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August 24, 2012
Tommy Westphall's Baseball Universe
We all remember the celebration in 2004 after the Red Sox won the World Series. The glorification of Curt Schilling and his bloody sock. Johnny Damon and the "Idiots". Cowboying up. Something about Babe Ruth and curses. And then of course there was Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore celebrating on the field.
Or the 1996 Yankees. Derek Jeter introducing himself to the world (and the gift-basket business). Wade Boggs riding around Yankee Stadium on a horse. Mariano Rivera being Mariano Rivera for 107 innings (107!). I'm sure George Steinbrenner said something entertaining as well.
What if I told you they never happened?
In 1988, the long-running television hospital drama "St. Elsewhere" ended its run with a curious twist. In the series' final scene, it was revealed that the entire show, all 137 episodes, took place inside the mind of an autistic boy named Tommy Westphall. Any quarrels the cast may have had, deaths they suffered, joys they experienced, minutia they waded through—it was all a part of young Tommy's mind.
As far as twists go, it was a pretty good one. This wasn't "Dallas" ret-conning Patrick Duffy's terrible career decision through an ill-conceived dream. With "St. Elsewhere", the writers were making one last effort to raise awareness for autism while also embracing the quirky, go-anywhere nature the show had taken-on during its run. They were also, unwittingly, making waves across dozens and dozens of television shows.
You see, the "St. Elsewhere" universe wasn't limited to only the halls of St. Eligius. In one episode, doctors on the show visited the bar from "Cheers" and interacted with Carla and Cliff, establishing the fact that the two television shows exist in the same universe. In an episode of the television drama "Homicide: Life on the Streets", two "St. Elsewhere" characters are investigated for murder. That means, of course, that "St. Elsewhere" and "Homicide" also exist in the same universe (and, thus, that "Cheers" and "Homicide" are in the same universe as well). There's nothing wrong with this (television shows do crossovers all the time) until you realize that this means that, because "St. Elsewhere" exists only in Tommy Westphall's mind, "Homicide" and "Cheers" also exist only in Tommy's mind. And it keeps going! "Cheers" is in the same universe as "Frasier" which is in the same universe as "Caroline in the City" which is in... and they're all *really* in the mind of Tommy Westphall.
Some enterprising folks have studied the "Tommy Westphall Universe" quite extensively, detailing their work in a fantastic grid showing how each of the 280 shows they've identified as part of the Universe are linked together. It's a great resource and really does deserve a look. However, I can't say that I fully agree with the grid. Two things about its creation—including the series "Hi, Honey, I'm Home" and connecting series strictly through similar brand names like "Morley Cigarettes" or "Oceanic Airlines"—bother me enough to ignore any shows that exist on the grid solely for those reasons. Sadly, this means shows like "Lost", "Doctor Who", "Batman", and "Parker Lewis Can't Lose" cannot be included as part of the universe. There are still nearly 200 shows that fit on the grid without reservations, however.
Where Everybody Knows You're in the Mind of an Autistic Child
It all starts with "Cheers". As was mentioned above, the bar where everyone knows your name was established as part of the "St. Elsewhere" universe when three of the hospital's doctors came in to have a drink after a day's work. We all know that Sam Malone, the proprietor of Cheers, was an ex-Red Sox reliever who pitched with the team in the 1970s. What might not be apparent is that, during his short stint with the club (he pitched from, roughly, 1972 to 1977), Sam experienced a "Division Championship". That's right. Sam Malone was a part of the 1975 Boston Red Sox World Series team.
Too bad it never happened. Or, to be more precise, too bad it only happened in Tommy Westphall's mind. After all, anything that happens to these characters is merely an invention of Tommy's imagination. Now that we know Sam experienced the '75 World Series, we are forced to recognize that it too was all in Tommy's mind.
Denny's Grand Slam
Also found in Boston—in the Boston of Tommy Westphall's mind, at least—is the lawfirm Crane, Poole & Schmidt. In one episode of "Boston Legal", Boston-area principal Steven Harper shows up. Harper is the principal of Winslow High School (found on "Boston Public"), where one student's mother receives a pension from St. Eligius. One of the partners of this lawfirm is the offbeat Denny Crane. In a November 2004 episode, Crane offers one of his trademark monologues:
There are two things I hoped to experience in my lifetime that I was sure I never would. The first was the Red Sox winning the World Series. Then when that happened, I thought "By God, I should experience the other."
