Homer at the Bat
"Homer at the Bat" is the seventeenth episode of The Simpsons' third season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 20, 1992. The episode follows the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team, led by Homer, having a winning season and making the championship game. Mr. Burns makes a large bet that the team will win and brings in nine ringers from the "big leagues" to ensure his success. It was written by John Swartzwelder, who is a big baseball fan, and directed by Jim Reardon.
Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey, Jr., Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, José Canseco, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Scioscia all guest starred as themselves, playing the ringers hired by Mr. Burns. Terry Cashman sang a song over the end credits. The guest stars were recorded over several months, with differing degrees of cooperation. The episode is often named among the show's best, and was the first to beat The Cosby Show in the ratings on its original airing. In 2014, showrunner Al Jean selected it as one of five essential episodes in the show's history.
It is softball season in Springfield and many of the workers at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant are reluctant to sign up for the Power Plant team due to their previous unsuccessful year. Homer reveals that he has a secret weapon, a homemade bat named "Wonder Bat" that he made from a fallen tree branch during a thunderstorm and his co-workers eagerly join the team. Thanks in large part to Homer, the team goes through its season undefeated and earns the right to play in the championship game against the Shelbyville Nuclear Power Plant.
Mr. Burns makes a million dollar bet with Aristotle Amadopoulos, owner of the Shelbyville plant, that his team will win. To secure victory in the game, Mr. Burns decides to hire major league stars and assembles a team that includes Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pie Traynor, Harry Hooper, Honus Wagner, Cap Anson, Nap Lajoie, Gabby Street, Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown, and Jim Creighton. Waylon Smithers informs Mr. Burns that the players he picked have all retired and died (noting Creighton had been dead for 130 years), so Mr. Burns changes tactics and orders Smithers to find some current superstar players. He hires nine Major League Baseball players — Roger Clemens, Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey, Jr., Steve Sax, Ozzie Smith, Jose Canseco, Don Mattingly, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Scioscia — and gives them token jobs at the plant so that they can play on the team, much to the dismay of the plant workers who got the team to the championship game in the first place. Mr Burns also hires a hypnotist to train the team.
Before the game, eight of the nine all-star players suffer unrelated misfortunes that prevent them from playing: Clemens suddenly behaves like a chicken due to the hypnotist's incompetence, Boggs is knocked unconscious by Barney after a bizarre argument at Moe's Tavern (over who was England's greatest Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston or Pitt the Elder), Griffey, Jr. takes an overdose of nerve tonic, resulting in an extreme case of gigantism, Sax is arrested by the Springfield Police and put in jail for every unsolved murder in New York City, Smith disappears in the "Springfield mystery spot", Canseco is too busy rescuing a woman and her possessions from a fire, Mattingly is kicked off the team by Mr. Burns due to sideburns only he can see, and Scioscia is hospitalized due to radiation poisoning from the plant. Mr. Burns is forced to use his original employees, along with Strawberry, the only star who can play. Homer remains on the bench as Strawberry plays his position.
With the score tied and bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Mr. Burns elects to field a right-handed hitter against a left-handed pitcher and pinch hits Homer for Strawberry. Distracted by Burns, the very first pitch hits Homer in the head, rendering him unconscious, but forcing in the winning run. The team wins the title and Homer, still unconscious, is paraded as a hero. 
"Homer at the Bat" took a long time to produce. It was written by John Swartzwelder, who is a big baseball fan, but was suggested by Sam Simon, who wanted an episode filled with real Major League Baseball players. Executive producers Al Jean and Mike Reiss doubted that they would be able to get nine players, thinking that they would be able to get three at best. They succeeded, and the nine players who agreed to guest star were recorded over a period of six months, whenever they were playing the Los Angeles Dodgers or California Angels. Each player recorded their part in roughly five minutes and spent the next hour writing autographs for the staff. In several cases, the writers were unable to get the player who was their first choice. Two of the players who turned down the chance to guest star were Ryne Sandberg and Carlton Fisk.
All of the players were cooperative except for Jose Canseco, who was intimidating. He disliked his original part and insisted it be rewritten, and the writers grudgingly made him as heroic as possible. He was originally slated to wake up in bed with Edna Krabappel and miss the game, but Canseco's then-wife, Esther Haddad, objected. He disliked his caricature, stating that "the animation looked nothing like [him]," but that he found the acting was very easy. When asked in 2007 about his part by the San Jose Mercury News, he responded, "that was 100 years ago," hung up the phone and did not answer any of the paper's subsequent calls for an interview about his guest spot.
