On the 20th of February, 1992, a plucky company softball team, Springfield’s Nuclear Power Plant, won the pennant.
It was an achievement that no-one at the time had seen coming, and that has still not been bettered by a team with such a retrospectively poor previous season (they were 2 and 28, ironically making it their personal best season). Today, with ol’ Wonderbat and the help of a few ringers, I look back at that game-changing moment in cartoon sporting history.
When I was asked to write about The Simpsons I met the prospect with disdain. I’ve already written all that I want to write about this show and having been so close to actually being a part of it with my Apu script earlier this year, I had given up on the cartoon indefinitely – anything I wrote about current day episodes would come off as petty, and simply rehashing everything that I’ve already said (seen here in this article for ComedyCrowd site): George HW Bush is dead, and The Simpsons has so little edge left that they’ve pretty much morphed in to The Waltons. With that being said, I think every single addition in the Cartoon Crush series has quite rightly referenced previous The Simpsons one way or another, and so it was only really a matter of time before I wrote about the show.
So strap yourselves in, here’s yet another piece telling you how good The Simpsons used to be!
Homer at the Bat: The Best Simpsons Episode Ever Made?
“Homer at the Bat” arrived on our screens at the tail end of Season 3. By that time, Simpsons fever had a stranglehold over America and the show would continue to dominate for the next decade, winning countless awards and being generally the best (cartoon) show ever made. So why pick this episode in particular as my all-time favourite? Surely an odd choice for an Englishman with no grasp of America’s favourite pastime, right?
But perhaps that was it… When I wasn’t arguing who I believed really was England’s greatest Prime Minister, I was admiring something so very alien to me: an episode from the quintessential American family, deftly weaving in such stateside themes – Big companies vs the common blue collar worker, class, sports, our fickle approach to celebrity, even race is astonishingly touched on in a how did they get away with it line about the (thankfully long abolished) “Negro League”.
Yes, it was a real thing.
“But nine misfortunes…? I’d like to see that!” – Mr Burns
This was The Simpsons at its best, at its most confident.
It was capable of enlisting the voices of some of the biggest names in Baseball at the time and slot them into an episode with a Space Jam sense of glee, throwing them each in to bizarre scenarios before dispatching them just as quickly.
Of course, this episode isn’t at all story-driven but rather entirely gag based, while also relying on the famous faces; both things that fans would eventually come to condemn. The thing is though, when the jokes are truly this good, and delivered with such sparkling verve, and in such quick succession, it makes such a good case for this being the best Simpsons episode of all-time.
“Homer at the Bat” has a freewheeling approach to being as funny as it can in such a short amount of time, whilst realising its full potential as a cartoon with no set limits: major athletes are presented at first as so much more superior than us, the average Joe, as they jump impossible heights into the air, then conversely are reduced to clucking chickens.
Every one of the misfortunes that befalls the ringers is hysterical, and adds to the gonzo reality of the episode – without being too distracting.
Jeff Martin, a writer for Simpsons, said in Sportsnet Magazine:
“It just goes from feel-good, team pulling together and all that, and then just totally, completely throws that out the window. The fact that they don’t hire one ringer — he hires nine major league baseball players. Just the heartless overkill of it; I thought it was really funny.”
It all feels so very 70s Hollywood comedy – a host of oddly beautiful characters all with their own personalities, in such close contact, playing off of one another; with each new transition executing us with its comedy like a crack-sniper.
“Good lord! Gigantism!” – Doctor Hibbert
With the episode now over twenty-five years old, it’s still looked back upon as one of the best Simpsons episodes. Former showrunners Sam Simon and Al Jean said it was their favourite episode of all time.
Don Mattingly – still so current in Baseball, now managing the Miami Marlins – would tell us that “I’ve probably gotten more attention from that episode than anything. People, to this day, still yell, ‘Mattingly, shave those sideburns!’.”
Not to mention the 50-minute long Morgan Spurlock special “Springfield of Dreams: The Homer Simpson Story” that aired in 2016 to accompany Homer’s induction in to the Baseball Hall of Fame; a mockumentary with the players from the episode as talking heads treating that day as if it had actually happened in their pasts.
Rather unlike the world of sport, age only seems to improve the episode too. At twenty-six years young its legs are still strong; it’s still fitter and still faster than most of the other players.
“Homer at the Bat” is a legend in the game, and a home-run for the series.