20th anniversary: Homer at the Bat

Twenty years ago, Darryl Strawberry had the greatest game of his life. He hit nine home runs in one game, yet he still got pulled for a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded and the game tied. Yes, you read that right.

It was 20 years ago, on Feb. 20, 1992, that Strawberry and several friends appeared on hit TV show,

This is one of the most famous episodes in the show’s long-running history. Sure, you’d expect it to be well received here, as it’s a baseball episode and we’re all baseball fans. But it’s more than that. It was actually the first Simpsons episode to actually top The Cosby Show in the Neilsen ratings.

A big part of the reason for the episode’s rating success was the large number of celebrity voices it landed. (In a sign of how times changed, a lot of celebrity voices on a Simpsons episode was something novel rather than a tired crutch). A full roster of baseball stars appeared: First baseman Don Mattingly, second baseman Steve Sax, shortstop Ozzie Smith, third baseman Wade Boggs, catcher Mike Scioscia, pitcher Roger Clemens, right fielder Strawberry, center fielder Ken Griffey, Jr., and left fielder Jose Canseco.

The plot was simple. Mr. Burns makes a big bet on his nuclear power plant’s softball team, and to ensure he collects, he hires a team of ringers to work at the plant so they can play for his team. Then everything goes wrong as the ringers become unable to play.

Scioscia suffers a tragic illness—radiation poisoning from the plant. Griffey drinks too much nerve tonic and comes down with gigantism. Boggs loses a bar fight with local drunk Barney over who was the greatest British prime minister. (“Pitt the Elder!” “Lord Palmerston!”) Smith falls into a mystery hole to some other dimension. Canseco spends the day saving a woman’s furniture from a fire. And Sax has a run-in with the law, as the Springfield cops arrest him for all of New York City’s unsolved murders.

That leaves just Clemens, Mattingly and Strawberry at the stadium the day of the game. But there are still more problems. Clemens has been hypnotized and thinks he’s a chicken, so he can’t pitch. And Mr. Burns won’t let Mattingly play because his (non-existent) sideburns are too long. (“Still beats working for Steinbrenner.” Mattingly mutters while walking off).

The regular Power Plant Nine can now play. Well, eight of them can. Homer Simpson stays on the bench while Strawberry starts in his spot. But at the key moment in the ninth, the opposing team puts in a relief pitcher, and Mr. Burns benches Strawberry to gain the platoon advantage, never mind Strawberry’s nine homers. Mr Burns notes, “It’s called playing the percentages. It’s what smart mangers do.”

Homer gets to play, and the first pitch clobbers him on the head for a walk-off HBP. Well, it’s one way to be a hero.

Then, in lieu of the show’s normal closing credits theme, we were treated to Terry Cashman’s Talkin’ Softball song, which is superior to his original hit, Talkin’ Baseball.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is an event occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d prefer to skim the list:

Day-vesaries

1,000 days since Zach Greinke posts a win, giving him an ERA of 0.84 with a record of 8-1. The last time any starting pitcher had an ERA under 1.00 after 10 starts was Juan Marichal in 1966.

2,000 days since Curt Schilling joins the 3,000-strikeout club.

2,000 days since Troy Tulowitzki makes his big league debut.

2,000 days since the Nationals lose, dropping manager Frank Robinson 113 games under .500 (1,049-1,162), his all-time low.

5,000 days since the Orioles set a team record for runs in a game, beating the Braves 22-1. Cal Ripken gets six hits and scores a personal-best five runs. He has two homers and two doubles for six RBIs on the day. Teammate Will Clark enjoys maybe the best game of his career, going 4-for-4 with three doubles and a home run. He scores four times and drives in five runs.

5,000 days since Astros manager Larry Dierker suffers a grand mal seizure in the Houston dugout the eighth inning of a game against the Padres. He’s taken to the hospital and will miss a month. The game is suspended with Houston leading, 4-1.

5,000 days since a Blue Jays loss drops manager Jim Fregosi 86 games under .500 (888-974), his low point.

6,000 days since the big league debut of the recently retired Craig Counsell.

Anniversaries

1877 The International Association forms. It will be the first minor league, though at the time it intends to be a rival to the NL.

1890 Sam Rice, Hall of Fame right fielder, is born.

1896 Muddy Ruel, star catcher, is born.

1901 Ben Shibe is revealed to be a part-owner of the A’s. He owns half the team and will be its president.

1913 Tommy Henrich, “Old Reliable” for the Yankees, is born.

1920 Giants star Benny Kauff is indicted for auto theft, possession of stolen vehicles, and other charges. Wait, what? Boy, I’d love to know more about this story.

1923 Christy Mathewson becomes president of the Boston Braves.

1928 Roy Face, star reliever for the Pirates, is born.

1929 The Red Sox announce that, due to a recent change in state laws, they’ll play Sunday games in Boston—at Braves Field. Previously, they couldn’t play on Sundays at all in Massachusetts, but a new law lets them do it, provided they are not too close to a church. Fenway Park is next to a church, so that won’t work.

1941 Clyde Wright, 1970s pitcher, is born.

1943 Branch Rickey and Phil K. Wrigley launch the All-American Girls Softball League in the Midwest.

1953 Ted Williams, who nearly died in a mission the day before in the Korean War, goes back up on another mission.

1953 Augie Busch Jr. buys the Cardinals from Fred Saigh for $3.75 million.

1953 The U.S. Court of Appeals rules that organized baseball is a sport and not a business, affirming a 25-year-old Supreme Court ruling.

1959 Bill Gullickson, veteran starting pitcher, is born.

1966 Emmett Ashford becomes the first black umpire in MLB when the AL hires him.

1975 Livan Hernandez, rubber-armed pitcher, is born.

1980 The A’s hire Billy Martin as their manager. It’s his final non-Yankee hiring.

1981 Owners announce rules for compensation for teams losing free agent.s Players’ association honcho Marvin Miller declares: “The owners have decided to instigate a strike.”

1983 Justin Verlander, star Tigers pitcher, is born.

1984 Brian McCann, catcher, is born.

1984 Houston signs free agent Enos Cabell, allowing him to return to Houston.

1989 Peter Ueberroth and A. Bartlett Giamatti meet with Pete Rose and question him about betting on baseball.

1996 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher Dwight Gooden.

1997 Seattle signs free agent pitcher Dennis Martinez.

2001 Bill Rigney, longtime baseball manager, dies.

2007 The Washington Nationals sign free agent Tony Batista.

2008 Houston signs free agent Shawn Chacon.

2008 Philadelphia signs free agent pitcher Kris Benson.

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Comments

  1. David said...

    Why Ken Griffey so heavily imbibing in that nerve tonic is never brought up in steroid conversations is beyond me.

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