Wednesday, July 25, 2007

14 Days of Simpsons

#6: Homer at the Bat
Season 3
Mr. Burns makes a million dollar bet with his arch-rival Aristotle Amadopolis that the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant team will beat the Shelbyville Nuclear Power Plant team in the softball championships. To ensure victory, Burns hires a number of ringers, including pro baseball players Darryl Strawberry, Ken Griffey, Jr., Steve Sax, Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Ozzie Smith, Wade Boggs and Mike Scioscia to replace the plant employees he cut from the team. But as game day approaches, the pros all succumb to various strange ailments and accidents that prevent them from playing and it's up to Homer and his teammates to beat the Shelbyville team. With bases loaded and the score tied in the ninth inning, Homer is sent to bat and wins the game when the pitch hits him in the head and accidentally scores a homer.

Maybe it’s just the subject matter, but this episode just feels like a summer afternoon at a baseball game, or at least an idealized view of a summer afternoon at a baseball game. Homer at the Bat has such a sweet spirit about it that one cannot help but enjoy watching it. Perhaps it’s the age of the episode or perhaps simply a continuation of that idealization (probably both), but even the pro players brought in as ringers are not the jaded, distant athletes we see today. These guys are excited just to be part of the team. They want to check out the sights (Ozzie Smith), unfailingly obey the manager (Ken Griffey, Jr.), and even enjoy working at the plant (Mike Scioscia). Was this ridiculous, even then? Of course it was, but it subtly reflects that baseball “reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again,” as said by the great Terrance Mann in Field of Dreams.

Among other things, I loved the constant references to The Natural (Homer’s WonderBat, the team hypnotist, and the exploding stadium lights); I loved Darryl Strawberry’s constant butt-kissing; I loved Don Mattingly’s sideburns; and I loved the utter ridiculousness of Jose Canseco as folk-hero. Looking back from a 2007 perspective, this episode also contains an unintended joke about our view on performance enhancing drugs at the time. Mr. Burns asks the players to drink “nerve tonic,” which Ken Griffey Jr. gladly does. His head soon grows to gigantic proportions and cannot play. Nonetheless, he is not considered a bad guy for cheating as he was simply doing what he was told to help the team.

One last note: I have often questioned the wisdom of late game maneuvering to create or avoid righty/lefty matchups. My feeling is that unless a player’s personal statistics bear out a specific disadvantage, he should probably be left in the game. I don’t know if the creators of the show feel the same way or simply needed a funny way to get Homer back in the game, but I thought Mr. Burns removing Darryl Strawberry so that Homer can bat against a left-handed pitcher was simultaneously the most far-fetched yet realistic thing I had ever seen. Good times.


No comments: