Tom Selleck and Baseball

A prime time powerhouse on the roster of Reagan Era television programs, Magnum, p.i. invokes images of Aloha shirts, a red Ferrari, and a Detroit Tigers baseball cap worn by the title character, played by Tom Selleck “with a shaggy charm that manages to cut through most of the cops and robbers blarney,” according to James Brown in the December 11, 1980 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  Magnum, p.i. revolves around the personal and professional travails of Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, a former Naval Intelligence officer working as a security expert for the Hawaiian estate of novelist Robin Masters, whose voice is heard in several episodes, but whose face is never seen; the estate is nicknamed Robin’s Nest.

Living in the estate’s guesthouse in exchange for his security services, Magnum also runs a private investigation business on the Hawaiian islands with occasional assistance from Vietnam War buddies—Marine Corps Door Gunner Orville “Rick” Wright and Marine Corps Pilot Theodore “T.C.” Calvin.  Now settled in Hawaii along with Magnum, T.C. runs the Island Hoppers helicopter tour business and Rick manages the bar and restaurant and the King Kamehameha Club.  Robin is on the club’s Board of Directors.

Magnum’s battles at home consist primarily of verbal sparring about estate perks—access to Mr. Masters’s possessions, for example—with Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, the estate’s majordomo, who is fond of patrolling the estate with his “lads,” two Doberman Pinschers named Zeus and Apollo.  Magnum addresses plot points with narration often beginning with the phrase “I know what you’re thinking,” his plans to write a book on how to be a first class private investigator, or references to his instinct, which he labels his “little voice.”  Donning a Tigers cap pays homage to Magnum’s favorite baseball team, also Selleck’s.

Baseball-themed storylines highlight two episodes of Magnum, p.i.  In the 1983 episode “Squeeze Play,” a high-stakes poker game between Robin Masters and adult magazine mogul Buzz Benoit at the latter’s Beverly Hills mansion leaves the legendary scribe at the mercy of the wisecracking publisher; the two media icons go back two decades—in his magazine’s first issue circa 1961, Buzz published Robin’s first story, titled Babes in Babylon.  At the episode’s beginning, Buzz has already won a signed Picasso, a case of 100-year-old champagne, Robin’s master tapes of Jack Teagarden’s original songs, plus one original Robin Masters story for the next issue of his magazine.

When the subject of co-ed softball arises, Buzz gives Robin a chance to recoup his losses—the publisher’s Blasters versus the novelist’s King Kamehameha Club Paddlers.  If the Blasters win, Buzz gets control of Robin’s Nest for one year.  If the Paddlers win, Robin’s debts are wiped out.  The Blasters win.  All seems hopeless for Magnum, Higgins, et al., until Magnum realizes that Buzz plays poker with marked decks.  The bet, therefore, was never valid.

“Squeeze Play” references a real Yankees-Tigers game when Magnum recalls going to Briggs Stadium with his Uncle Lyle in June 1956—the game indicated is the June 18th contest, which the Yankees won 7-4, thanks to Mickey Mantle’s three-run homer that went over the stadium’s 110-foot roof.

In the 1982 episode “Jororo Farewell,” the 12-year-old Prince of Jororo, a fictional country, stays at Robin’s Nest when his baseball team visits Hawaii to play T.C.’s team in a goodwill game.  Simply, the prince is a target for those who want to harm the royal family of Jororo; the team stays at a hotel in Waikiki while the prince remains under the watchful eye of his security detail and, naturally, Magnum.  After a practice game, Jororian dissidents ambush the prince’s car; Magnum helps thwart their efforts with honed shooting skill.  When kidnappers abduct the prince, Magnum deduces that the team’s coach is involved, tracks him to an airport, and discovers that the prince jumped out of the rear cargo door of the kidnappers’ plane before it took off.

Baseball also provides the backdrop to Selleck’s starring role in Mr. Baseball, a 1992 film depicting Selleck as Jack Elliot, an aging, disgruntled, and overconfident major leaguer now playing for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan.  Elliot, at first dismissive of playing in Japan, learns humility, respect, and teamwork.  After finding success overseas, Elliot returns home to a coaching position with the Detroit Tigers.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 19, 2015.

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