Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Harts Strike Out

I'd like to recap one of my favorite Television episodes of all-time; The Harts Strikes Out.

If you're grew up in the late 1970's/early 1980's, you probably remember ABC's Tuesday night television lineup of comedies from 8-10 pm. It included:

8:00 pm - Happy Days
8:30 pm - Laverne & Shirley
9:00 pm - Three's Company
9:30 pm - Taxi and then later on Too Close for Comfort

These shows were ratings winners for ABC back then and are staples for TV Land today.

During the 10 o'clock hour, ABC had a successful drama in Hart to Hart that starred Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers. As a kid, I didn't often make it past 10 pm to watch television and when I did I rarely ended up watching Hart to Hart because I didn't find the show to be that interesting.

With that being said, on May 4th, 1982 when the 22nd episode of the third season aired, Hart to Hart was about to supply a first ballot inductee to my personal television Hall of Fame of the greatest television episodes that I have viewed.

With that said, I'd like to show you why (Spoiler Alert! It has to do with Baseball Cards). Here's goes my first ever attempt at reviewing/recapping a television show (watch out Roger Ebert).

The episode opens with montage of a bunch of vintage baseball cards and memorabilia. Among the highlights are a Yankee and Dodger jersey next to each other (the Dodgers play a big part in this episode) as well as the following baseball cards: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, T-206 Christy Mathewson, 1951 Bowman Willie Mays, 1939 Play Ball Joe Dimaggio, 1954 Bowman Ted Williams, 1958 Topps Richie Ashburn, T-206 Ty Cobb and 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth.

Overheard is a Dodgers Radio broadcast from May 20th, 1981 with Ross Porter calling Rick Monday’s game winning home run on a 3-1 pitch against the Phillies (He also mentions a spectacular diving catch made by Lonnie Smith hit by Reggie Smith).

Once the opening credits are done, we seen the stars of the show Jonathan Hart (Robert Wagner) and Jennifer Hart (Stefanie Powers) in the middle of a 1980’s television style lovemaking session. Just as things are about to get hot and heavy, Jonathan receives a phone call that his old friend Jack Fulton has died of a heart attack.

The next scene shows Jack’s estate being dealt with and we are introduced to Jonathan’s attorney Bill Westfield, Jack’s wife Valerie, his sister Dorothy and his son Jess. There we find out that Jack made a will and that Jonathan was the sole executor of Jack’s estate. Bill Westfield proceeds to read the will and it notes that all of Jack’s worldly possessions were to go to his wife Valerie. These include his life insurance, stocks and bonds, and cash on hand. In addition, Jack passed on his old collection of baseball cards to Jess because Jack collected them as a boy in his father’s memory.

After Bill concludes, Valerie notes that Jack left nothing for Dorothy. Dorothy then asks if there’s a way to give some of the stocks and bonds to Valerie. A few moments later Jonathan notes that there aren’t any stocks and bonds because Jack borrowed against the life insurance. Additionally, it’s discovered that Jonathan paid for Jack’s funeral.

Dorothy calls Rex and says that Valerie got stuck with a mortgage and the kid with a pile of bubble gums cards (that’s all they’re worth). If you ordered Champagne for room service, cancel it.

After the commercial break, Jonathan and Jess end up got upstairs to look at the collection of baseball cards Jess inherited. Jonathan pulls out a suitcase from the closet and once opened notes that there must be ten thousand cards in there.
 (I guess plastic pages hadn't been invented yet)

Jonathan goes through the cards and notices Ted Williams (1955 Topps), Yogi Berra (1955 Topps) and Willie Mays (1958 Topps) of the all-time greats.

Jess still upset over his dad’s passing (and because he didn’t pass on anything of value) says he doesn’t have any use for the cards and suggests that Jonathan take them downstairs and put them out for the garbage man to take away.

Jonathan asks that before you throw them out could he have a chance to look at them. While Jonathan and Jess are looking at the cards, he notes that “if any of these cards are over 25 years old, they call them collectibles. They’re a terrific investment. They could be worth more than art, real estate, gold. You dad could be sitting on a fortune here.“ What Jonathan is mentioning all of this, Jack’s sister Dorothy is shown over-hearing the entire conversation.

