What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions

Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 142: “The Rockford Files – Heartaches of a Fool”

  • Today’s Movie: The Rockford Files – Heartaches of a Fool
  • Year of Release: 1978
  • Stars: James Garner. Noah Berry, Jr., Taylor Lacher
  • Director: William Wiard

This movie is not on my list of essential films, largely because it’s not a movie at all.  It’s an episode from the fifth season of my favorite television show ever.

NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called The Ninth Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blog-A-Thon, which is being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Thanks to his devising and hosting this event, I get another opportunity to write about my favorite show.

You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here:

The Story:

Heartaches of a Fool is the vanguard for the fifth season of The Rockford Files, and for my money it’s one of the best. Obviously I’m a fan of this show since I’m writing about it for this event. But what makes this episode stand out is it is a never-ending series of stuff the first-time viewer never sees coming.

The title comes from a song performed by the legendary Willie Nelson. The episode opens with Jim Rockford’s father Rocky (played by Noah Beery, Jr.) jamming along to Nelson’s Good Hearted Woman while he’s jamming the gears of a tractor-trailer. Out of nowhere, two cars appear and force Rocky’s truck off the road. Despite his best efforts, the truck overturns and spills 23,000 pounds of Charlie Strayhorn’s Country Sausage all over the road. The occupants of the assailing cars drag the unconscious Rocky away from truck before they douse it with gasoline and apply the match.

As Rocky is recuperating in the hospital, the plot twists start coming faster than a runaway 18-wheeler. Jim enters the room just as a deputy sheriff investigating the accident asks the 68-year old Rocky if he “isn’t a bit old for the big rigs” and ostensibly pulls his trucking license. This is when Rocky tells Jim he was driving a friend’s truck.

Jim visits Rocky’s friend Roland Eddy (played by Norman Alden) who tells him that Rocky found his way into the middle of a smuggling operation. Fans of The Rockford Files know Rocky is a bit naïve and will believe just about anything anybody tells him, especially if it coming from somebody he considers to be a friend. In other words, when Eddy spells the situation out for Jim, it’s clear he skirted the truth with Rocky. When Jim asks who is behind the smuggling operation, Eddy hands him a package of Charlie Strayhorn’s Country Sausage.

Rocky’s next visitors are from the trucker’s union, who drop the hammer that his union pension and medical benefits are suspended pending an investigation of a possible violation of “Working Rule 8.” Jim enters just as they are leaving to announce he believes Rocky was hauling a non-union sanctioned load.

As Jim deepens his investigation, he can’t make contact with the factory where the sausage is made…which supposedly is in Cripple Creek, Arkansas (insert your own jokes about The Band’s namesake song here). While he’s burning up the phones trying to discover the origins of the mystery sausage, the face on it’s package appears on the television…country music sensation Charlie Strayhorn (played by Taylor Lacher). Jim declares “That’s the only guy in all of this who I’m sure actually exists. I’m going to find him!”

One “jump cut” later, the viewer gets a “fly on the wall” perspective of Strayhorn’s mansion, where he and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Carrie (played by Lynne Marta) along with a cast of business types are embroiled in a discussion revolving around record releases, tax problems and the Strayhorn’s impending divorce. Exasperated by all of this, Strayhorn exclaims the only thing that seems to be working as intended was the sausage deal. Naturally, as he says this, Jim Rockford’s trademark gold Pontiac Firebird pulls into his driveway.

Jim knocks on the door and immediately asks Strayhorn why his sausage is being made in Mexico rather than Cripple Creek, Arkansas. Strayhorn doesn’t believe Jim’s story of Mexican-made sausages being smuggled in to the U.S., and their mutual frustration eventually explodes into a good, old-fashioned Western “bar brawl;” the exception being it takes place on Strayhorn’s lawn.

After Carrie breaks up the fight, Strayhorn goes to make his escape from his madding crown in a beat up Ford pick-up truck. Carrie and Jim pile in along side him, where Strayhorn seems to have taken a liking to Jim; even declaring “that fight sure felt good.” Jim brings him back to the matter at hand, but Strayhorn still isn’t buying it.

