Each week (or not), Dan McQuade reviews a baseball movie. And he also does TV sometimes, like when he doesn't think he has the attention span for a whole movie. This week in Cinema Varitek: "The Problem of the Missing Baseball," the pilot episode of Mathnet, starring Joe Howard and Beverly Leech, written by David D. Connell and Jim Thurman and directed by Charles S. Dubin.
One of my favorite shows as a kid was Square One TV, the educational math show broadcast daily on PBS in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At the end of each program was a short segment of Mathnet, a Dragnet parody where detectives' knowledge of mathematics helped them solve crimes. This was a trend in the 80s; you no doubt also remember the game and show Carmen Sandiego, where you could solve crimes with your knowledge of geography and flags.
The show followed detectives George Frankly and Kate Monday in the Mathnet division of the Los Angeles Police Department. Yes, during the 1980s L.A. apparently had a division dedicated to solving crimes (usually non-violent small ones) with mathematics! Later, the NYPD would adopt the same tactic with George and Pat Tuesday. While DARE may get more press, I think Mathnet is Darryl Gates' real success story in policing. (He gets a "Special Thanks" in the credits here.)
In the interest of journalism, I recently watched "The Problem of the Missing Baseball," a math/crime hybrid that this website says is the show's pilot. I didn't remember this episode from my childhood, but the plot was familiar; the episode opens with a group of kids looking for their missing baseball signed by Babe Ruth. They had been playing, uhm, sandlot baseball with it and it went missing after a home run. If they don't get it before the kid's father gets home, he's going to get it!
Of course, in The Sandlot, LAPD officers do not investigate the missing baseball.
The Mathnetters then head back to the office, where Ginnie Carlson (Tyra Ferrell) inaccurately refers to the following as a "map."
Using mathematics -- "The angle of instance equals the angle of reflection," George later says -- the Mathnet detectives realize the ball must have ended up near or in a house close to the field. They travel to said house, which helpfully has a "Not For Sale" sign attached to it.
By the time the detectives realize the baseball simply must be inside the house, there is a problem: It's been stolen! Yes, the whole house is simply missing and the old woman who owns it is forced to live inside a tent.
Geeze, that's rough. She doesn't have anyone to stay with?
George helpfully explains that there are only three ways to get rid of a house: Blow it up, dismantle it, or jack it up, put it on a flatbed truck and haul it away. They question the neighbors, and we meet my favorite character of this Mathnet pilot, the stoned (note: that's conjecture) Dodgers fan!
He describes losing his reception while watching the Dodgers play the Reds in Cincinnati. "I was home, I was watching the Dodger game... in the 14th inning of the ballgame my TV went on the fritz. You know, couldn't see the picture." Kate Monday asks him how long it lasted. "Not very long. Dodgers had 2 men on, nobody out. Next I know the Reds are batting in the last of the fourteenth. Funny game, baseball." George Frankly replies: "It's a game of inches."
Best I can tell, our Dodger fan is combining these three games into one, as the Reds and Dodgers didn't play any 14 inning games in Cincinnati in 1984 or 1985, the two years I bothered to check box scores. Call me a lazy Phillies fan (or, more accurately, someone who cannot afford the Baseball-Reference Play Index).
But I digress (only a bit). The Mathnet crew realizes the house simply must have been carried away by a helicopter, and heads to meet a general to find out if such a thing is even possible.
Surprise: It is! Bigger surprise: Mathnet has (stock?) footage of it!
I remember the math on Mathnet sometimes getting quite a bit complicated; as you can see from the math in this episode, it is definitely the pilot.
Thanks to the Mathnet Dept.'s incredible division skills, the house is found, and -- hey, why not? -- that kid with the feathered hair tags along, runs into the house and finds his missing baseball in the fireplace.
The criminal confesses he needed to steal the house in order to find the gold he and a partner had stolen from Fort Knox years earlier; his partner had hidden in it somewhere in there and he needed time to find it. He gets arrested and taken out of an obvious prop front.
And, ah, that's about it. The episode was actually quite amusing, especially for a pilot, and if I can get my hands on other Mathnet/baseball crossovers -- perhaps one that inspired Rookie of the Year? -- I will recap them here. High five!