After hearing this, Jess wants to tell his mom but Jonathan first decides to find out what the cards are worth by calling a sports memorabilia dealer.

What we’re shown next is interesting.

First is a shot of an early 1980’s strip mall with what appears to be a station wagon that my mother used to drive complete with the folding back seats.

Second is a television clip of a game at Dodger Stadium from July 10, 1979 with the Dodgers pitcher (I believe Ken Brett because his uniform number is 34) throwing to what appears to be a New York Met (though at first I thought it was a Chicago Cub). The hitter (Richie Hebner) ends up hitter a home run to left field. The audio though is the same as during the opening montage and notes that Rick Monday is hitting a home run to right field and was from 1981!

Third is a shot of a sports memorabilia dealer wearing a Boston Red Sox cap watching television and sitting by the red phone (like the kind that the president has in case of a thermo-nuclear war). On the wood panel covered wall is a vintage Cardinals pennant and a vintage Dodgers jersey with what appears to be the letter T instead of a uniform number.

Getting back to the episode, the dealer answers the phone “McKenna? Sports Memorabilia” and Jonathan says “I’d like to get an idea what an old collection of baseball cards is worth?” The dealer says, tell me what you got, the condition and the years.

Jonathan says, “Well, they’re 30, 40, 50 years old and they’re in mint condition. Thousands of them. I’ve got Hank Aaron’s Rookie Card. An original Brooklyn Dodger. I’ve got a 1952 Topps card of Mickey Mantle.”.

Well that ’52 Mickey Mantle you’ve got is going for as much as a three thousand dollars.

Three thousand dollars for one card?

In 1952, you could buy six of those cards and a stick of bubble gum….

Dealer says “Not every card goes for that kind of money. Only the superstars and the old rare ones. Sounds like you’re sitting on $250,000 dollars

Jonathan..A quarter of a million. Well the owner is very anxious to sell.

Dealer, I can’t handle that kind of sale. Next Sunday at the Miramar, the annual baseball card convention..strictly cash…you’ll find plenty of eager buyers, traders and sellers.

Jonathan….Next Sunday..Miramar Hotel..Card Convention

Dealer…you’re lucky..most people throw out their cards or have them stuck up in the closet and not know their real worth.

Dorothy and husband/boyfriend discussing convention in hotel and that Jess have a bunch of very valuable and untraceable baseball cards which she deserves for the unpaid loans and bad stock advice left her. They eventually hatch up a plan to steal the baseball cards because they’re worth a quarter of a million dollars and it’s like “Money in the Bank”.

(Our villan Rex is a dead ringer for Airplane's Robert Hayes)

The next scene shows Valerie and Jess returning home due to car problems. Jess goes upstairs notice a burglary in progress and screams for his mother. She comes upstairs and a fight ensues. 

The end result is that burglar leaves with a duffle bag.

When Jess and Valerie come to, Valerie tells Jess to call the police and hopefully he wasn’t able to take anything. Jess looks on the floor and notices a few baseball cards scattered including a 1957 Topps Don Drysdale Rookie Card, a 1952 Topps Phil Rizzuto and a 1953 Topps Ralph Kiner. Jess immediately goes to the closet and takes out the briefcase that the cards are kept in. While doing so he notes that the case weighs nothing.

Note: I guess condition wasn’t an issue. Does this guy own any common cards?

The next scene shows Dorothy and boyfriend fan through a giant wad of money while sitting in a car. That’s followed by the Hart’s driving up to the Miramar Hotel in their yellow Mercedes Benz. As they park, both the Harts appear in early 1980’s satin LA Dodgers Baseball Jackets and proceed to head to the hotel which has a banner outside that says Baseball Card Convention Today.

Note: The Harts appear to be parking in a Red Zone.

Seeing all of this, Dorothy and Boyfriend (Rex) are concerned that if the Harts come across the guy who bought the cards will be able to describe them perfectly.

Here we find out that Rex is a two-time criminal with Mug Shots from coast to coast has decided that he needs to FIND the buyer before the Harts do.

Next we get a bait n' switch from the producer of the show as we first get to see a wide screen panoramic of a massive convention floor. Followed by a sign that says “Welcome! California Baseball Card Collectors” in what appears to be a hotel ballroom.

Playing in the background is a continuous loop of an organ playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”.