In order to convince him, Jim directs Strayhorn to the home of Roland Eddy; they arrive just in time to see him being kidnapped by a pair of unknown goons. As they attempt to give chase, Strayhorn’s old truck won’t start.

By now, if your crystal ball didn’t see Jim Rockford investigating a kidnapping with a country music superstar with whom he just had a wrasslin’ match…and it’s all about non-union Mexican-made sausages…you might want to give it a Windex-job because the plot is about to thicken more than your grandmother’s sausage gravy with a truck full of corn starch.

As they are leaving Eddy’s house after reporting his kidnapping to the police, the same guys who wrecked Rocky’s truck are seen. Based on their conversation, it’s becomes apparent their target is whomever is making the sausage; they now intend to find where it is made and “hit them there.”

Later, Strayhorn, Carrie, and Jim are in Rocky’s hospital room. Strayhorn knows something isn’t right with the sausage deal, but he doesn’t know what. In a convincingly earnest fashion, Strayhorn promises Jim and Rocky that he’s going directly to “Clement” (the second time that name has been linked as being “the sausage guy”) to find out what’s going on, and that he will be back with the explanation.

“Clement the Sausage Guy”…not to be confused with Abe Frohman, the Sausage King of Chicago.

After a “filler” scene fo Strayhorn and Carrie taking an inventory of their belongings for the upcoming divorce, Jim is in the bar/restaurant across the parking lot from his trailer where he is accosted by a Chinese man why is clearly trying to pick a fight with him. In no time at all, Jim finds himself getting kicked in the face until he hambones his assailant into unconsciousness. Jim retreats to his trailer to put an icepack on his throbbing skull, only to be greeted by a drunken, boisterous Strayhorn.

Now it’s Jim’s turn to play the non-believer. Strayhorn offers the explanation he got from his “sausage guy,” to which Jim replies “Clement’s got more lines than the telephone company.” Jim challenges Strayhorn that it’s time he went to Cripple Creek to see the factory. Strayhorn accepts the challenge and offers his private jet for the journey. Jim and Strayhorn continue their bonding during the flight; the scene ends with Nelson’s title song lilting over footage of Strayhorn’s jet contrail-striping the night sky.

The song also serves as the segue to their arrival at the sausage factory; a run-down trailer in the middle of nowhere. As they enter the “factory,” they discover it’s little more than a telephone answering machine and a mail drop…but it’s also been recently ran-sacked.

Jim and Strayhorn at the “factory”

But they also discover a dead Chinese man in a shed adjacent to the trailer. Jim ponders why there’s a dead Chinese guy in rural Arkansas, then remembers thhe guy who tried to kick his head in was also Chinese. This is when Strayhorn offers the connection; “the sausage guy’s” real name is Clement Chin.

They go back to Los Angeles to confront Chin (played by James Shigeta), who Jim suspects is a member of the Chinese “mafia.” After Chin comes clean, it becomes clear Jim’s suspicion is spot-on. They also notice everybody in the restaurant leaves after an associate whispered something in Chin’s ear. Then the “whisperer” hands Strayhorn a telephone; Chin is on the other end calling from his limousine. He tells Strayhorn there’s a “hit” coming, and they should get out now.

As they are making their escape, Rockford gets a hunch that Roland Eddy is being held at a food distribution company Chin mentioned. As they pull up in Strayhorn’s pick-up, Jim ties it all together. That’s when Chin’s limousine arrives, but he’s been commandeered by corrupt union boss Clark Streeter (played by Leo Gordon). It was Streeter’s men who were seen outside Roland Eddy’s house, and they are the ones who took out Rocky’s truck full of Charlie Strayhorn’s Country Sausage.