The "other", for those who are curious, was sex with a one-legged woman. (When you deal with Denny Crane, you have to be prepared for anything.) But the important thing here is the Red Sox finally winning the World Series in 2004—because now we know that it didn't really happen.
The Summer of George
Tommy's imagination can really run wild. We know, for example, that "Cheers" is in the "St. Elsewhere" universe. From "Cheers", the character Frasier Crane moves us on over to "Frasier", where characters on that show read the comic strip written by Caroline Duffy in "Caroline in the City". Caroline Duffy has several run-ins with the characters on "Friends", one of whom has a twin sister in "Mad About You". Paul Buchman, star of "Mad About You", sublets his bachelor apartment to none other than "Seinfeld's" Cosmo Kramer.
A long-running plot line on "Seinfeld" was George Costanza's employment by the New York Yankees. When George finally decides that he wants to leave the club (to accept an offer as Head Scout for the New York Mets), he tries to get himself fired, eventually resorting to dragging the team's World Series trophy from the year before around the parking lot. That act doesn't get George fired, but it does tell us that the Yankees 1996 World Series win never really happened.
But those are all somewhat recent events. Tommy's universe goes much farther than that. We already know that "Mad About You's" Paul Buchman exists in this universe. In one episode, Paul, a documentarian, does a film on an older Alan Brady, a character from the 1960s' "The Dick Van Dyke Show", placing the two shows in the same universe despite airing 30 years apart. The energetic Buddy, a popular character from "The Dick Van Dyke Show", once visited "The Danny Thomas Show", where he appeared on the "show within the show". Also appearing on the "show within the show" was Joey Barnes, who went on to host his own "show within the show" on "The Joey Bishop Show". (Is that enough shows?) It was on that "show within the show" where the 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers, led by Don Drysdale, sang a version of "High Hopes" describing their road to the World Series crown over the New York Yankees. ("We've got Kou-fax, we've got Kou-fax...")
Now, if Paul Buchman can make a documentary about Alan Brady, who has a friend who appeared on the same Danny Williams "show within a show" that helped spin off Joey Barnes' own "show within the show" that the 1963 World Series winners sang a tune on (got that?), then it makes one thing perfectly clear for us: the Yankees/Dodgers World Series that Drysdale sang about so sweetly was merely a creation of Tommy Westphall's mind.
A B.J. in Korea
Going even further back, the Korean war doctors on "M*A*S*H*" once bet money on the fortunes of the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, who, we all know, lost their pennant hopes on the famous Bobby Thompson "Shot Heard 'Round the World". B.J. Hunnicutt, one of the "M*A*S*H*" doctors, is said to be a friend of "St. Elsewhere's" Dr. Mark Craig (this seems reasonable as long as we allow for B.J. to have aged between the Korean War and the 1980s). Dodgers fans might be happy to know that "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" was just a figment of Tommy Westphall's long and detailed imagination.
Closing the Curtain
There you have it. Irrefutable proof that some of the biggest baseball moments of your life never actually happened. It's shocking, I know, but the "Tommy Westphall Universe" is unassailable. Even more, the five moments described here come from only 13 shows in the "Tommy-verse"; there are nearly 200 other shows out there still to be explored for key baseball events (and that's not counting the shows I threw out for reasons described above). Did the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that the Tanner family from "Full House" experience also affect the World Series like we remember it? Was Gilligan able to hear the Miracle Mets on his coconut radio? Was it Willie Mays' warlock powers that helped him make The Catch? Did Archie Bunker ever trade barbs with Joe Morgan or Dick Allen? Was Ralph Kramden’s driving the final straw that convinced Walter O’Malley to move the Dodgers to California?
These are questions worth investigating. In the meantime, you might want to be on the lookout for any telltale signs that you too are merely a figment of Tommy Westphall's imagination. Clues might include constant clever, off-the-cuff remarks, overly dramatic scenes punctuated by unnaturally long monologues from one or more parties, and the unexplained presence of Howie Mandel in your life.