Note: If I was a card dealer at a show, I’d go crazy if I had to hear this all weekend.

The Harts start walking the show. One of the first booths they come across has a 1945 Chicago Cubs Pennant that the dealer (named Bujie) is charging $95.00 because it’s the last year the Cubs won the pennant. Here we learn that Stefanie is a Cubs fan and that she finds the price of the pennant to be expensive.

The Hart that split up to walk the show quicker. Jonathan asked Bujie where Mr. McKenna is and he conveniently happens to be at the both next to her. After getting re-acquainted, Jonathan asks McKenna who would be able to purchase his cards and notes that the cards he called about were stock.

McKenna bounces the idea off of Bujie and they conclude it was a guy named Wilbur who’s standing on the other side of the room. Jonathan then proceeds to head over to talk to Wilbur.

The next scene shows Rex at Bujie’s booth buying a 1947 Washington Senators Pen/Knife for $50.00 because she points out that the Senators are no longer a franchise so things are hard to get.

Note: Funny part is Rex pulling out $50 from a wad of money. Was that even impressive in 1982?

Jonathan finds Wilbur standing next to a curtain and explains that the cards are stolen. Wilbur points out that he purchased the cards for $260K and proceeded to sell them to a guy named Brooklyn for $300K who’s got a suite upstairs. Jonathan then asks who Wilbur purchased the cards from.

 (Wilbur must have had a 'Killer Collection' of cards)

While this is going on, Rex works his way behind the curtain, pulls out the knife and proceeds to stab Wilbur before he can answer Jonathan’s question completely. He did note that there were two of them and that he was about 35.

Note: All it took was one stab move from behind a curtain to incapacitate Wilbur. Incredibly, Wilbur was now unable to talk because of a stab wound to his backside. Also, there was a door conveniently next to the curtain.

The Harts then proceed to Mr. Brooklyn’s room in an attempt to buy Jess’ cards back. His secretary Cary answers the door and notes that Mr. Brooklyn never sells his cards but if they choose to the Harts can attempt to come back tomorrow night and win their cards back by “Flipping” for them. In order to get into the game, the Harts will need a minimum of $1000 worth of cards and that to get in the password is “Ebbetts Field”. Since the Harts don’t have any cards in their collection, they decide to head down to the convention floor to get some.

After a commercial break, the Harts are at home and have Jess staying over. This leads to a melodramatic scene where Jess wonders where his dad is and Jonathan notes he’s in a special place (i.e. Heaven) and that his spirit will never leave you.

Note: Some lady wrote an interesting review of this episode on IMDB that had nothing to do with the baseball card portion of the show in which she compares this scene to Robert dealing with the death of Natalie Wood. Uh, OK.

Next comes practice time. Jonathan and Max (the family limousine driver) are show flipping cards as well as explaining the rules. The way they played on the show was that each person dropped a card on the ground.

 If the second person matched the first person’s card by being face up or face down, he won. If they were mixed (one up and one down), the first person won.

What’s interesting, it that this is the first use of modern trading cards (1982 Topps Fernando and Bench) in the episode. Don’t worry, they’ll be more.

Note: When I was a kid, flipping cards meant that each person threw their cards against a wall. The card that was the closest won both card. Due to the possibility of damaging cards, usually common players were used as a proxy for star cards.

After beating up Max a few times, Jonathan brags that he was a champ at school. Max isn’t convinced and tells Jonathan that was years and ago and that Mr. Brooklyn could clean him out. After watching one hand, Jess believes that Jonathan has got the hang of it.

A phone call interrupts practice and soon we have a conversation with Jess and his aunt Dorothy. In the conversation, Dorothy asks how the search for the cards is going. Jess proceeds to tell Dorothy the following:

1. The Harts found the cards

2. Mr. Hart was a champ in school and he’s going to win them back

3. A security guard and a password involved

4. It sounds like a pretty big deal .

Dorothy tells Jess to wish the Harts well and then sets up plans to see a double feature with him which will clean up her image (in Dorothy’s opinion).

After the call ends, Dorothy recaps the conversation to her boyfriend Rex and he devises a plan where he’ll steal all of Jonathan’s winnings (estimated at a million dollars in baseball cards) by kidnapping Jess. At this point, Dorothy fells that Rex has gone too far. Rex reminds her that she asked him to steal for her and that she owes him. Further, he says that he risked going back to jail for life when he broke into the Fulton house and that the cards are their passport to security as they can sell them all over the country. No questions asked.

