Handicapping the 2013 ALCS, Private Investigator-Style

Today the internet will be bursting with sabermetricians breaking down this year’s ALCS, where the phoenix-like Boston Red Sox will take on the comeback Tigers from Detroit.

So while others will be discussing how many starts Justin Verlander will be able to make or whether Xander Bogaerts will ever get to pinch hit for Stephen Drew*, I wanted to focus on a less-visible but perhaps more important method for handicapping the series, namely, which team is represented by the better fictional private investigator.

(* Side note: Is Stephen Drew a masochist or is he just trolling Red Sox nation? Who in their right mind signs with the same team that their brother played for, after their brother was viciously ripped apart by the media and fans for 5 years? Aside from his playoff grand slam JD Drew was reviled in Boston. His biggest sin? Being perceived as an underachiever, the absolute worst crime in Boston, a town that values over-achieving dirt dogs who slap on the stirrups no matter how injured they are. Most shocking is that Stephen is wearing the SAME NUMBER 7 that JD wore. I vote troll. Well done, Stephen.)


First, a little background:

Magnum, P.I. was a popular CBS television show that starred Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum. Magnum lived and worked on Robin Masters’ estate in Hawaii, ostensibly as the head of security, but most episodes featured him taking on side gigs, usually to save a damsel in distress. Magnum was famous for his glorious moustache, his impossibly short khaki shorts, his Hawaiian shirts and his signature Detroit Tigers cap. The show ran for 8 seasons, 162 episodes in total, and averaged about 17mm weekly viewers. Selleck won an Emmy for his portrayal of the charismatic Viet Nam vet.

Spenser: For Hire was a television series based on the popular novels by the late Robert B. Parker. Robert Urich played Spenser, the tough yet intellectual detective who used his fists, his gun and his wits to thwart the local mob, random toughies and anyone who threatened underprivileged children. The television series only ran for 3 seasons, 66 episodes in total, and was cancelled due to the high cost of shooting on location in Boston. (4 TV movies starring Joe Mantegna were also produced). The Spenser book series was much more successful, with 40 books published until the 2010 death of author Robert B. Parker (who was probably murdered by someone from Detroit).


Magnum is consistently portrayed as an avid Tigers fans, which was his grandfather’s favorite team. His favorite player was Al Kaline. However, it was also revealed that as a child he rooted for the Washington Senators. Living in Hawaii, Magnum doesn’t attend or watch any Tigers games. Even though Robin Masters is a billionaire he was apparently too cheap to spring for the MLB Extra Innings Package.

Spenser is a diehard Sox fan. He frequently references players both past and present. His listens to Sox games in the car, commenting on the announcers. He is constantly watching and talking about the Sox. Red Sox games and Fenway Park are occasionally featured in the mysteries. In many ways, the Red Sox are one of the key localizing elements of the Spenser series.

This one is an easy call…Magnum’s obviously a pink hat.



Now we’re talking.

On the one hand, Magnum hangs with Rick, who is not nearly as cool as he thinks he is. On the other hand, Magnum also hangs with TC, who is amazing. Plus, TC has a bad-ass chopper, painted in the exact same brown and orange color scheme as my childhood kitchen in the 70s. Magnum’s friendly adversary is Higgins, a prissy Brit who likes to dress like Bwana Jim with his pants pulled all the way up to his nipples.

Spenser has the coolest sidekick of all time, Hawk. Hawk was tough, Hawk was cool, Hawk kept it real. He was great with a shotgun and even better with the ladies. To be honest, I’m getting a little verklempt just thinking about Hawk, who was so great he got his own spin-off show.

Spenser’s friendly adversaries were Belson and Quirk from the Boston PD. While amusing enough (they had an Unger-Madison thing going on) they weren’t as important as Higgins.

So while Higgins bests Belson & Quirk, Hawk easily takes TC & Rick, chopper be damned.



Spenser is pretty non-descript. When not working out at the boxing gym he likes to wear jeans, tee shirts and a leather jacket. He also dons a Red Sox cap when working undercover or battling the elements. While Robert Urich was an attractive man, Spenser is also portrayed as being more charismatic than handsome, with the face and hands of an ex-boxer.

Magnum was the epitome of 80s sexiness. Shakespeare would have written sonnets about that thick, luxurious moustache of his. He also contradicts one of Homer Simpson’s most famous aphorisms (“There’s only two kinds of guys who wear Hawaiian shirts: gay guys and big fat party animals.”)

Obviously we’ve got to give this one to Magnum. They even named plus-sizes condoms after him, for God’s sake.



Magnum had unlimited access to his boss Robin Masters’ bright red Ferrari, obviously a show-stopper of a car. The only thing young boys dream of more than having a thick moustache is driving a Ferrari.

Spenser, while not driving a Ferrari, drives a sweet ‘66 Ford Mustang, reportedly as homage to Steve McQueen.

Now, while this one might seem like a home run for Magnum, let’s really think about it for a second. They’re private eyes. They need to tail suspects. In a loud, bright red Ferrari. Why don’t you just drive an ice cream truck blaring “Turkey in the Straw”, Magnum?



Magnum was the first TV show to sensitively portray Viet Nam veterans in the years immediately following the fall of Saigon. While the media tended to portray Viet Nam vets as dangerous or unstable, Magnum and his buddies were deeply affected by the war but successfully reintegrated into society. Score one for Magnum.

Spenser was also a veteran (of the Korean War) but the show didn’t really contain any commentaries on war; However, the show did examine race relations through the friendship of Spenser and Hawk, against the backdrop of Boston. That’s pretty ballsy.

Culturally, Magnum is probably a better-known figure, benefitting from the longevity and popularity of the show. Plus, Magnum is a kick-ass Halloween costume. I do wonder if awareness of Magnum is starting to recede, as the show isn’t really something the kids are binge-watching on Netflix.

Spenser is probably a more enduring character as the book series is far-reaching and well-respected. Spenser books are still being written even after the death of Robert B., proving that people in airports across the country are still looking for breezy tales of investigators who drink three beers with every lunch and half a bottle of scotch each night.



In a clear, decisive victory, Spenser takes Magnum down 3-1-1, virtually guaranteeing a win for the Boston Red Sox. Plus, it’s 2013: beards are much cooler than moustaches.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the series!

[By the way, I’ve written about Magnum before. Click here to read: “Magnum, P.I.’s Short Shorts and the Golden Age of Television”]

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