Ken Griffey, Jr. did not understand his line "there's a party in my mouth and everyone's invited" and got quite frustrated when he was recording it. He was directed by Mike Reiss, and his father Ken Griffey, Sr. was also present, trying to coach his son. Roger Clemens, who made his own chicken noises, was directed by Jeff Martin, as was Wade Boggs. Mike Reiss directed most of the other players. Mike Scioscia accepted his guest spot in "half a second," while Ozzie Smith has stated that he would like to guest star again "so [he] can get out [of the Springfield Mystery spot]." Don Mattingly, who was forced to shave off his "sideburns" by Mr. Burns during the episode, would later have an actual "haircut controversy", while he was playing for the New York Yankees. The coaching staff forced him to cut his long hair, and was briefly dropped from the team line-up for not doing so. Many people believed the joke in the episode to be a reference to the incident, but "Homer at the Bat" was recorded a year before it happened. Many of the guest stars, including Terry Cashman, Wade Boggs and Darryl Strawberry all admit that they are more well known because of their appearance in the episode, Cashman having "Talkin' Softball" requested more often than "Talkin' Baseball".
One of the hardest pieces of editing was the hypnotist segment, which featured several of the guest stars speaking in unison. It was difficult because the parts were recorded over a period of several months and thus it was hard to sync their voices. Rich Moore was originally intended to direct the episode, but as he did not know anything about baseball he was switched with Jim Reardon, who was a baseball fan. Moore was given the episode "Lisa the Greek" instead. Many of the player designs were difficult, because the animators had a hard time designing real world people during the early years.
The episode makes several allusions to the film The Natural. Homer's secret weapon, his self-created "Wonderbat", is akin to Roy Hobbs's "Wonderboy", and both bats are eventually destroyed. The scene featuring the explosion of stadium lights as Homer circles the basepaths is also taken directly from the film. The end song "Talkin' Softball" is a parody of "Talkin' Baseball" by Terry Cashman. Jeff Martin wrote the new version of the song, but Cashman was brought in to sing it. The scenes of the Power Plant team traveling from city to city by train, overlaid with the pennant of the city they are going to, is a reference to the 1942 film The Pride of the Yankees. Carl batting with a piano leg is a reference to Norm Cash of the Detroit Tigers, who once tried to bat with a table leg in a game where Nolan Ryan was extremely overpowering and threw a no-hitter.
During the previous season, Fox had put The Simpsons in a timeslot that meant it was in direct competition with The Cosby Show, which won the timeslot every time. "Homer at the Bat" had a 15.9 rating and 23% share to win its timeslot while The Cosby Show had a 13.2 rating and 20% share. This was the first time that a new Simpsons episode beat a new Cosby Show episode. Former executive producer Sam Simon and current showrunner Al Jean named it as their favorite episode. Regular cast members Harry Shearer and Julie Kavner disliked the episode because of its focus on the guest stars and its surreal tone. They were particularly annoyed by the Mattingly sideburns joke.
Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, praised the episode, calling it "a great episode because the accidents that befall the pro players are so funny." Chris Turner, the author of the book Planet Simpson, said that the episode was the indication that "the Golden Age [of the show] had arrived." Nate Meyers gave the episode four and a half out of five, stating "the script makes great use of the baseball superstars, giving each of them a strong personality and plenty of pep (the highlight has to be Mattingly's clash with Mr. Burns)." Colin Jacobson disliked the episode: "when ["Homer at the Bat"] originally aired, I didn't like it. While I've warmed up to the show slightly over the last decade, I still think it's generally weak, and I'd definitely pick it as Season Three's worst."
Entertainment Weekly placed the episode fifteenth on their top 25 The Simpsons episodes list, noting it was "early proof that The Simpsons could juggle a squad of guest stars without giving the family short shrift." It was placed third on AskMen.com's "Top 10: Simpsons Episodes" list, Rich Weir called it "one of the show's more memorable moments" and "effective as it combines a slew of guest stars with some hilarious material for Homer." The entire episode was placed first on ESPN.com's list of the "Top 100 Simpsons sport moments", released in 2004. Greg Collins, the author of the list, gave great praise of the episode. He stated that this is the "king of all sports episodes, and perhaps the greatest Simpsons episode ever." A friend of Collins later met guest star Mike Scioscia and told him that he thought his guest spot was the best thing Scioscia had ever done, he responded "Thanks, I think". Eric Reinagel, Brian Moritz and John Hill of Press & Sun-Bulletin named the episode the fourth best in the show's history, and a journalist for The Toronto Star named Homer's conversation with Darryl Strawberry as the "greatest conversation of all time, involving the word yes".
IGN.com ranked the baseballers' performances as the seventeenth best guest appearance in the show's history, calling "each of these appearances was hilarious, making this a classic episode." The Phoenix.com praised the performances of each of the guest stars, but Darryl Strawberry, whom they put in the fifth position, was the only one to make their "Top 20 guest stars" list.
The episode has been credited with helping to save several lives. During the scene in which Homer chokes on a donut, a poster explaining how the Heimlich maneuver works is on the wall behind him. In May 1992, Chris Bencze was able to save his brother's life by performing the Heimlich Maneuver on him, having seen it in the episode, and in December 2007 Aiden Bateman was able to save his friend Alex Hardy's life by recalling the same.
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