Later that evening, Jonathan receives an anonymous call from Rex saying that Jess has been kidnapped and that Jonathan now has a partner in his high stakes jackpot game (of baseball card flipping).

Rex reminds Jonathan that he has until sunrise to win as many cards as possible. That he give Jonathan a time and a place to drop off the cards and that he wants to see Jonathan’s old school yard form. Further, the Harts are going to be watched so no cops.

The next scene shows the Harts in formal evening wear with a briefcase full of baseball cards walking inside a hotel. They’re greeted at the door by a security guard and after saying the password "Ebbett's Field". They head into the room to flip cards.

After a few woods with his secretary Cary, the Harts are introduced to the man himself “Mr. Brooklyn”.

Upon introduction, Jonathan notices that Mr. Brooklyn is wearing an original Brooklyn Dodgers cap and even goes so far as to note that is before the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. Mr. Brooklyn offended responds, “Moved Mr. Hart. The Dodgers never left Brooklyn”. Jonathan quickly retreats and says, “My mistake”.

Note: It might be just me but Jonathan sort of implied that an after a Brooklyn Dodgers caps existed after the move to Los Angeles with the way he phrased his sentence.

Jonathan then whips open his briefcase and shows Mr. Brooklyn a briefcase full of vintage cards. From what I can tell, the following cards are in his collection;
1958 Topps Musial All-Star, 1957 Topps Clemente, 1957 Topps Drysdale, 1959 Topps Roy Sievers, 1958 Topps Willie Mays, 1953 Topps Ralph Kiner, 1952 Topps Phil Rizzuto, 1961 Topps Babe Ruth, 1953 Topps Pee Wee Reese, 1955 Bowman Roy Campanella, 1961 Topps Hank Aaron, 1955 Topps Yogi Berra, 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson, 1955 Topps Ted Williams, 1958 Topps Mickey Mantle and a 1956 Topps Sandy Koufax. Scattered on the table are a various 1956 and 1966 Topps commons.

Note: Based on the past scenes as well as what’s about to come up, it’s pretty obvious that the props department was working on a limited budget as the same cards that Jess had stolen are now in Jonathan’s briefcase. Further, these same cards are used by Mr. Brooklyn when he flips against Jonathan. This is especially true when you consider that vintage cards were a fraction of today’s prices in 1982.

(This might have been more believable if everyone dressed like baseball card dealers. For those you not in the know, the dress I'm referring to would be an oversized baseball tee shirt with stains, shorts and a big gulp. Note: Weighing 400 pounds plus is a bonus)

Now satisfied, Mr. Brooklyn says, “Mr. Hart, let’s flip cards”. Both men then proceed to the corner of the room where they determine who goes first using a hand game that’s appears to be a precedent to “Rock, Paper, Scissors”.

My take: This must have been a big deal in 1982 as we’re given a looking up from the ground camera angle to add to the suspense.

Mr. Hart wins and tells Mr. Brooklyn he can go first. Brooklyn leads with a 59 Topps Roy Sievers by placing it against the wall. Hart is taken aback and says “Off the Wall”. Cary responds, “You do know have to flip cards off the wall”? Hart confidently says, “I’ve flipped off the wall”. A nervous Stefanie mutters, “Jonathan?”

My take: How hard can that be to flip cards off the wall? That’s like asking are you a retard.

After dropping his Sievers card, Brooklyn explains the rules. Essentially, if you drop a card and it touches another card, you win. If you don’t, you take turns until someone does.

Note: Until the very final episode, not one time did a card land upside down. This includes during the robbery, practice at the Hart’s house and at the hotel while flipping cards. If I were a math whiz, I’d try and figure out the probability of that happening. My guess is that it would be mind-shattering.

On a different note, who’s the Roy Sievers fan? Every other vintage card that was zoomed in on this episode is of a Hall of Famer with one notable exception and he was at least a recognizable name in 1982.

Mr. Brooklyn proceeds to win the first match and from there goes on quite a run. The cards shown during this run include:

1958 Topps Willie Mays,

1956 Topps Sandy Koufax,

1957 Topps Roberto Clemente,

and 1953 Topps Pee Wee Reese.