Charlie Strayhorn trading his guitar for a rifle

As Jim and Strayhorn watch from the pick-up, they see Streeter’s men taking Roland Eddy from Chin’s distribution center; it’s clear they intend to kill both Eddy and Chin. From behind the seat, Strayhorn then produces two .30-caliberr lever action rifles straight out of Winchester ’73. Next thing you know, a private detective and a country singer are having “Shootout at the L.A. Corral” with Streeter’s union goons to save the lives of a smuggling trucker and a gangster; all over Mexican-made sausage being smuggled into America by a Chinese distribution company.

Even if you have the best crystal ball out there, there’s no way you saw that coming.

The Hidden Sports Analogy:

The key to today’s hidden sports analogy: the secret is in the sausage.

If you are an American, even if you aren’t a sports fan, you still speak the colloquial language of baseball. Successes are “home runs,” failures are often tagged as a “strike out;” speaking of strikes, everybody know what three of them will get you. Face it, baseball is part of the fabric which weaves American culture.

To that end, is there a food more iconically identified as American than the hot dog? While there are variances…a “New York” hot dog is not the same as a “Chicago”…we “Yankees” love those “tube steaks” to the tune of pounding 20 million of them down our collective gullets per year. In fact, every year on the 4th of July, one of the most famous hot dog makers in America holds a contest at New York’s Coney Island to see who can eat their own weight in cylindrical meat.

Competitive consumption aside (yes…Major League Eating is really a “thing”), it’s that same fabric of American culture which inextricably bind the hot dog to baseball. There’s almost nothing more American than eating a hot dog at a ball game. But as art imitates life, the world of sports cribs from both. That why much like their cities, almost every Major League ball park has it’s own variant of the hot dog.

Coors Field features the “Denver Dog,” an all-beef frank covered in green chiles, red onions, jalapeno peppers and sour cream. A few hours across down I-70 will land you at the home of the Kansas City Royals where you can enjoy a “Cubano Dog;” another all-beef link dressed in pulled pork, shaved ham, swiss cheese, mustard and pickle slices. Meanwhile at Wrigley Field, you’re going to get the aforementioned classic and strictly-defined “Chicago Dog;” it MUST be served on an steamed poppy-seed roll and topped IN THIS ORDER with mustard, relish, onion, tomato wedges, pickle wedges, peppers, and celery salt. The tomato wedges MUST be between the hot dog and the top of bun, and the pickle wedges MUST between the hot dog and bottom of the bun. Any deviation and one could find themselves wearing cement shoes at the bottom of the Chicago River.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a result of somebody putting ketchup on a “Chicago Dog”

But with the good comes the bad, and there’s nothing worse than the Dodger Dog. Thankfully, these can only be found at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a “true” Dodger Dog is 10 inches of all-pork wiener topped with ketchup, mustard, onions, and sweet pickle relish.

There’s beauty in simplicity, which means Dodger Dogs should be deliciously gorgeous.

But they’re not…and nobody really knows why. Maybe they are illegally made in Mexico…who knows?

I do know there are some out there who love these things. The Dodgers sell more ball-park hot dogs than in any other stadium, and the margin isn’t even close. Then again, there are some people who like to put alligator clamps on their nipples. I don’t understand them either. Some people think the Dodger Dog comes with the “Mount Rushmore” of hot dog condiments; then again we already know what can happen if you ask for ketchup on a “Chicago Dog.”

In my humble opinion, the problem starts with ketchup. To me, ketchup on a hot dog just makes it a hot, cylindrical version of those craptacular bologna sandwiches we all got force-fed as kids…unless you are under the age of 35 and had one of those yoga-pant wearing, pony-tailed “yogurt moms.” If you were one of those kids, don’t worry because the Dodgers know southern California is the world’s leading exporter of “yogurt moms,” so they offer a plan-based Dodger Dog which couldn’t be made edible no matter what you put on it. Let’s be honest, eating a meatless ball-park hot dog without even a hint of grease has to be one of Dante’s concentric rings of Hell.

Truth be told, Dodger Dogs weren’t truly awful until they were no longer made by Farmer John’s. They were the maker of billions of Dodger Dogs over the decades. But then the almighty dollar got in the way.

