in the American League, Kenny resumed his efficient base-stealing ways, swiping 54 bags in 64 attempts. Since the action figure in question was made in 1999, those numbers from 1998 seem like the most relevant stats for this irrelevant discussion of whether Lofton will end up safe or not.

Now, who would have been catching for the Orioles at the time? According to Baseball Reference, not only did the Orioles lead the league in attendance in 1998, but they platooned legends Lenny Webster and Chris Hoiles behind the plate. Hoiles threw out 21% of runners. Webster threw out 23%. Neither number is very good.

Alas, we have even more information, the type of information you should probably look up prior to analyzing 6 years worth of data. In 1998, Kenny Lofton was 3 for 4 in the stolen base department against the Orioles. So essentially, there is a 75% chance this is a stolen base. I’m a gambling man, and my money is on Kenny.

I digress.

Let’s take a closer look at that situation in the background:


Okay, hold on. If that isn’t the most homoerotic thing that has occurred between two random guys in blank uniforms on a baseball diamond, then you tell me what is. The man on top grimaces, laying every inch of his manhood on the line. The faceless catcher, partially obscured by the plastic, submits himself to the pitcher’s — I mean, base runner’s — forceful thrust: safe at home. Yes, those dudes are all kinds of tangled up, and I’m lovin’ every minute of it. Is this a PG-13 moment? Hasbro, Inc. would say no:



That’s right, 4 year-olds and 104 year-olds are together enjoying the man-on-man action in the background. 3 year-olds and 105 year-olds, on the other hand? Well, you just need to slow your roll, sir.

One more fun thing, and then you will never, ever hear about this action figure again. I promise:


So there are a bunch of other dudes who you could collect. You are probably having a difficult time seeing them because I am inept with cameras and computers. But who are they? We’ll start with the easy ones: The catcher with red gear on is Pudge. The guy bunting — why is he bunting? — is Ken Griffey, Jr. Kenny Lofton is going up over the yellow line at Jacob’s Field to take a homer away from some evil slime. The white guy playing for the Cardinals is, I suppose, Mark McGwire (though he looks NOTHING like him). Then it gets a little dicey.

The Arizona player on the far right is wearing #16. Who wore #16 for the Diamondbacks in 1998 you ask? Come on, think people. THINK…

(drum roll please)

Travis Lee! Duhhhh!

He of the steroid-induced, third-place finish in the 1998 Rookie of the Year voting.

So we are left with two players, and both are pitchers. One pitches for the Cubs — pictured second from left — and the other for the Yankees, who is the guy in between Pudge and Lofton. The Cub must be Kerry Wood, who was a flame-throwing, nasty-slider snapping rookie in 1998. The Yankee, on the other hand, is an absolute mystery.

Here is a list of relevant right-handed pitchers who appeared for the Yankees in 1998:

David Cone

Orlando Hernandez

Mariano Rivera

Hideki Irabu (!!!)

Jeff Nelson

Ramiro Mendoza

Okay, so let’s be realistic and cross off Jeff Nelson and Ramiro Mendoza. Unfortunately, I am going to have to nix Irabu as well. (But fear not, for the Fat Toad had his own action figure in 1998, and you can buy it on eBay for 5.00).

The question becomes: could that super white-looking dude be Mariano Rivera or Orlando Hernandez? Our foremost clue seems to be the stirrups that the pitcher is wearing. After spending several minutes (at least two, anyway) looking at google image searches for “Orlando Hernandez 1998,” “David Cone, 1998,” and “Mariano Rivera, 1998,” I can assure you that El Duque is the only guy who is consistently pictured with knee-high socks. Only one of the images I found showed him with stirrups, but I will be damned if I didn’t find one — a Bowman baseball card:

El duque


Sha-bam! El Duque it is! (Note: it’s probably David Cone).

Goddamit, Starting Lineup, now I’m itching to collect them all.