Life On Mars: The Sports Connection

Brian GaylordCorrespondent INovember 1, 2008

Questions abound about exactly what has happened to Detective Sam Tyler on the new U.S. television series “Life On Mars,” an adaptation of the British series by the same name.

The premise of the show is that a present-day car accident sends Detective Tyler back 35 years to 1973. Is he really a time traveler or is he dreaming? Is he living in two parallel universes at once? And why 1973? If the show’s creators were intent on that time period, why not 1972 or 1974?


More importantly, what’s Detective Tyler’s mission? What’s so important that he has to travel back 35 years, albeit unwittingly? What truth is he meant to uncover and, armed with that knowledge, how might he help change the course of history?


Thus far in the series Detective Tyler has yet to figure out his predicament.


The year 1973 is when the United States pulled the last of its troops out of Vietnam. It’s also the year of the Watergate hearings. Either of those events would be good guesses as to the significance of 1973, but not the correct answer. If you guessed that the show targeted 1973 because that’s the last time the Knickerbockers won an NBA championship, you’re at least dialed in to the sports connection.


Care to take another swing at it?


I hate to be a spoilsport and give away the secret behind “Life On Mars,” but 1973 is when the American League adopted the position of designated hitter. The show is set in New York City and once Detective Tyler gets a bead on his flashbacks he’ll march right into Major League Baseball’s headquarters there, which may return him to 2008.


What I haven’t figured out is whether Detective Tyler has returned to 1973 to block implementation of the designated hitter rule or to force the National League to adopt the position. But like many of us, clearly Detective Tyler is bothered on some level by MLB’s lack of uniformity on this rule, especially since interleague play—introduced in 1997—appears to be here to stay. After previous intermittent use, the designated hitter has been part of every World Series since 1986.  


What I also haven’t figured out is why it takes a detective to right this wrong. Maybe the Watergate scandal was even more widespread than I knew.


In 1973 the song “Dueling Banjos” made it on to the Billboard charts. The synchronicity between “Dueling Banjos,” banjo hitters, and designated hitters is not to be denied, though in truth most major-league pitchers are less than banjo hitters.


I also could mention that the movie “Bang The Drum Slowly” was released in 1973 and that the heart-breaking story ostensibly about a baseball player suffering from an incurable disease really was a forward-looking tale about the slow demise of baseball…but then I’d be reaching.