Somewhere in the last ten years or so…the average Dodger fan can’t tell you exactly when because they are usually too plied with crap beer…the manufacturer of the Dodger Dog changed. To originally get the deal, Farmer John’s low-balled their bid. The problem is that every time the deal was re-newed, low-balling became a tradition. That was until one day under the Frank McCourt administration, Farmer John’s decided they wanted their fair share of the enormous sales at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers’ response was to end the relationship with Farmer John’s. All of a sudden, the Dodger Dog was being made by a company called Papa Cantella’s. Now, I don’t have the details on how it actually came to be, but I know three things happened within suspicious proximity.

  1. Papa Cantella’s took over the contract to make Dodger Dogs.
  2. The presence in southern California supermarkets of Dodger Dogs exploded; inversely proportional to their quality.
  3. Under the Frank McCourt administration, the Dodgers started charging $3 to use toilets in Dodger Stadium.

Draw your own conclusions, but I’ve seen first-hand that relationship in action. I’ve had buddies who took down a Dodger Dog or two, then paid the price…twice. Thankfully, they didn’t end up in the hospital like “Rocky” Rockford because of some cylindrical meat, but they did discover how the cost of a Dodger Dog can come with an urgently-paid $3 surcharge when that thing came rocketing out their colon at the speed of a Japanese bullet train.

Say what you will, even if it’s being done by the Dodgers, that’s good ol’ “Yankee” capitalism at it’s finest. Charge the highest price that you can away with for a hot dog, which then creates the demand for the exorbitantly-priced facilities. That’s why there’s almost nothing more American than eating a hot dog at ball game…even if those sausages are being illegally made in Mexico.

The Moral of the Story:

Sausage is a wonder. Be they bangers, boudin, or bratwurst, almost every culture has their version. But you still never want to see it being made.

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About J-Dub

What your view of sports would be if you had too many concussions

8 comments on “Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies – Volume 142: “The Rockford Files – Heartaches of a Fool”

  1. Rich
    March 25, 2023

    Can’t remember if I watched THE ROCKFORD FILES, but if I did it wasn’t often. I was quite young and preferred more conventional detective shows at the time. This episode sounds from far beyond left field (to use a sports metaphor on a sports-related blog). Perhaps one day I’ll watch this show.

    I preferred giant pretzels to hot dogs at Mets games. I always thought Dodger Dogs were popular, but maybe it depends on who you see a Dodger game with.


    • J-Dub
      March 28, 2023

      It’s well worth a watch, especially if you liked the “conventional” detectives. That might give you now an appreciation for some of Jim’s “unique” approaches 🙂


  2. Brian Schuck
    March 25, 2023

    J-Dub, you are the Jim Rockford of the blogosphere, exposing the corruption behind ballpark hotdogs, and we are Rocky, innocently trusting that the Lords of Baseball will do right by us, while they sell us inferior meat products at outrageous prices! Keep up the good work, I got a real chuckle out of this! 🙂


    • J-Dub
      March 28, 2023

      Sweet! Where do I get my god Firebird?


  3. mercurie80
    March 26, 2023

    “Heartaches of a Fool” is definitely one of the most fun Rockford Files out there. I have often thought that without Rocky and Angel, Jim Rockford probably wouldn’t be so busy! I really enjoyed reading about the hot dogs at the various baseball stadiums. While I knew they differed, I must admit that I didn’t know much beyond that. Anyway, thanks for taking part in the blogathon!


    • J-Dub
      March 28, 2023

      “I have often thought that without Rocky and Angel, Jim Rockford probably wouldn’t be so busy!” That’s 100% true, and if you add in Beth, that’s half the series!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Michael Eugene Wilson
    April 4, 2023

    This was great fun to read. Especially the part about the different ballpark hotdogs. I think you’re right about the situation at Wrigley Field. Those characters up in Chicago don’t mess around.


  5. Silver Screenings
    April 23, 2023

    I’ve never seen the Rockford Files, but I had a grandmother who was hopelessly besotted with Jim Rockford – and who can blame her?
    I laughed out loud at your description: “cylindrical meat”. Brilliant!


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