Eventually a shot of a full briefcase of cards is shown.......

.....followed by that same briefcase empty.

With much of the night passed, Jonathan suddenly feels his school yard form again as he goes on an amazing run. The cards shown during this run include:

1957 Topps Billy Martin,

1954 Topps Gil Hodges,

1958 Topps All-Star Stan Musial,

1954 Bowman Joe Garagiola and 1961 Topps Hank Aaron (badly miscut),

1960 Topps Whitey Ford ,

1958 Topps Mickey Mantle, 1957 Topps Ernie Banks, 1955 Topps Ted Williams, 1958 Topps Duke Snider and a 1953 Topps Ralph Kiner.

It’s at this point where the producers get a little sloppy because mixed in with all the vintage cards are 1982 Topps and 1981 Fleer cards.

Most glaring was Stefanie handing Jonathan what appeared to be a 1982 Topps card and when he places it on the wall a 1958 Topps Mickey Mantle shows up.

(Did someone say 'Bait n' Switch?)

The 1958 Mickey Mantle it turns out is a big winner as the next shot shows all the winnings being placed back into the briefcase.

(Mr. Brooklyn hasn't been this upset since 1958)

It’s here where the producers placed an “Easter Egg” for fellow blogger Night Owl because you’ll notice a 1981 Fleer Ron Cey sitting on top of a bunch of late 1950’s/early 1960’s Topps cards. It’s quickly covered up by some recent winnings made up of a mixture of 1956, 1965 and 1982 Topps cards (most notably a 1982 Topps Dave Winfield All-Star).

(What's Ron Cey doing in a High Stakes Jackpot Game of Card Flipping?)

After a dizzying spinning panoramic shot of the room, a final shot of the briefcase is shown. This time it’s loaded with almost exclusively 1956 Topps cards.

Note: The only one I recognized is Dale Long. A 1956 Topps expert would have a field day identifying these are they’re not too obscured. Next you see Jonathan dropping his final haul into the case and it appears to be a mixture of 1982 Topps and 1957 Topps cards.

Once all packed up, Jonathan gives a couple of cards to Mr. Brooklyn on the way out and says sarcastically, “A Steak” and turns to his secretary and says, “He’s very good”. He then wakes Stefanie up to share with here the news that he cleaned him out.

The security guard (actually Rex) asks if the Harts would like the cards taken to their car. On the way out, Rex suggests to take the service elevator because it’s faster. The Harts agree because they’re in a hurry and tired.

He eventually leads the Harts into a broom closet. After covering all the 1980’s TV drama rules;

Rex identifying himself while holding a gun and explaining where Jess is,

the Harts trying to talk Rex out of what he’s doing, and a fight ensues between Jonathan and Rex.

Jonathan wins the fight but two more 1980’s TV drama rules ensue (Rex knocked out cold from the fight, Jonathan deciding to wear Rex’s police uniform in order to recover Jess).

The Harts now have to find Jess and after searching Rex they know just where to go, Room 724.

From there we see a bunch of good old fashioned 1980’s detective work that eventually leads to a showdown between Jonathan and Dorothy with Jess being as a hostage.

Push comes to shove and the Harts overpower Aunt Dorothy and rescue Jess. Wahoooooooo!!!

The final scene shows Jonathan mentioning that a dealer made a substantial off to Valerie (Jess’ mom) and she accepted. He then proceeds to reflect back to his childhood days when he there his card collection away because of some girl (who wasn’t as attractive as Mickey Mantle nor would she neck with him).

I hope you liked it as much as me. There are a couple of other baseball card episodes from the long ago past that I'd like to review but I'll save that for another blog.
If you're interested in watching this episode, here are the links to it on Youtube
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5


Captain Canuck said...

awesome... haven't seen that since it first aired.

night owl said...

Seriously, this was just one episode?

And way to put Lydia Cornell back in my consciousness. I may never stop being 15 again.

Matt Runyon said...

I remember that Tuesday night ABC lineup. We watched those shows religiously until the shows jumped the shark.

lkrester said...

I just watched it on the Hallmark channel. I was born in 1983 these are before my time but here I am watching them in 2019, 36 years later. I think Dorothy was the wife and valerie was the sister.